Brooklyn’s outdoor areas run the spectrum from concrete jungle to lush green spaces.
The noticeable inequality in parkland is also present when it comes to the condition of infrastructure and cleanliness in public spaces.
East Flatbush has the unfortunate distinction of having the least park space across the city, based on a report by the advocacy group New Yorkers for Parks.
New Yorkers for Parks and Brooklyn Parks and Open Spaces Coalition hosted a forum of Brooklyn borough president candidates on April 22, Earth Day. The candidates explained their plan to improve Brooklyn’s parks for land use and to address climate challenges.
Eight candidates participated: Robert E. Cornegy Jr., Kim Council, Khari Edwards, Pearlene Fields, Trisha Ocona, Antonio Reynoso, Jo Anne Simon and Bishop Lamor Whitehead.
Achieving green space equity
“What I’m committing to is spending more time and resources ensuring that we are building more space and offering more access to green space in neighborhoods that have been deprived of that,” Reynoso pledged.
He said his 34th Council District, which includes Williamsburg and Bushwick, had the third least amount of park space across the city, and added it was disturbing that Rodney Park, located in south Williamsburg, was adjacent to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
“The kids have to suck in fumes from vehicles,” he said, shaking his head.
Cornegy said the borough president has “a three-legged stool” of powers to reshape Brooklyn: zoning, land use and capital funds.
He plans to use those powers to expand green spaces in the borough — primarily in historically deprived neighborhoods.
Over the years, Cornegy has taken a special interest in Herbert Von King Park, located in the City Councilman’s 36th Council District, which includes Bed-Stuy and Northern Crown Heights.
“We have demanded that all new developments in the 36th council district include green space, not just for the residents of those buildings but accessible for the community,” he said, noting that green space is sometimes created on the rooftops of new buildings.
Whitehead, an activist and chaplain, said he would champion environmental justice, pointing to the higher rates of asthma in low-income communities of color where residents breathe toxic air because of pollution inequality.
In addition to more greenery, underserved neighborhoods also needed more programming, like golf, Ocona stated. Ocana is a community activist who served as Housing Chair of East Flatbush’s Community Board 17.
What leadership would look like
Brooklyn’s parks are fragile. That’s evident from the recent vandalization of Prospect Park.
Part of the borough president’s job is to use the office as a platform to raise awareness and inspire residents to help improve the borough.
Edwards, a former Brookdale Hospital vice president, said he would use the office to empower and recognize park volunteers and staff. He noted that many staff members earn less than $15.00 an hour and are not thanked for keeping the parks clean.
He added it’s also necessary to address how transportation impacts the environment.
“We are still using diesel buses in many parts of our communities,” Edwards stated, highlighting the negative health consequences that fall disproportionately on communities of color.
Edwards’ vision includes working with the Department of Education to introduce a green curriculum at public schools.
For Simon, whose 52nd New York Assembly District includes Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope, the approach to leadership would involve using the borough president’s office to support park stewardship groups and empowering families to pursue environment-friendly projects in their community.
She praised initiatives like the hydroponics program at P.S. 11, adding that it’s important to “fund projects, big and small.”
What was also needed were more community gardens, said Fields, who has worked many years in the nonprofit sector. She would support organizations that hire formerly incarcerated people to help maintain parks.
Council, a faith leader and non-profit executive, said she would use the office as a “bully pulpit.”
“It’s really criminal what has happened in our communities,” said Council, who recalled that her childhood block in Bed-Stuy had no trees.
“I would map, track and publicize data to see where there are inequalities and use the bully pulpit to make sure the city and state are putting in the resources that are needed.”