The state on March 5 halted construction on the controversial revamp of Marsha P. Johnson Park in Williamsburg after several family members of the lawn’s namesake LGBTQ icon railed against the plan at a community meeting on March 4.
Johnson’s relatives, along with Black trans activists, demanded that state Parks honchos reconsider the construction, which has been widely-panned for lacking community input and using “harsh thermoplastic colors and extended cement slabs” in the park’s design.
The LGBTQ hero’s family also accused the state’s Parks Department of using her legacy as a publicity prop to push the contested scheme forward.
“I personally feel this was a mass deception campaign and our family was deceived, Johnson’s cousin, James Carey, said at the virtual public meeting with Community Board 1’s Parks Committee on March 4. “Moving forward, from this point forward, no one will be trying to exploit my cousin’s name without consulting with my family,”
Carey said that greenspace gurus up in Albany notified him about the park project back in the summer of 2020 but never responded to any follow-ups he sent to numerous reps in the following months to be included in any discussions and events around the Kent Avenue park.
“I sent correspondences to the governor personally to let him know that our family as a whole were happy that you’re naming the park in the memory of our family member, however, please when the occasion arises, please include us,” he said. “Not one person — no one — responded, and I find it absurd.”
The state announced the park’s splashy revamp in honor of Johnson in August, but failed to tell locals about a six-month construction closure of the space until the eleventh hour before builders locked off most of the site for half a year in January and broke ground.
Many north Brooklynites have taken issue with the colorful thermoplastic mural to replace the park’s old industrial northern concrete slab, with a petition called “Stop the Plastic Park” garnering more than 1,500 signatures.
Another relative of Johnson said she had no idea locals were opposed to the overhaul, and slammed state officials for bulldozing ahead without proper community input on the $14 million scheme, which many residents see as little more than a vanity project for Governor Andrew Cuomo.
“We were not aware that the community had disagreement with the park design,” said Anika Dorsey Good, Johnson’s great-niece. “We were somewhat caught out of the loop in that regard. We are very saddened, I would almost say disgusted by the lack of transparency that has taken place.”
In a Friday morning email to local activists, Cuomo’s director of LGBTQ affairs confirmed that the state paused the project following the outcry — but did not provide information about how long the construction would be halted.
“Construction has been halted,” wrote Matthew McMorrow in a Friday email response to Mariah Lopez of the Strategic Transgender Alliance for Radical Reform (STARR), a group working to honor the legacy of Johnson and fellow LGBTQ liberation activist Sylvia Rivera.
The state agency’s regional director for New York City Leslie Wright came to the civic panel on the night of March 4 to provide more details about the plan, including a presentation by the site’s transgender artist Molly Lenore of the Gowanus-based design firm Moey Inc.
The hearing soon went off the rails when other trans activists chimed in saying their organizations were left out of the conversations around the park, even though the state committed to “consult with the New York City LGBTQ community.”
“Stop saying y’all consulted the Black trans community, we are the Black trans community,” said Lopez, who is a Black Latinx trans woman. “What happened is a group of people selected who were the other people, who were important, not the ones that didn’t say what they didn’t want to hear.”
Local state and federal politicians sent a letter to State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid last week asking officials to hold construction until the March 4 meeting, but one local pol said that request fell on deaf ears.
“It just goes to show what we know about Cuomo in general is that he makes the decisions without necessarily other people’s approval,” Assemblymember Emily Gallagher told Brooklyn Paper. “I really want to honor Marsha P. Johnson and her family members and trans activists should be fully involved in this.”
Locals noted the state agency’s history of ignoring community input, and said they fast-tracked the project so Albany bigwigs could pat themselves on the back.
“Need to back up to the choice and designation of this particular park as an applause line at a Black Tie Dinner without the notification, participation or input of the residents of North Brooklyn,” wrote board member Tom Burrows in the web conference’s chat.
This story first appeared in Gay City News’ sister publication, Brooklyn Paper. To sign up for the Gay City News email newsletter, visit gaycitynews.com/newsletter.