As I get deeper into this project I’ve heard some thoughts that are consistent with expectations I had in developing the idea for this blog. As an environmental studies and psychology major, I’m very passionate about finding the intersection between how people feel about the “environment” as tangible, local green spaces along with more overarching views on protecting the planet and fighting climate change. I’ve found the common themes of individuals holding value in public spaces and urban green spaces exciting and as I move forward I hope to begin to see ways to connect other seemingly unrelated but equally prevalent park values like culture and community to environmentalism.
Irene was kind enough to take a few moments away from barbecuing with her family to chat with me about how Fort Greene Park has changed over her 32 years of living on Myrtle Avenue. 62 years old, Irene has seen multiple generations of her family grow up coming to Fort Greene Park, and, naturally, it means a lot to her.
“[How do you spend your time here?] What I’m doing right now. Barbecuing with the family. When I first moved around here they used to have a tour that went under the park, right through that door [the crypt]. So when I first lived here I would go on the tour and I enjoyed learning about the area. It’s interesting to know about what’s happening in your neighborhood. It’s interesting to learn what happened way back in the day. Just like the school over there was the first black school and I didn’t know that. That church is over 100 years old. It’s been here forever, you know. It’s a nice neighborhood, a really good neighborhood.
My favorite memory is they used to have a Halloween parade along the path and my daughter right here, she was 3 years old— no she was 2. And they had the headless horseman. My favorite memory of this park is my daughter took off from here and ran straight, we had to run her down *laughs*. They used to have the kids from all over come to the halloween parade and that was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.
When I’m looking at the neighborhood, like I said I've lived here a long time, and when I first moved here we didn’t have all these huge buildings. So I feel like I’m being closed in because they keep getting bigger and bigger, and they’re trying to shrink us. What are you guys gonna do with us? We got no place to go. And they’re raising the prices so we can’t afford it no more. There’s a lot of people in my project on welfare or disability or SSI or whatever and if you keep jacking the rent, what’s going to happen to them? You know. And the sad thing about it is they don’t get together and say 'you ain’t doing this.' I hope this park will always be here. You know, I’m hoping this will still be here. Right now the kids don’t have very much of nothing. It’s all they got.”
I heard some beautiful guitar music coming from the monument and found Nathanael practicing on a Monument bench. A 23 year-old Michigan native, Nathanael has lived in the Fort Greene neighborhood for two years and Fort Greene is his favorite practice spot.
“I come here a lot during the day to practice, you know it’s nice and quiet and it gets hot in my apartment in the summer. Sometimes I just come here to hang out. Once in awhile my girlfriend and I come here to have a picnic. I like how it looks. You know it’s a nice layout of a park. I like the monument. I like that it’s quiet, it’s a nice place to relax. It’s always pretty chill here, just kinda hanging out. I’ve been all around here, I come walking here all the time, it’s the closest park to where I live so I’m here all the time. I like it a lot. I don’t think I would change anything.
I think we should definitely protect it [the environment] more. Definitely take care of what we have because that seems to be a dying trend. It’s a lot easier to maintain something than to try to bring it back. Parks definitely play a role. Especially for cities, you know, this is the only environment we have— it would be nice to see more of them. We definitely need to take care of what we have.”
I found Zoe lounging on the green grass along Washington Park and soon learned that this is a frequent pastime for her. She is a 24 year-old who recently found her way back to New York City after spending 8 years in Los Angeles. Zoe lives on Washington and Dekalb, and grew up in TriBeCa. The lack of public spaces available in LA has given her a newfound appreciation for parks like Fort Greene Park.
“I bring my blanket and my books and I read, that’s pretty much it. I come like two, three times a week especially during the summer. I run here too. After living in LA for eight years, they don’t have any parks; it’s not a thing. Got like one park in Echo Park but it’s tiny and there’s not really a lot of lawn space. It’s hilarious because it’s open and expansive, like they have land they just can’t grow anything— it’s just barren and sad. There are no public spaces, I find that really weird. Same thing with libraries— a public space for people to be without having to spend money or being asked to spend money is really cool. You get to interact with local people, like I’ve made friends here. It's just part of the community. It’s what great about New York and Brooklyn especially.
I like that the park is for everybody, I don’t know if it’s ‘my’ park, but I enjoy the idea that anyone is allowed to come and be here and enjoy the beautiful land that we have. This neighborhood is changing. There are a lot more children, which isn’t bad, just different. Although five years is a very small microcosm for Brooklyn. [Would you change anything about the park?] Um no. I’m pretty happy with it, I don’t know there’s lots of grass, it’s a nice park.
Yeah I mean as I mentioned before the idea of public space in society that’s based on money and a transaction of sorts and this is something that is not a transaction, it’s literally just being, which is incredibly important. In terms of the environment, I mean we’re in an environmental crisis and there’s not a lot I can do about it other than enjoy this and like I bring my compost to this farmers market every Saturday morning, that’s really important to me. I’ve been composting my entire life. I try to be eco-friendly when I can, I work in restaurants so I mean, the restaurant I work at does compost though, so there’s that. The little things.”
Summer Programming Intern
Middlebury College '18