It’s a Friday morning at the Jackie Robinson Playground on Malcolm X Boulevard in Bed-Stuy. A young man plays basketball in one of the courts. An older man reads his newspaper on a table near the playground while two grown men, probably in their 30s, loudly discuss if they think women they’ve recently slept with are free of sexually transmitted diseases. One of them leaves the bench he was sitting on to go do pull-ups on the monkey bars. Only two young children are in the park, unattended – a boy plays ball by himself in another court while a girl sits on a swing before getting up and leaving.
“You’ll have some mothers come here with their kids in the mornings sometimes, but it’s random,” said a parks department worker sweeping up the trash liberally scattered throughout the area. Spots of pavement, two water fountains and the jungle gym are dabbled in an ugly off-white paint to cover vandalism. The tennis courts and walkways are clearly old and covered with a layer of dirt. The worker wouldn’t give her name for fear of endangering her job.
The Parks Department recently came under fire from the city comptroller John Liu, who published an audit in April condemning the department’s Brooklyn branch for not completing playground repairs on a timely basis. According to the park worker in this Bed Stuy playground, she hasn’t seen any negligence on her department’s behalf. “I’ve reported things like a tree limb hanging over the main pathway, and they were here I think the next day to cut it down,” she said.
Still, the city’s audit indicated that the parks department may not be as diligent as it could be. The audit conducted from April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012, found that of the 4,731 work orders for playground repairs and maintenance, only 2,043 (58 percent) were taken care of within 30 days. And of the remainder, 868 took more than three months to address.
The department disputed the reports, saying that the audit did not take into account the complexity of the workload they deal with, and that “we believe the current and action underway already address the issues raised.”
Jackie Robinson Playground was one of the most neglected according to the audit. It took a full 414 days to fix a broken walkway, deemed a “tripping hazard.” And when the comptroller’s team conducted a follow-up in September last year to find unaddressed issues requiring “immediate action,” Jackie Robinson Playground appeared twice in the list of 63 concerns, making it one of several repeat offenders.
“That’s surprising to me,” said the parks worker as she continued to pick up trash, which included empty bottles and junk food wrappers. She said that the park gets busy at the end of the day, when kids use it as a hangout.
She noticed blue graffiti on the old metal slide in the jungle gym, expressing that it shouldn’t contradict what she was saying – it’s just something she has to report a couple times a week, and then it’ll get painted over. She suspects that teenagers are the culprits. “They like this park, I guess,” she said.
A couple blocks away at Fulton Park, Ebony Cruz sat next to her friend Sharette Battle as they watched Ebony’s 5-year-old twins play. That the maintenance of Brooklyn’s playgrounds was in question was hardly a surprise to either of them.
“I actually filed a lawsuit against the city,” said Cruz. She said that her daughter, Kiamiah, was playing at Woods Playground near P.S. 335 several months ago when she fell off the monkey bars and broke a bone in her wrist, causing her to need a cast for two months.
“It’d be one thing if it was her fault, but the bars were so loose they couldn’t support her weight,” said Cruz. “And when she fell, the black rubber piece on the ground – which is meant to protect kids when they fall – provided no cushion because it was so old and worn.”
Cruz and Battle agreed that neglected playground equipment was symptomatic of a bigger problem – complete neglect of general safety in the parks in Bed-Stuy.
“There are always guys hanging around the parks and playgrounds because there are never cops there. They know they can smoke and drink in there,” said Battle.
Cruz said that it’s also for this reason that when she has time to take her kids to play, she prefers a place like Chuck E. Cheese’s, where adults will not be smoking, drinking and swearing, like they do in Jackie Robinson Park.
“Why would I bring my child in there?” she asked.