As I conducted my final round of interviews, I felt bittersweet—torn between the anticipation of finally being able to share my project with the public and the disappointment of missing out on so many potential insightful interactions. No longer equipped with an excuse to initiate conversation with perfect strangers, I now find myself seeking out interesting park users and then remembering with a wave of disappointment that I no longer have a use for their stories. Not only has this project taught me about the wide variety of unique qualities of Fort Greene Park but also about the value in getting to know people I might not typically encounter in my day-to-day life. I hope you enjoy this final addition to Humans of Fort Greene Park (summer 2017) and find yourself having learned something over the course of the series.
Emma (10 years old) and Jack (12 years old) were playing frisbee with their mom, Amy (“40-something”), when they kindly took a break to chat with me. Amy’s been in the neighborhood since 1995, bouncing back and forth between Clinton Hill and Fort Greene. The family recently adopted a new member so they’ve been introduced to a new component of the Fort Greene Park community— the dog owners.
Emma: [To the pup] “Why are you eating a rock?!”
Amy: “We only live a couple blocks away so we’re here almost everyday. We just got a dog so it’s usually the off leash hours in the morning and the kids go to school nearby so we spend a fair amount of time at the playground and otherwise, tada! *Laughs* You know we’re just here.”
Emma: [What does Fort Greene Park mean to you?] “Home.”
Amy: “I know my husband loves when he can get a spot on the tennis courts, and I know that we have enjoyed the park programming. We went on the Walt Whitman walk and also the Martyr’s tour around the park. It’s really interesting to learn about the history.”
Jack: “I used to take tennis lessons and it was pretty fun.”
Emma: “Going to off leash hours for the first time with this guy is my favorite memory.”
Amy: “I had no idea it was such a thing here *laughs*. It’s a lot of dogs! I went to Pratt, so I was a student and I never came to the park. I wish I had, but it’s a terrific amenity— there’s always some programming going on, sometimes you’re a couple of blocks away and you hear it and you’re like oh there’s something going on, perfect! Also the whole renovation up here in the last few years has been really nice and the paving on Washington park was a nice surprise. There are a lot fewer rats too” *laughs*.
Emma: [What would you change about the park?] “Does changing off leash hours count?” *laughs*.
Jack: “Um I like the environment.”
Amy: “I think parks are a huge part of it [the environment]. It’s really nice to have a respite from the rest of the city and the trees are nice, the shade is nice. I was talking to somebody recently and they were like ‘Oh Fort Greene Park,’ you know just such affection for it. It’s not the biggest park in the world but I think it gets a lot of use in a lot of different ways. It appeals to everybody. Like Central Park has, I don’t know hundreds of millions of dollars behind it, and you know it’s beautiful, but I love that we’re able to run on the grass and play here.”
Emma: “He’s eating rocks again!”
Amy: “It’s just dirt” *laughs*.
I found Mahogany embracing the summer sun on the grassy hill by Myrtle Avenue. A 37 year-old resident of Gowanus, Mahogany shared her strong feelings about spending time in nature and escaping city life, inspired by her childhood spent in North Carolina.
“It’s close you know, I’m in the neighborhood so it’s the closest, biggest park to me so I actually come here a lot. I come here just to get in tune with nature and to step outside of the city, you know what I mean? To get some peace of mind. Sometimes I watch tennis, but usually it’s just coming and getting myself grounded and stepping outside of the city for a minute. And they have events here too, you know sometimes I come to the events. I was here when they had Soul Summit a few weeks ago.
I’m happy to say I live so close to a park in general. It’s clean for the most part, it’s spacious, you know I just love the scenery of it. The people are polite. The staff here are very polite. I can’t say I’ve had any bad experiences here or any bad vibes or nothing like that. I’ve noticed some landscaping changes. They’ve done some remodeling. No I can’t say I would change anything about the park because I like the way it’s already designed and everything. Yeah I don’t see any changes that I can think of.
Of course, yeah, I’m very proactive when it comes to that [the environment]. I’m not a New York native, I’m from the South, I’m from North Carolina so I come from nature you know what I mean. Where I’m from it’s nothing but trees. I’ve been in New York for close to thirteen years and that’s another reason I come herewhen I’m always constantly walking around a city, for me it’s very stressful. That’s a reason people are so stressed here in the city because they’re not in nature more. You need that fresh air, that fresh oxygen you know, where else are you gonna get it? And it’s one of the reasons why I developed asthma, that’s something new to me, I developed it last year. So it’s imperative to have parks and green space because it balances you out. There’s no other way around it. I’m definitely proactive when it comes to the environment and nature. I can’t stress it enough.
Fort Greene Park doesn’t have any rabid squirrels either!” *laughs*
Dennis was enjoying the rare cool summer weather on the monument benches when he took some time to talk to me. 66 years old, he has lived about half a mile away in Downtown Brooklyn for 17 years and although not quite a park regular, he has spent his fair share of time here in the park.
“I usually come in the Myrtle Avenue entrance and walk around to the other side. Today I went in the Visitor Center for the first time. There is [some cool history]. I wanted to come in and see if the monument was open but apparently it’s closed and you can’t get to the top anymore. Fort Greene Park is tranquil. Actually what I really like about this park is it’s very tranquil— right now it’s very tranquil compared to other parks I’ve been in. It’s a nice place to just sit on a day like today, read, and just watch people go by.
[Do you feel a level of ownership?] I’ve never thought about that. I guess it’s everyone’s park—that’s the way I look at it. Not just mine. Whoever lives in the city and wants to come by. I guess since I live in the city, I guess I’m a part owner *laughs.* That’s a novel question. I would open up the monument if it could be safe but other than that I really like the way it is now very much so. I can’t think of anything else.
I read somewhere that New York has less park space per person than every big city in the country so I think parks like this are very important. I wish there were more of them.”
I’m sad to say that my blog series, Humans of Fort Greene Park has come to its end. I am amazed by how willing and excited Fort Greene Park users were to help me with this project, and I feel so fortunate to have been able to share their insights with the general public. I hope that I’ve been able to foster a new appreciation for Fort Greene Park and the diverse individuals who give it its unique character in both my readers and interviewees, and I have certainly discovered a newfound significance in the park for myself throughout this process. I think its important to realize the common values held amongst even the most diverse group of people and how these values can manifest themselves in a park. I would like to leave you contemplating the bigger picture implications of this. If individuals from all walks of life can find similarities in how they view and use a green space such as a park, perhaps we can take this information to adopt a unified front for protecting the environment or even fighting climate change. Targeting the underlying principles people hold dearly and demonstrating the connection between local parks and the environment as a whole may be a crucial step towards saving our planet. With that I leave Fort Greene Park Conservancy with hope for the future of this planet!
Summer Programming Intern
Middlebury College '18