When Hurricane Sandy struck Faber Park in Staten Island’s Port Richmond neighborhood in October 2012, it left devastation in its wake, with the children’s playground suffering the greatest damage. Now, over a year later, things are looking up again at this waterfront park, thanks to the efforts of El Centro Del Inmigrante, a local immigrants rights organization, who is working with Partnerships for Parks to engage local residents through the People Make Parks Initiative.
Movement around fixing the park fired up in October when over 300 local residents attended the Diseño Carnaval, which means “Design Carnival” in Spanish. The community was celebrating not the park’s destruction but rather its hoped-for reconstruction, with the help of fun and engaging tools found at PeopleMakeParks.org. This event kickstarted the now ongoing process of envisioning and advocating for an improved Faber Park.
“We organized the Diseño Carnaval because we believe this community deserves a great park again. And when the community can say what they want for their park during the earliest phases of the project, they’re more likely to make sure the park is well cared for throughout its life,” explains Gonzalo Mercado, one of the event’s lead organizers and the Executive Director of El Centro del Inmigrante, a local nonprofit that works to improve living and working conditions for the many Mexican and Latin American immigrants who have settled in the area since the 1990s.
With support from Partnerships for Parks’ People Make Parks initiative, El Centro and Project Urbanista found creative ways such as Model Making and Story Mapping to engage the community, especially youth, in the project. Participants in the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program were even able to use their newly learned Google Sketchup skills to create virtual models for what a future Faber Park could look like!
What many attendees at the carnival may not have known, however, is that Faber Park sits on land owned by a former immigrant, the German-born Eberhard Faber, who in 1861 built the first lead pencil factory in the United States. It was a perfect setting for the Design Carnival, where both kids and adults eagerly took up pencils, pens, magic markers, and paint brushes to write and draw their dreams for the park as a whole, but particularly the playground area, which suffered the worst damage.
“Hurricane Sandy caused tremendous destruction to Staten Island parks,” says Michael Schnall, the Chief of Staff for Staten Island parks, “At Faber Park, it made the children’s playground dangerously unsuitable for use, which was a real loss to the neighborhood.”
Although relatively small (a little under 4.5 acres), the park, located near the base of the Bayonne Bridge, is large with amenities, including an iconic, stone recreation center, the second largest swimming pool on Staten Island, a perennial flower garden, and, slated to open in 2015, a skateboard park, only the third in the borough. Yet the park had even greater potential, especially due to its unique waterfront location and views, which the present layout did not fully leverage.
“The Port Richmond neighborhood sits along a highly industrialized waterfront,” says Julie Behrens, the founder of Project Urbanista, a community-focused, urban planning firm that is partnering with El Centro to support community-based efforts in Faber Park. “So that sometimes, even seeing the waterfront, let alone using it to kayak, fish, or simply sit and relax, can be a challenge. And for many residents, just getting across the street to the park, due to heavy traffic and lack of traffic signals, can be scary, which just highlights how important it is to learn from the community what their priorities are for making park improvements.”
CREATING A PLAN
Following the Diseño Carnaval, El Centro and Project Urbanista, and the recently formed Friends of Faber Park, organized a second Es Mi Parque visioning event in November 2013, in which they shared with the community the information they’d gathered and created a “priority action plan” for Faber Park. This second, interactive workshop included even more local groups such as, New World Prep, the Port Richmond Improvement Association, participants in Faber Park’s recreation center programs, volunteers from Wagner College, Port Richmond High School students, and earlier participants from the Design Carnival.
“This project is an important opportunity for El Centro to further the goal of community integration between and among a newly arrived immigrant population and many long-time residents of the Port Richmond neighborhood. Through participatory visioning and design of physical improvements in public space, residents have a chance for meaningful civic participation on issues of urban planning and design, development, the waterfront, and environmental justice,” says Gonzalo Mercado.
Separate from People Make Parks, a new skate park is on the horizon for Faber Park that will make Staten Island a destination spot for skaters across the city. The idea for the skate park began two years ago with 13-year-old Jared Moller, who started a campaign for a skate park on the North Shore. Excited at the prospect of turning a passive park space into an active and recreational space, Borough President James Molinaro allocated $1.2 million to the project. At an Open House on December 18 the community embraced the design, which has an urban plaza theme that is integrated into the slope of the existing park. Designed in partnership with the community and Action Sport Design, a specialized skate park design consultant, the space will be pedestrian friendly and inviting to spectators, and will have a great view of the Kill Van Kull and the Bayonne Bridge. Construction began in January of 2014 and completion is expected in January 2015.