WASHINGTON HEIGHTS – The kids are going to be all right, if a recent meeting on the future of an Uptown park that drew a set of impassioned youths is any indication.
Kids ranging from elementary school-aged to teenagers turned out in force Monday night during the Parks Department's “Community Visioning Session” to share their vision of how the city should spend the $30 million in funds Highbridge Park is receiving under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $150 million “Anchor Parks” initiative.
The event, which drew more than 100 residents and filled more than a dozen tables with approximately eight to 10 participants each, was a place for the community to share their wish-list items for the park.
Several of the students wasted no time, requesting everything from soccer fields, bathrooms and swings to a sandbox, horses and fish. Youths under 18 years old make up 21 percent of the population in Northern Manhattan, park officials said during the event.
“The thing we’re mostly fighting for in Highbridge Park is the soccer field, because me and my friends, we like to play soccer a lot,” said Ricardo Robles, 14, adding that he plays for Uptown Soccer Academy in Northern Manhattan and has been playing the sport since he was 6 years old. “We come here to play soccer, but the field is not great ... for playing soccer, so we would like one for us to play.”
Robles, who was joined by a handful of friends, said the park could also use some water fountains, since the ones currently in the park either don’t work or are very dirty.
Caroline Panton, 14, who lives in Washington Heights, said she would like to see more bathrooms inside the park.
“Bathrooms are super important, especially for kids my age,” said Panton, who uses Highbridge frequently, especially during the summer when she’s playing basketball or working with younger kids. “A lot of times I’m playing pick-up games and basketball, and then I have to use the bathrooms, so I have to run to the nearest gas station or friend’s house and I don’t want to do that.”
Safety was a common refrain among those present at the meeting. Ideas for improving safety included adding lighting within the park and trails to allow residents to enjoy the park during the darker fall and winter months, clearing walking and hiking paths to provide better sight lines and adding a nature center, community gardens or other facilities that would allow the parks to be used at all times.
The visioning session is the first step in the process of deciding how to allot the additional $30 million from de Blasio, which officials said will take a “few years” to finalize.
After the projects are chosen, they will go to the design and procurement of contractors stage, before finally moving toward construction when officials put “shovel to the ground and bring your projects to life.”
Parks officials said residents can still contribute their ideas online until Monday, Dec. 12.