Neighbors on new playground: it’s unsafe

There are fewer benches and tables in Gun Hill Playground than there were prior to its recent renovation. The Parks Department removed benches and tables to discourage late night rowdiness. Photo by Robert Benimoff

Gun Hill Houses tenant Barbara Gibson and tenant president Robert Hall are pleased that the Parks Department saw fit to renovate Gun Hill Playground, a .72-acre park at the corner of Holland Avenue and Magenta Street. Only, Gibson and Hall wish there had been more neighborhood dialogue beforehand.

The main entrance to the renovated playground is dangerous; it sits too close to a toddler swing set, Hall said. There aren’t enough seats to accommodate the basketball players who flock to Gun Hill, said Gibson. Parks has agreed to remedy the situation. The renovated playground boasts new benches, plantings and spray showers. It opened in June; prior to the renovation, Parks shared its plan at a Community Board 12 meeting. CB12 parks committee members checked the plan, district manager Carmen Rosa said.

“[Parks] explained what work would be done,” Hall said.

He didn’t force the issue. Now Hall wishes he had. The entrance is large enough for a police car to drive through – therefore large enough for any car to drive through. Hall understands the need for police access but fears that an irresponsible driver will plow into the swing set. Parents have asked Hall to resolve the issue on three separate occasions.

“They called it an accident waiting to happen,” he said.

Gibson agreed.

“What happens when the kids run to Mister Softee?” she said.

Parks has agreed to install a new entrance gate at the playground as soon as possible.

“We’re fortunate to have the Parks commissioner we have,” Rosa said. “[Adrian Benepe] is hands-on and responsive.”

Gibson promotes Gun Hill Playground basketball. The spot is second only to Rucker Park when it comes to outdoor competition, she said. During the summer, some 300 people turn out on Saturdays and Sundays to watch and play. Gun Hill Playground used to seat 30. There are fewer benches now; the playground only seats 15.

“The fellas bring milk crates to sit on,” she said. “The parents at the jungle gym stand around.”

Gun Hill Playground used to have game tables; the renovated playground has none. The Parks Department removed the tables to discourage late night activity, Hall and Rosa said. In fact, it did so at the behest of neighbors, Parks spokeswoman Jesslyn Moser said.

“I don’t know what the answer is,” said Hall. “Maybe something portable.”

Gibson is less sympathetic. She wants Parks to install more benches immediately. Gibson and Hall consider basketball at Gun Hill indispensable; the summer tournaments keep young men and women out of trouble. As for the tables…

“We used to play dominos,” Gibson said. “We used to serve sandwiches and juice.”

Gibson has phoned 311, and contacted Councilman Larry Seabrook and Assemblyman Carl Heastie. Parks is open to the possibility of reinstalling some tables and benches, Moser said. Rosa suggested that Parks convene a neighborhood meeting to discuss the issue and build consensus.

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