This is my first holiday season as a part of the Fort Greene Park community. For whatever reason, I’m mostly a sucker for all kinds of year-end cheer, and this neighborhood has not disappointed in the way of spirit or enthusiasm for the most wonderful time of the year. I get giddy walking down Myrtle Avenue and Fulton Streets all aglow with holiday decorations. Passing by storefronts on sidewalks flanked with firs and other festive wares generally has me pining that December’s olfactory features were a little more present during the other months of the year. It’s been an amazing ten months in Fort Greene, and I’ve been grateful to have a new home for the holidays.
The Conservancy’s own annual tree lighting with Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project was slated to be our final event of the year, and something I had been looking forward to for quite some time. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect (I wasn’t present at last year’s inaugural affair), but stories of frigid weather from last year had me hoping for at least slightly kinder conditions. We had been talking with MARP’s team for months about what we could add to the program this year — a taller tree, local carolers, better management of the line to meet Santa, and a toy drive organized by Fort Greene SNAP and the Whitman Resident Association were all new for this year. Another idea was to round up some ornaments for our tree. The set we found were perfectly close-to-home, profoundly and beautifully so.
The FGPC Board of Directors, Park Director David Barker, and I had been having a conversation with local glass artist Amanda Patenaude since sometime in March about what to do with all of the broken glass volunteers and Parks staff had been removing from the park’s slopes, trails, and paths. One of David’s first initiatives as Director of Fort Greene Park was starting up glass patrols to tackle the seemingly endless supply of shards around the park. With the help of over 1,400 volunteers and the hard work of his crew, David was immensely successful; we had collected hundreds of pounds of broken glass in the spring and summer months. Amanda had suggested a slew of possibilities for creative, community-focused projects that could help build awareness of the need for neighborhood support of the park — public art installations, mosaics, and jewelry were just some of the ideas explored. Another was preparing an ornament for our tree lighting. After collecting a few batches of Rubbermaid storage containers and paint buckets filled with clear, brown, and green fragments, she took some time to explore and experiment with the new material, learning its shapes, properties, and potential. At our December board meeting, she reported back.
Amanda had discovered some fascinating things about our glass. She found that some types were easier to work with than others — the green stuff best lent itself to the glass blowing process and shaping, and she passed around beautiful blown globes, balls, and bells. Other glass was better for etching. Some of the glass was more difficult to mold into finished product, possibly because of differences in the chemical properties of glass that differed in origin, manufacturer, or use. The spectrum of ages was equally astounding. We weren’t able to date any of the glass precisely, but different styles and graphic designs suggested that some of the glass we had collected from the park was very, very old, possibly a remnant of the Fifties or Sixties. This gave a somewhat more substantial backing to something we had suspected mostly anecdotally: that much of the glass in the park was actually an inheritance from the years when our city parks — Fort Greene Park being no exception — were in a state of neglect and terrible disarray, overrun with litter, crime, and in desperate need of management. It gave some sense to the seemingly bottomless store of glass in the park. Because of chronic erosion problems, heavy rains usually lead to a significant loss of soil from the parks bare and badly compacted hillsides. In washing away dirt and substrate without any roots to keep it on our slopes, big storms would also unearth another batch of glass embedded deep in our landscapes. It made the repurposing of this history all the more special, serving as a poignant reminder of how far the park has come in just the last twenty years.
When the two ornaments Amanda made were passed around the table, the consensus response was a mix of awe, wonder, and joy. Jaw after jaw dropped as board members who remembered how far gone Fort Greene Park once was were able to touch and feel this beautiful, glimmering reshaping of its past. We couldn’t wait to show them to the public, and they found their shining debut this past Sunday.
We had a perfect evening for our tree lighting. A far warmer Sunday than last year had given us an even fuller crowd than we could have hoped for, and carolers from Susan S. McKinney Secondary School of the Arts paired with refreshments from local Myrtle Avenue merchants made for a wonderful, cheerful ambience. After Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership Executive Director Meredith Phillips Almeida welcomed the crowd, I had the profound honor of welcoming NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver to the ceremony, who spoke eloquently about the importance of parks to our communities and neighborhoods. We were also lucky enough to have three tremendous friends of Fort Greene Park present for the event — NYC Council Member Laurie Cumbo, State Assemblyman Joe Lentol, and District Leader Olanike Alibi. After a passionate speech from Council Member Cumbo about our neighborhood’s diversity and strength, an inspired rendition of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” from Assemblyman Lentol, and kind praise of the Fort Greene Park Conservancy’s work from District Leader Alibi, the crowd began the countdown to illumination. After a slight false start from the crowd, Commissioner Silver flipped the switch, and the white lights went up. Amanda came up to the tree with the two beautiful pieces she had crafted for us, placing the first, and leaving the remainder of trimming responsibilities Commissioner Silver. I helped pull down what looked like a fine bough for the ornament, and the Commissioner settled it into a place where a few other branches joined. The twinkling refraction of light shining through the glass’s green hue is something I’ll not soon forget.
Moving back into the crowd, neighbors lined up to catch a glimpse of the decorations, as fascinated and enchanted as our board was after first being introduced to them. The crowd to take pictures with Santa persisted. The caroling slowly faded. After the fact, Amanda and I couldn’t help but discuss all the different possible ways we could build on what we had shown folks this evening, and continue to engage our neighborhood and inspire love for Fort Greene Park with all this treasure we’d found. It took quite a while to shake off the afterglow of such a spectacular evening of community, and I still smile thinking about it. With any luck, the brightness will last me through to next year.
Programming and Development Coordinator
Fort Greene Park Conservancy