Yes they did!
After years of pushing to get Fox Playground on Fox and East 156th streets fixed up, members of the New York Civic Participation Project, elected officials and members of the Parks Department finally opened the newly renovated facility to the public on Friday, October 8.
“Yes, we can!” the civic group members shouted in both Spanish and English as the ribbon was cut. “Si, se puede!”
Since last November, the park has undergone a $2.5 million transformation from an abandoned, trash-strewn facility to a state-of-the-art playground that has a full dog-run and chess/checkers tables. With large plastic palm trees at the entrance and greenery all over, Fox Playground stands out among the brown buildings of the Longwood neighborhood like an oasis.
“This playground was in need of a lot of help,” NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe told the crowd of community leaders and third graders from St. Athanasius School that gathered for the ribbon cutting ceremony. “Thanks to the community residents that said yes, we can build a better park, we have this facility here today.”
While it took less than a year to replace the play equipment, upgrade the basketball and handball courts, plant an arboretum and add amenities such as spray showers, swings, gaming tables, drinking fountains, benches, fences and wheelchair-accessible paths, it took several years for Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo and Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. to raise $2.5 million for the project.
“This is a day of celebration for a process that started about four years ago,” Arroyo said. “The NYCPP approached us and raised the bar for us and challenged us. Now we can see the result when we work together, so if anybody asks you what we do in government, just send them to 156th and Fox Street.”
For Diaz, who 15 years before raised his first son in a building across the street, ensuring that the project was well funded was a no-brainer.
“The park here did not look too good, so I had to find a different place to have a good time with my son so we could create memories,” he said. “I’m happy today for this community, but my heart is still heavy for the people that can’t take their kids to a park to have fun and to make memories.”
The park was built in 1979 and since then slowly fell into disrepair, city officials said.
Amy Sugimori, executive director of the NYCPP, which spearheaded the project, said that even once they began speaking with elected officials about fully renovating the park, they struggled to maintain it over the years.
“We started out by cleaning the park and dreaming,” she said. “Now we’re so happy to see our dream park. This is an example of what happens if everyone gets involved.”
For Alfredo Pitre, an NYCPP member who grew up in the area and has worked at union 32BJ adjacent to the park, the expansion is a dream come true.
“Everything was broken and boarded up,” he said. “It was abandoned before, and now it’s gorgeous.”