After two years I’m still far from an authority on New York City, including my home borough of Brooklyn. I know a lot about specific neighborhoods and absolutely nothing about others, which is why I’m constantly surprised by some of the things I see and stumble upon when I’m out in the City.
A few weeks ago I finally went to the Brooklyn Museum. Its on the other side of Prospect Park from my apartment. Like many places in New York, it made more sense to walk than hop on the train. I took Prospect Park West up to Grand Army Plaza, which I must say, looks far less impressive up close than it does from the back seat of a taxi. Before I continued onto the museum, I turned briefly onto Flatbush Avenue, which borders the Northeast corner of the park. I was struck immediately by how different this side of the park is from where I live.
This summer I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Prospect Park, taking walks around the baseball fields, near the picnic house, and up towards the northern tip of the park. Every time I’m out I run head first into the strange dichotomy between the western and eastern sections of the park. It goes without question that the northeastern portion of Prospect Park needs more love and care than its getting. Pavers in the paths are crumbling, loose, and missing. Weeds and grass are poking through. With this in mind I probably should have been less surprised than I was at Flatbush Avenue.
The sections of the park near my apartment are bordered by a beautiful stone wall and an iron fence. As far as I’ve seen it’s always in perfect condition and well-maintained. There are benches to sit on and rest under the shade of the trees from the park, and entrances every few blocks. Where I stood on Flatbush Avenue, however, the iron fence had gaping holes covered by temporary wood siding. There were no benches and I saw none after looking further on GoogleMaps. Perhaps more shocking than anything else is the lack of entrances to the park. Flatbush Avenue, a main thoroughfare in Brooklyn, is the only street that borders the park without an entrance.
Why such neglect and disparity for one section of a popular public park? I can only suppose that at its heart it boils down who the park was built for. Was it designed to allow wealthier West Brooklyn residents a sanctuary away from their lower income neighbors to the East? What’s more has the dilapidation been allowed to continue because those on one side of the park have the resources to provide support and rally together to make the repairs they see and want completed? I can’t be sure, but I can certainly guess. And, I can be certain that regardless of the cause, it seems completely unjustified that one portion of the park should flourish while the other decays.
This isn’t to say that Prospect Park isn’t for everyone it is. It teems with people from all difference backgrounds. Head there on a Saturday or Sunday and you’ll see large parties of people having picnics and cookouts. Celebrating birthday parties, even getting married. The park itself does not discriminate. But, perhaps the care, maintenance, and quality of the park does. It’s astonishing that in the 21st Century, in 2015, something so seemingly small as a park can speak volumes to the discrimination that plagues not only Brooklyn and the rest of New York City, but the country.