“Excuse me, do you work for the Parks Department?”
It was understandable that the father of a son in the nearby basketball camp mistook the man dressed in a white button down shirt for a Parks Department employee. Everyone else was in t-shirts and shorts, sweaty from midsummer games of basketball, handball and racquetball.
“No. But out of curiosity, why do you ask?”
“Because my son’s playing in his basketball camp and I wanted to shoot some hoops nearby. The court is filled with Parks Department cars. When I asked one of them to move a car, he flat out told me, ‘Nope‘”.
In the past few months a bunch of community residents, activists and international fans of North Meadow’s Recreation Center, located in the middle of Central Park along the 97th street east-west pathway, signed a petition calling for the NYC Parks Department to allow residents access to the basketball courts of the recreation center, which Parks Department and Police vehicles have come to use as parking spaces. We have even attended community board meetings to bring the issue up with politicians. For awhile it seemed our voices were heard-the vehicles used the spacious driveway leading up to the recreation center to park instead, and the courts were clear for youth and adults to enjoy again. But it seems that the change in policy didn’t stick. The above scene played out this Saturday during a walk to the Recreation Center on a glorious sunny summer day. I was dismayed to see, once again, the basketball courts packed with parks department cars and vans. The second basketball court just a few steps away was jam packed with kids for a basketball camp, but the adults and kids who weren’t a part of organized play were shut out from participating because the second court has become a parking lot. Word has it that when a particular supervisor is there, the cars are moved. When that supervisor is not on site, there’s a different set of rules and the cars sit comfortably on the courts.
What’s baffling about this is that this is clearly a basketball court, with seemingly new nets installed. That was the intention here, so it’s not like we’re asking for the city to transform a space that was once delegated for vehicles to be used by pedestrians (although those causes are sometimes just too). I often wonder what the reason is for the parks employees to insist on parking here when there is such ample space along the driveway. To have your car parked two feet away from your office so you don’t have to walk? It looks neater? Really, I try to figure out the reason behind why (and more importantly how) public space can be so easily taken from its citizens. Yes, what we’re asking for here is access to our public space. We’re asking for real action around the Vision Zero policy of our new Mayor Bill de Blasio. We shouldn’t have city vehicles driving around our recreation center so close to where children and adults play ball, never mind ON the very ground that we’re playing on. This is especially notable because this is the area by the Upper West Side that has seen pedestrian motor vehicle fatalities that have become a highlight for Vision Zero.
On a public health note, it is these types of actions that make it difficult for public health professionals, cities and individuals combating chronic diseases related to obesity. We have a challenge getting ourselves and the public to have the knowledge and motivation to change lifestyle habits around physical activity, but it certainly cannot happen without the environmental support for people to put those habits into practice. It is also not enough to have spaces in the parks delegated for organized play that require permits and scheduling, and then take the remaining spaces that are left to be used for the vehicular or office needs of the Parks Department.
Sign the Petition to get our Recreation Center back.
Contact the Parks Department, and ask them to stop using North Meadow Recreation Center as a Parking Lot.
Written by Stephanie Pitsirilos-Boquin.