As I’ve continued to conduct interviews, the value of this experience has become increasingly apparent. I’ve been finding myself anxious for each workday to begin so that I can learn from the people with whom I might never have crossed paths were it not for this project. The lens through which I view the park has been shifting as well, with memories of conversations directing my eye to previously overlooked qualities. I hope your views on Fort Greene Park have been similarly affected, and if not, keep reading!
Jada is a 17 year-old living on New Lots Avenue. Although young, she’s quite the experienced New Yorker, having lived all over the city. Relatively new to Fort Greene Park, Jada shared some of her thoughts and first impressions with me as we sat on the mounds by Myrtle Avenue.
"I've lived pretty much all over New York except for Staten Island. I have family that lives somewhere over here and I visit them often, so I’ll just walk through the park and sit here and I just landed a job at Susan McKinney so I walk through here every morning.
I’ll sit on the bench for a little bit or I’ll, yeah, just hangout. I think to me, Fort Greene Park is a place of peace and fun. I guess that’s pretty much what it means to me because it’s quiet and then little kids come to have fun and people are playing basketball. I don’t really like to litter so I pick up trash I usually see. I’ve been coming to the park about a year, and I haven’t noticed any changes in the park. It seems like it has everything for the people that come. I wouldn’t change anything.”
I found Sophia taking some time to relax during her lunch break on the benches by the tennis courts. 31 years old and a Brooklyn native, Sophia grew up in Caroll Gardens but now lives in Sunnyside, Queens and is happy to be back in the neighborhood thanks to the proximity of her office building.
“I work nearby full-time so I would say when the weather’s nice, I honestly probably come 3-4 days out of the work week. I usually come every afternoon as a place to chill. I work really hard all morning and then in the early afternoon I’m like 'I’m tired' and my brain is a little bit frazzled at that point so I walk around and find a place to sit. Sometimes I’ll text my friends but I try to keep it as meditative as possible.
I very much value urban green space in general—it’s very important to me. I lived by Prospect Park for a long time and I had never lived so close to a park like that, a beautiful large space, so I spent a lot of time there and when I moved away I was really sad, and I felt the lack of the park that I had never had before I lived there. Now I live in Sunnyside and I miss it, there are no big parks near me. I never really knew about Fort Greene Park and even though it’s in the middle of a neighborhood it feels like you’re removed from the city very quickly and that’s really nice. I would say my job is relatively intense so it’s really nice to have a place to go to decompress from that. I know I have coworkers that come here as well. I think for a lot of people it’s kind of like their spot to come hangout. It feels like you’re far away from everything all of a sudden.
I stick to the same areas. I do the same loop. I guess I would say that [I feel a level of ownership]. Being from Brooklyn, I see it as my home. I’m very comfortable here and parks are a community resource. You know, obviously Fort Greene has changed and gentrified which is a factor to think about in community spaces. I really love it the way it is. I love its level of chillness. It’s a huge amount of space and you can do with that what you want. It’s an ideal park to me.
As someone who was raised in a city, it took a while for me to learn to be more in touch with and appreciate nature— it’s not something I really thought about as a kid and aside from environmental preservation which is extremely important, also in terms of mental health and self-care and our place in nature and cultivating that, I feel like that’s also important especially in a place like New York where that’s hard to find. [Parks] it’s almost like an entry point to engaging with nature in a deeper way. Also I went to gardening camp when I was a kid at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens so I’m all about urban environmental education.”
Neil and his dog, Pumpkin, were spending some quality time together on a bench by the monument when I asked if I could interrupt. Neil is 43 years old and a loyal member of the dog owner community in Fort Greene Park. He has lived around the corner on DeKalb since June of 2001 and can frequently be spotted in the park with his cute pup.
“I bring my dog, Pumpkin here. I bring her to the park. We try to come twice a day so in the morning for off leash hours and again in the evening for off leash hours. Yeah we try to do that everyday, some days depending upon my work schedule or whatever we miss the morning session but we’re here at least once a day, everyday of the week. The cool thing about being a dog owner in Fort Greene is because we have the off leash hours in the park, it’s kind of like being part of a community. When I come to the park for off leash hours there’s always other people that I know so I know other people in the neighborhood, I know their dogs, I know them specifically because I come to the park and do the off leash hours. It’s kind of nice to be a part of the community.
[Do you feel welcome in the park?] Yeah definitely. Yeah I guess I don’t always go down there where the children play just because I don’t have kids and it’s not really appropriate for an adult without a kid to go over there but yeah I feel comfortable, totally feel safe you know there’s always police and park rangers and stuff. Obviously you guys have done a lot of work like fixing drainage and stuff like that and preventing erosion. I guess I spend more time on this side. No I don’t think I’ve noticed a difference [in the people]. It’s always really popular, especially on the weekends.
I’m very much pro-environment and I’m very concerned about all the damage that’s being done to the environment and the fact that we just pulled out of the Paris Accord is appalling and embarrassing. I would hope that parks help to give people more of an appreciation for the environment. I don’t know if that’s the case but I would imagine, and I think that parks are really important for people’s health. I think especially when you live in a place like New York City with constant noise and stress and we’re so densely populated I think being able to be around grass and trees is therapeutic. I think if we didn’t have parks like this in the city it would be detrimental to our health."
Summer Programming Intern
Middlebury College '18