What do you do when your park lies beneath the Williamsburg Bridge and in the 1990s lost a large portion of its trees to an Asian Longhorn beetle infestation?
For one dad with two boys who lived near Luther Gulick Playground, a space acquired by Parks in 1931 and named after the “Godfather of Basketball,” the solution was to form a Friends group to turn the space into a greener, livelier, and safer playground. His idea sparked the interest of six neighbors, who decided to join him in the effort by applying their diverse talents to the park redesign challenge.
The group started by advocating to their local elected officials for money to fund a park redesign. At the same time, they organized park clean-up days and planting projects, to show their commitment to the park before money was allocated.
Becoming a People Make Parks Site
By early 2010, the Manhattan Parks Borough Commissioner, seeing the group’s dedication, decided to make Luther Gulick a People Make Parks pilot project. That led to a collaboration with Hester Street Collaborative and Partnerships for Parks, who helped the group plan a Take Back Our Park Day, a day-long visioning event designed to gather community members’ concerns about the park’s current condition and their hopes and dreams for its future.
The group reviewed the input-gathering tools available through the People Make Parks model. After thinking about their diverse community, the different groups who used the park, and the importance of being comprehensive in their input-gathering, they settled on Design Darts, Model Making, Park Stories, Questionnaire, Story Map, and Wish Objects for the May 2010 event.
Planning began in January, with meetings held monthly in February, and bi-monthly after that. The group created checklists to help meet deadlines and assigned a group member to take the lead in organizing each tool.
When the day finally arrived, the group was more than prepared. And when over 100 people showed up to participate, they knew they’d chosen the right tools to survey their neighbors. Model Making attracted kids and teens, Park Stories collected memories from long-time residents, and people of all ages contributed to Design Darts, Questionnaire, Story Map, and Wish Objects.
After the Visioning Day, the group met to review the information they’d gathered. They counted responses, noted frequent suggestions and requests, and created charts and graphs to visually show people’s priorities for park improvements.
Finally, after writing and rewriting their visioning report, they delivered it to Manhattan’s Parks Borough Commissioner, his Chief of Staff, and the designers assigned to the project, to share with them what they’d learned.
But the group wasn’t finished. The last step was taking their results and seeing how they could contribute to the future park design. In May 2011, with support from Parks, HSC, and PFP, the Friends group hosted a design charrette, in which an even broader range of community members came together to translate the report’s broad goals into specific, actionable recommendations in the areas of park features, safety considerations, activity needs, and layout.
Following the visioning day, Friends of Luther Gulick Playground members were still hard at work. They hosted Spring It’s My Park Day – complete with ping pong and karaoke – and set up a summer garden-care schedule to ensure bulbs and shrubs planted during Fall It’s My Park Day survived the summer heat. Meanwhile, they eagerly awaited the designs for a new and improved Luther Gulick Playground.
Working with the Parks Department
Over the years FOGP has worked closely with Parks to ensure the new park design reflected community input and to advocate for funding the full capital construction costs of the renovated park. The Parks design was ultimately approved with FOGP support in 2013.
The design reflects the desires of the residents by keeping the existing handball courts, creating more seating areas and a comfort station, and improving the exercise equipment available– among other new amenities.
At the time of the concept design, Parks did not have enough capital funds to complete the entire project and recommended a phased build-out of the park. FOGP worked with elected officials and continued applying for funding to ensure the whole park could be constructed at once.
In January 2014, Luther Gulick Park received $2.5 Million in state grants toward the capital renovation of the park. Money from the Transportation Enhancement Program will pay for construction of pathways, sidewalks, lighting, bicycle parking, greenery and landscaping, which will ameliorate the affects of the Williamsburg Bridge and traffic along Delancey St. At this time an additional $500,000-700,000 was still needed for fulfill
In April 2014 Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver allocated $1,000,000 to fill the funding gap. Now that the project is fully funded, it has begun the design phase of the NYC Parks Capital Process. Follow its progress here.
Read the Luther Gulick Visioning Report (in English, Spanish, or Chinese) that resulted from Take Back Our Park Day.