WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — What was once the vanguard of police and community relations — and a characteristic of a New York City childhood — is slowly being phased out during a time when kids needs safety and support from neighborhood policing even more, residents said.
The Play Streets program, a century-old, free summer camp from the Police Athletic League (PAL) that closes city streets to give children a safe place to play and build relationships with police officers, announced Wednesday the 15 locations where it will be offering “fitness challenges, nutrition education and basketball clinics and tournaments” for kids.
And although parents are relieved to have these sort of activities available for kids, it’s the decreased number of locations — more than half since last year — and that worries them.
“My son always enjoyed going to the Play Street on Academy Street in Inwood, and we knew it would be there every year,” said Inwood parent Kelly Sang, adding that although her son was already in high school when that particular Play Street was removed, it’s “a shame” that other kids won’t get to play and meet other kids in the neighborhood through that program.
The spokesman for Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, Russell Murphy, said the reason the Play Street on Academy Street was removed was due to a change in requirements for Play Streets from PAL, which Murphy said did not provide the Play Streets partners, Inwood Community Services, "enough advance notice as to the change in policy."
Rodriguez has allocated funding for PAL in the past two years, although Murphy said the office is currently working with Inwood Community Services and their Executive Director Charlie Corliss, "to reestablish the Play Street for this summer as we understand the immense value it brings."
City Council budget reports from recent years show that several elected officials have budgeted for PAL programs, including Uptown representative, Councilman Mark Levine, who allocated approximately $10,000 toward PAL's programs, most particularly for Play Streets, over 2016-2017. Levine has also allocated $3,500 toward programs for 2018.
PAL did not reply to several requests for comments as to why the Play Streets have been reduced throughout the city.
According to the organization’s most recent financial report, its largest revenue drivers are government contracts at $22,608, with other contributions, gifts and investments totaling to $6,221 — and 90 percent of that goes to program services.
Sally Fisher, local parks and community organizer, said cuts in the Play Streets program don't make sense, especially when city agencies are touting community and safety programs, such as neighborhood policing.
“It seems ever more important,” Fisher said. “Especially in a district like ours, where we don’t really have a lot of options. What do you tell the families whose kids depend on this?”
Fisher went on to say that Play Streets provides an “amazing opportunity to build strong relationships [with community] and to really focus on our kids.”
“With what’s going on nationally, it’s nice to have kids to be able to see policemen as coaches and as regular guys,” Fisher said.
The Play Streets program runs from Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Aug. 10 at the following locations:
• Polo Grounds, 3005 Frederick Douglass Blvd., New York, NY 10039
• Sunken Park, Edgecombe Ave & W 167th St., New York, NY 10032
• Poor Richard’s Playground, 240 E 109th St., New York, NY 10029
• Melrose Playground, 705 Courtlandt Ave., Bronx, NY 10451
• Forest Houses, E 165th St & Tinton Ave., Bronx, NY 10456
• Julio Carballo Playground, 758 Manida St., Bronx, NY 10474
• Randall Playground, 2125 Randall Ave., Bronx, NY 10473
• Park of Americas, 103-8 42nd Ave., Corona, NY 11368
• Rufus King Playground, 150-29 Jamaica Ave., Jamaica, NY 11435
• Bushwick Houses, 372 Bushwick Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11206
• Ingersoll Houses, 120 Navy Walk, Brooklyn, NY 11201
• Howard Houses, 1562 E New York Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11212
• Fox Playground, 5324 Avenue H, Brooklyn, NY 11234
• Corporal Thompson Park, 166 Broadway, Staten Island, NY 10310
• Stapleton Park, 39 Tompkins Ave., Staten Island, NY 10304