Thursday, March 29, 2018

Under the Tracks


In the 1940's, when Ann Greco and her older sister Fran were growing up on 10th Street, they used to play in a park across the street from their house. 

 ''Oh, it was beautiful,'' Ms. Greco recalled. ''We had handball in front, we had shuffleboard, we had horseshoes, we had basketball and swings, we had monkey bars and slides. There was a park house on a mound, and a fellow that took care of the park.''  (NY Times)

I just noticed new signs at Third and 10th Street, the site of the old Under the Tracks playground.  The playground was closed in the 1990's after debris fell from the viaduct, and the ground was declared unstable.  In 1996, Under the Tracks was renamed in memory of Fran Brady.  Brady, a local resident, fought long and hard to maintain the neglected playground and eventually won capital funding to upgrade it.  Sadly, she did not live long enough to see her dreams realized. Despite her tireless efforts, plans to re-open the playground were delayed by the pace of MTA repair work at the site.  The site has languished for years.

In 2000, the NY Times ran a story on the playground.  At that time there was a budget of almost $1M earmarked to rehabilitate the park, and Parks Commissioner Henry Stern declared the project to be "still on track."

Under the Tracks remained closed.

In 2011, after fierce community opposition, CB6 rejected the Lower East Side Ecology Center's plan to turn the playground site into a temporary compost mixing center.  A reasonable-enough plan, it seems, but residents feared the compost center might become a permanent project.

The organization would have operated under the oversight of the Parks Department, which has said the agreement would be just one year. Board member Pauline Blake said the area has suffered a host of problems, and should not be expected to warmly accept the mixing facility. From crime to rats, Blake said, this section of Park Slope has had enough. “To take the playground away from them for any ecological project would be criminal,” Blake said. Member Anthony Pugliese put it this way, saying, “Parks [are] at stake here. This is a business…this is not people saving the world here.”

Under the Tracks stayed shut.  Occasionally you might have glimpsed a rabbit there, snuffling in the dirt and weeds, an escapee from the colony back of the next-door tire shop.  The rabbits and their owner were removed, the tire shop changed its name (Mexico became AM), and still the playground awaited its rebirth.  New Gowanus residents could never have guessed a playground had ever existed in such an unlikely location, though it was one of many slivers of parks and playground that came into being during the city's massive infrastructure changes of the Moses era.  It was an older cousin of the finger parks that line the Prospect Expressway.

In the last couple of years there's been talk of bringing the playground back, and even installing those old Kentile letters there.  Maintenance work on the viaduct itself appears to be complete, and recently there's been work going on underneath it, all the way from Fourth to Second, but as yet (like the station itself) it's unfinished.  Perhaps the new signs heralds some real playground action?  The timing seems right, what with the rezoning process cranking into full gear.  Strategic sweetener or not (and possibly I'm just too cynical), how nice it would be to see Fran Brady's tireless efforts finally rewarded.  Let the children play!

Later - well I guess NOT.

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