The Shameful State of Sara D. Roosevelt Park [OP-ED]
The following editorial was written by longtime Lower East Sider and lifelong New Yorker Arthur Karpati.
When I moved to the Lower East Side in 1999, I did so because of the dynamic nature of the neighborhood. Long one of the city’s great cultural crossroads—from Chinatown to Little Italy to Loisaida—it has also, in recent decades, been emblematic of that quintessential New York character, a neighborhood that constantly reinvents itself while somehow holding on to its multi-cultural heritage. The fact that my apartment on Chrystie Street faced one of downtown’s largest public spaces—the 7.8-acre Sara Delano Roosevelt Park—was the cherry on top of an easy decision.
The city’s enthusiastic re-embrace of green spaces was just picking up steam at the time, and I could easily envisage taking my (future) children for a stroll in the sun-splashed park, soaking up the best downtown energy that New York City has to offer.
It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Living here has been a constant source of vitality for my family—I’ve got four children between the ages of 3 and 18—and it’s been hugely energizing to have a front-row seat to constant urban reinvention. I am proud to call myself a Lower East Sider, and I strongly believe that by growing up here, my children will have had a complete New York City experience.
My only regret? That they have had their own front-row seat to a mortifying display of negligence when it comes to the state of the park we see outside our windows. For some time now, but especially in 2021, the state of the Sara D. Roosevelt Park has been nothing short of disgraceful.
Along with numerous playing surfaces for sport, including a basketball court, and two soccer fields, the park also contains the M’Finda Kalunga Garden, dedicated to the memory of an African American burial ground. Created in 1982 as part of an effort to rid the park of drugs and crime, the nearly block-long garden hosts cultural events of all varieties, from the Chinese Moon Festival to Cinco de Mayo. But in 2021, that garden is but a small haven sinking in a mire, not just of drugs and crime, but of an urban filth that is an offense to this great city.
There’s high irony in this situation: Our current Mayor, Bill de Blasio, represents himself as a man personally invested in the experience not just of wealthy white Manhattanites but of people of color as well. But the state of the park belies that superficial façade. If I took my kids for a walk in the park, they’re not going to see how a great city honors the heritage of those less fortunate. What they’ll see is overflowing trash cans, human feces, and playgrounds full, not of happy children, but of the glazed eyes of heroin addicts. A recent installation of permanent tables on Rivington quickly turned into a shooting gallery. There are needles everywhere you look.
By my count, there are only six garbage cans in the entire park. And despite there being Parks Department office in the park itself, I rarely see a city employee working on upkeep of any variety. Once in a great while, a group of volunteers cleaning or park employees parking their cars. As the neighborhood strives to stay vital on all sides of the park, the park itself has slid into a state of near-permanent disrepair. Instead of taking my kids to the park across the street, I’m forced to walk them up to Spring and Mulberry to avoid the beer bottles, needles, and growing piles of trash.
When the city’s Board of Alderman decided to honor the President’s mother by naming the park after her in 1934, they did so against her wishes. One assumes that she was acting out of modesty at the time. But maybe she had foresight, and somehow saw what a disgrace the park would become almost 100 years later and realized that she’d be ashamed to have her name attached to it. That’s Mayor de Blasio’s shame now—not just for letting the people of his city down, but for tarnishing the name of the mother of one of the finest Presidents this country has ever known.