EAST HARLEM — A dark and derelict neighborhood park frequented by the homeless and shunned by residents could get the makeover that the community has been begging for thanks to the Community Parks Initiative.
This week, neighbors congregated at the East River Houses for the first in a series of brainstorming sessions to turn the soullessly named Playground 103 CIII into a destination for families once again.
The park was included in the mayor's $130 million fund, in part, because it has received less than $250,000 for improvements in the last 20 years, Parks Department spokesman Philip Abramson said.
“I brought my 5-year-old granddaughter to the park and I was devastated,” said Maria Pacheco. "My son was a month old when I moved in, now he is 50 years old. This is where I used to bring my son to play and now I can’t bring my granddaughter.”
The park also attracts residents from a homeless shelter on Randall’s Island, which is connected to Playground 103 with a footbridge. The poor lighting conditions keep locals away at night.
Currently, the park is made up of one full basketball court and three half courts. There is no grass on the park, just a large slab of cracked asphalt.
The playground is outdated and the area's poor drainage system has the potential to cause flooding, especially because the park is close to the river, landscape architect Tristan Porto.
So, on Monday, about 50 people sat at seven tables in a small room and redesigned their park. They used schematics, including satellite images, and scale versions of different features like basketball courts and swing sets to bring the new park to life.
“Tonight is your chance to tell us what you want and we’ll make it happen,” said landscape architect Tristan Porto.
Residents envisioned brand new play equipment and spray areas for children to use during hot summer days.
The fact that Parks Department architects, as well as Manhattan Borough Commissioner William Castro and his Chief of Staff Steve Simon, attended the meeting sat well with locals.
"It shows they are committed to the idea," said resident Marie Winfield.
During the meeting, residents agreed that one of the most important improvements should be adding more lights to the park. They also said they’d like to see a spray area for children, new basketball courts with fiberglass backboards, and multi-use astro turf instead of cracked asphalt.
They also think the park deserves a real name.
“Right now, I think the name of the park is Playground 103 CIII,” said Angelo Martinez, who organizes sports leagues in the area. “I think it should have a name. It’s always been known as the Big Park, why not call it that?”