One of most notable qualities of Fort Greene Park is the diverse and inclusive community of park users. The individuals who spend time here, both frequenters and newbies, truly paint the character of this space. With the hopes of getting a glimpse into the relationships visitors across all walks of life have with Fort Greene Park, I’ve set out on a "Humans of New York"-esque mission to interview randomly selected park goers. My objective is to encourage readers to discover meaningful connections with Fort Greene Park through the inspiring anecdotes of park community members that will in-turn improve environmentally friendly behavior and community engagement. I hope you as a reader find these blog posts both engaging and revealing about the values held by community members who all share an appreciation for Fort Greene Park.
I came across Lionel relaxing on a bench outside the tennis courts and she kindly allowed me to disrupt her reading for a moment. She is 60 years old and lives in Windsor Terrace during the summer. Although the rest of her year is spent in London, Lionel has developed quite a fondness for Fort Greene Park as she’s played tennis here over the years.
“[Tennis] is my favorite way to spend my leisure time. It is my favorite sport and this is my favorite court. I sit on the bench and read before playing. I’ve occasionally had to take shelter up the hill when it’s been pouring but yeah tennis is the main thing.
One of the things I like about this park is that it’s used by a huge range of different kinds of people, lots of different income brackets and races and people talk to each other, so it feels very open. We give a lot of lip service to diversity— it’s even a word that I’m sick of, but this is the real thing and I really prize that. There are a bunch of regulars here, they say hello to each other, exchange stories. I think this place has a real sense of community— another word that’s overused and often misused, often referring to people who have nothing in common and never talk to each other, but these people do and there’s a funny sense of identity and belonging at these courts.”
[HoFGP:Do you feel a sense of ownership?] “Yes I do. I have two or three times now contributed money to the Fort Greene Tennis Association, which is my way of trying to give something back. A lot of people wouldn’t think that tennis courts are much of a charity but they give me some of my most intense happiness during the year, and to me that’s doing good in the world.”
[Changes in the park] “They finally resurfaced the courts *laughs* and you know, it’s been better tended. The foliage is a little more curated, more flowers. It seems to me they mow the grass a little more frequently. I have a sense that someone’s taking care of this place and a lot of public parks don’t have that, and at the same time it doesn’t feel precious. Oh hell if you got around to building yet more tennis courts I think that would be great and pretty soon the courts are going to need resurfacing.
I think parks are the main source of connection with the natural environment for people that live in cities so yes, I think they’re vital and they’re providing a place where you can enjoy a sense of space. You’re not crowded by a bunch of buildings, especially here, it’s wide-open skies, and it’s peaceful. It’s not always quiet though *laughs*.”
Jerrod was sitting by the basketball courts and was more than happy to chat with me as if we were old friends. He’s a 21 year-old who’s going on four years living in Rockaway Beach. Fort Greene Park is a fond memory of Jerrod’s past and returning gave him some great sources of reflection that I was lucky enough for him to share with me.
“Fort Greene neighborhood *laughing* I used to stay in the shelter over there. I used to come to this park all the time, to get like a peace of mind, everything. I was just reminiscing, I see the kids around the area now and I was like I was doing the same thing. Fort Greene is a dope park, it’s really amazing.
I’m not from NY, I’m from North Carolina, yeah, I’m from Charlotte. I’ve moved to many locations because my mom’s a traveling nurse. Yeah my experience with Fort Greene Park has been an adventure—it’s what you make it. If you don’t take care of the park that’s what you get, if you do take care of the park, that’s what you get.
I’m mainly just chilling or exercising. I’m not a good basketball player though *laughs* if I could play some football here that would be cool. I occasionally barbecue over here too.
Fort Greene Park is a big park for Brooklyn. Coming from North Carolina and all the other different cities, New York could be better but it’s beautiful. So much stuff but it’s so small. Seems so big but it’s so small. I guess that’s the heart of the city and this is just like the veins and capillaries.
[Compared to his last time here] The vibe feels the same, that’s not going to change. To me it feels the same. Gentrification, that is a big topic. Like the SoHa movement. Trying to change the name of Harlem that’s just ridiculous. In Rockaway it took four years to reopen a library and then you’re putting in new apartments. It’s the good and bad of New York. I love Brooklyn. This park is historic, you can’t really change too much or you’d take away from the feel of it.”
Drawn to his adorable dog, I joined Matt on a picnic table paralleling Washington Park. He is a 33 year-old park regular who’s lived on the border of Clinton Hill and Bed-Stuy for three years. Matt enjoys bringing his dog to Fort Greene Park on a daily basis.
“I would say we come at least once a day, because we walk the dog so yeah, I’ve seen it change over the last three years. I’ve noticed the staff working hard to keep it clean and tidy and usable and I’ve noticed as the high rises have gone up, a lot more people in the park and just like, mostly positive changes, I mean all positive changes. I mean who wouldn’t want the park all to themselves, come on *laughs*. Sometimes we come for other events— sometimes music events, sometimes film; we’re not just like strolling through here because we come here so often.
“I think it means a lot to this community. I think it means a lot to Brooklyn. There’s a lot of creative people that have been raised or fed off the energy of this area and I think that’s pretty special so it means a lot to me, because I feel like ‘oh yeah I’m so cool, Walt Whitman, I’m a big creative’ and it’s fun to think like that. [Do you feel as if you have a level of ownership?] Oh yeah, we take care of our dog’s waste; we bring bags to the dog area.
“[Do parks play a role in environmentalism?] Yes I believe they do and I believe it’s very important for us to take care of these places. I think parks serve as a meeting point of a lot of different people and they can provide a lot of good educational influence in the community and I think you guys do that already. They’re magnets for that, it’s great.”
After completing my first round of interviews, this process has revealed itself to be even more rewarding than expected. Getting to know the users of Fort Greene Park has been a wonderful experience for me, and those who have volunteered to interview have been full of insights into what truly makes the Fort Greene Park community so special. I hope you’ve enjoyed this inside look into the perspectives of our park visitors. There are more blog posts to come!
Summer Programming Intern
Middlebury College '18