Visitors walking through Marsha P. Johnson State Park in Williamsburg.
Photo credit: Roy Rochlin / Getty Images
Following public backlash against a plan to cover about an acre of concrete slab in Marsha P. Johnson State Park with a plastic mural, the state park system put it discarded. The move comes after Johnson family, trans activists, and residents of North Brooklyn spoke out against the community’s lack of awareness in the process of designing a space for the state’s first park named after an LGBTQ figure. In a letter this week to the Brooklyn Community Board 1 announcing the change, a state parks official said the agency will continue to work on infrastructure upgrades and begin developing a new design for the Williamsburg green space. through a series of community workshops. “There were a lot of voices in the neighborhood who didn’t believe they had a chance to be heard and it is our first priority to rectify this immediately,” wrote Leslie Wright, city regional manager for the park system. the state.
Many had hoped that a design overhaul would mean a significant extension of green space in the park by digging up at least one of the two concrete slabs. Wright, in his letter, pledged to “reduce their footprint and increase green space,” but at the same time the state is accepting proposals from food vendors who would operate on both slabs. With the park design in the air, we asked locals, activists and Johnson’s family members what they would ideally like to see in space. Here is what they had to say.
We want it to look like a park: so more green space, removing those concrete slabs, more flowers. We echo a lot of what the community has already shared. I would think of something with lots of greenery and real flowers, something bright, bold, and making a statement. But also create a space where perhaps young people who identify as LGBTQ… will feel welcome and have a sense of belonging. The design as it is now includes some bright colors and things of that nature, but the slabs almost make it look like it’s not a park. And again, when you think of a park, you think of grass, greenery, flowers, maybe an area where people can picnic. A space that people of all ages can enjoy, that kids can enjoy, whether it’s a swing or something like big recycled tires with plantings inside. Let’s also do something that would be good for the environment – maybe using recycled items, less plastic. Maybe we could have a community garden. There are those who are depleted of food, let’s grow things in the garden and give them to a shelter, you know, let’s go further. You want a park that everyone can enjoy, whether it’s a 2 year old or a homeless LGBTQ youth.
We think where it all went wrong is that this process was not open to the public and the character of Marsha was not part of the process. We want the park design process to be something much more public-oriented and involving the public.
What if there was some kind of design competition and some of the elements had to be recycled materials? I would like gigantic gardens, something daring, maybe even architecture suitable for the homeless.
I also have another idea that seems to be only in my dreams: an apiary. An intentionally bold, but not super expensive type of design where you’re like, “Oh yeah, we didn’t think about it, but Marsha would totally love it and probably would have thought about it.” If I don’t get the apiary of my dreams, I think at the very least, what do you want? A space that can become a meeting point, a reception point for LGBT people in the neighborhood. The neighborhood doesn’t have a huge contingent of organic LGBT youth using this space right now, but if you build it they will come.
Marsha probably would have wanted something vibrant, where members of the LGBT community could come and relax and pick themselves up, feel at home and enjoy her struggles. And feel that it is the product of his sacrifice, and also of Sylvia [Rivera], and others. If they feel the need to leave a slab there, let’s have a slab engraved with the names of trans women who have lost their lives and as a keepsake for them.
The main idea I have is a spinoff from the idea of the Pride flag. As far as I know, the land there is polluted. So if there is such a need to keep this area paved, the vision I would have is to keep this linear design with planters that go along those lines with native flowers of the same color scheme. Instead of something synthetic, we could grow flowers that would have that color naturally. It would be very dynamic, especially from a distance.
I would fill them with black-eyed Susans, cardinal flowers, echinacea, then greater blue lobelia and New England aster. Right there, it’s yellow, red, pink, blue and purple. Would also love to see the Oregon inkwell and grape. (They’re not grapes, that’s just the name of it.) They’re both evergreen, so if you visit the park in the winter, it won’t be all bare branches. We need to add milkweed because in the fall we will have all the monarch butterflies. I would also like some goldenrod and bergamot. For the trees that I would really like to see river birch, it absorbs much of the air pollution, and American holly is evergreen and provides shelter for birds that migrate along the water. So I think it would be the perfect tribute not only to trans women, iconic gay rights pioneers, but to everyone. When you want to honor someone, you go to birthdays, you go to ceremonies, you go to funerals, and you give real flowers. Giving so much natural color to the area, I think, would pay homage to the spirit of Marsha P. Johnson.
I think we should stop the process and discuss how much pavement this park really needs. It is always a delicate balance between passive and active space within parks. There should be discussions about where to recreate, where to relax and what the community is getting out of their entire park system. I’m not against having a paved space, this platform is a place for people to barbecue. I am against the idea that we have to replace it. I want a real dialogue on all the elements of the park, not just those that the state thinks it wants to talk to us about. For example, if there is to be a classroom in the park house, if it is to be part of Marsha P. Johnson State Park, then there needs to be real education and real space for black transgender people and browns. The neighborhood should talk about what we want and not let the state just tell us what it has decided.