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City to Hear Locals' Input Before Lowering Tompkins Sq. Playground Fences

By Allegra Hobbs | December 2, 2016 4:20pm | Updated on December 4, 2016 1:00pm
 The fences immediately surrounding Tompkins Square Park playgrounds currently stand at seven feet.
The fences immediately surrounding Tompkins Square Park playgrounds currently stand at seven feet.
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DNAinfo/Allegra Hobbs

EAST VILLAGE — The city has committed to hearing from community members before moving ahead with a plan to lower the fences around Tompkins Square Park playgrounds after prodding from local representatives who fear the alteration would endanger park-goers.

As part of a larger reconstruction project, the Parks Department plans to lower the fences surrounding the two playgrounds at the southeast corner of the park from 7 feet to 4 feet, claiming the current height encourages negative behavior by obscuring lines of sight into the play area.

But the local community board and Councilwoman Rosie Mendez have united in opposing the plan, claiming the tall fences protect children using the playground from “vagrants” and drug paraphernalia, and that lowering them would leave children vulnerable to such threats. 

The councilwoman on Thursday met with Parks Department Commissioner Mitchell Silver to reiterate her concerns, and the department has committed to hosting an information session to gather more feedback from community members before moving forward, according to Mendez and a department rep.

"[Silver] has committed to doing an information session and for us to get more people from the community to weigh in, and once we get more feedback they’re going to do some renderings of the park with the lower fence so people can get an idea of what it would look like," said Mendez, noting a date for the meeting has not been set.

A Parks Department spokeswoman confirmed the agency will not finalize plans for the park's redesign until after the information session. 

Mendez in October penned a letter to the department’s commissioner imploring the department to reconsider the plan, pointing to a reported spike in homelessness and drug use in the park.

“For the last year and a half, there has been a higher incidence of vagrants in the park who are highly intoxicated with alcohol and drugs,” reads the letter to Silver, dated Oct. 6. “We have reports from constituents and the 9th Precinct stating that vagrants are increasingly violent and have attacked park visitors. On a daily basis, one may find drug paraphernalia and needles laying around.

“Lowering the fences of the playgrounds would expose our children and decrease the parent's, as well as school staff's ability to provide appropriate supervision. Lower fences also allows for easier access by individuals that may leave needles and/or refuse in the playground area, as well as provide an attractive area for adults without children to enter and stay.”

The councilwoman told DNAinfo New York she had heard from dozens of community members who opposed the lowering of the fence, but would remain open throughout the more extensive feedback-gathering process.

The letter followed a resolution passed by Community Board 3 on Sept. 30 stating the board is “strongly opposed” to lowering the fence, echoing similar safety concerns.

"Parents and other residents believe that lowering the fence presents a serious safety issue, especially in light of current issues with a large transient population, drug use, some random violence, all to the extent that the NYPD installed a temporary skywatch tower in 2015,” reads the resolution, which supports other aspects of the department’s reconstruction plan for the park, including new playground equipment, reconstructing columns at park entrances to make them more inviting.