Ft. Greene Park's Different Closing Times Prompt Discrimination Fears

By Janet Upadhye on June 19, 2012 6:48am 

Fort Greene park has different closing times for different sections of the green space, prompting fears of discrimination.
Fort Greene park has different closing times for different sections of the green space, prompting fears of discrimination.
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DNAinfo/Michael Miguez

FORT GREENE — The city Parks Department has drawn an invisible line through Fort Greene Park, prompting an outcry by local residents against what they say are discriminatory closing times at the popular Brooklyn green space.

On the Myrtle Avenue side, where public housing projects border the park, signs are posted that read, "This area closes at 9 p.m."

But no such signs exist on the DeKalb Avenue side of the park, where historic brownstones and long-limbed trees line the streets. That area remains open until 1 a.m.

"There is a dividing line in this park," said Francisco Rodriguez, 22, who has lived in the Whitman Houses public housing complex, on the north side of the 30-acre park, his entire life.

"On this side we get kicked out as soon as it gets dark," he noted. "Over there they stay as long as they like."

Rodriguez plays basketball on the courts in the Myrtle Avenue side during the day and would love to be able to play past 9 p.m. According to the park rules, if he wanted to play catch at midnight closer to DeKalb Avenue, he'd have no problem.

A Parks Department spokeswoman defended the conflicting signage, saying it only applies to the  barbecue area.

Unfortunately, for those who live on Myrtle Avenue, the barbecue area is an extensive stretch that encompasses a courtyard with wooden benches, expansive lawns, basketball courts, public bathrooms and picnic tables. There are no built-in grills in the barbecue area — locals must bring their own.

"The sign denotes that the BBQ area closes at 9 p.m," Parks spokeswoman Meghan Lalor said. "The rest of the park closes at 1 a.m."

According to the Parks Department, the rest of the park includes jogging paths, dog runs, spray showers and a nature center. It also contains a series of tennis courts that close at dusk.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, large families brought their own barbecues to the park and cooked food. They ate at picnic tables or sitting on the grass. Music played, children jumped rope and some tables were decorated with balloons and streamers. 

The DeKalb Avenue side of the park, where historic brownstones and long-limbed trees line the streets, remains open until 1 a.m. But on the Myrtle Avenue side, where Whitman and Ingersoll housing projects border the park, signs are posted that read,
The DeKalb Avenue side of the park, where historic brownstones and long-limbed trees line the streets, remains open until 1 a.m. But on the Myrtle Avenue side, where Whitman and Ingersoll housing projects border the park, signs are posted that read, "This area closes at 9 p.m."
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Janet Upadhye/DNA

On the DeKalb Avenue side, parkgoers sunbathed in bikinis and played tennis on the gated courts. Some also brought small barbecues to cook food.

On both sides of the park, people conspicuously sipped beers and enjoyed the summer weather.

"The police will come start trying to get us to leave around 8 p.m. tonight," said Whitman Houses resident Derek Mitchell, 47, who was grilling burgers with his friends and family for Father's Day.

"We love these summer barbecues, but police presence at dusk, and really throughout the day, makes it hard to fully enjoy."

"I don’t know why there would be two different closing times in this park," said Elise Moran, 35, who lives on the DeKalb Street side of the park. "But I hope it’s not racially motivated."

A former resident of another public housing complex on the park's northern side recently brought the issue to the attention of Community Board 2.

"I have been concerned about this discrepancy in park closing times for a while," said Jose Gonzalez, a former Ingersoll Houses resident.

"I cannot see any justification for taking away the one remaining space that families on this side have to go at night."

Gonzalez said he has been speaking out against the signs since they were put up a few years ago.

"Calling it a barbecue area is just semantics," he said. "People are kicked out of this area at dusk whether they are barbecuing or not."

Lee Williams, a security guard who lives in Ingersoll Houses, said she feels like her rights are slowly being taken away. She explained that her family used to have summer barbecues in the park after dark, but with the changed hours on her side of the green space, their time has been cut short.

"We live in the projects," she said. "We don’t have backyards to barbecue in."

She is also worried about where neighborhood kids will go to hang out if they can’t play basketball or sit at the picnic tables.

Mitchell claimed that the treatment of parkgoers by Parks Department employees and the police on the two sides has always been different.

The closing signs just make the inconsistent park rules more official, he said.

But others in the park understood the change in closing times.

"It’s understandable, because there are a lot of drugs and crime on the Myrtle Avenue side of the park," said Victoria Soto, who lives in a co-op building on the Myrtle Avenue side of the park and used to live in public housing there.

Still, she added, "I would rather be safe in a park at 9 p.m. than unsafe at 1 a.m."

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