Now, more than ever, outdoor space is at a premium in New York City. And one of North Brooklyn’s best public parks just closed for six months.

Originally named East River State Park, and renamed after the LGBTQ civil rights hero last year, Marsha P. Johnson State Park is a seven-acre waterfront park on East River. It’s often packed with people from sunrise until nightfall, and is also home to a very popular dog run and playground. The public space has been a major asset to the community during various stages of quarantine, and now, a public works project is slated to take that amenity away.

“Are we really getting one day’s notice in COVID — as the city is possibly facing more lockdowns — that our park is going to be closed for six months,” said Community Board 1 member Ryan Kuonen at Tuesday’s virtual meeting, as first reported by Brooklyn Paper. “In a normal year that would be insanity, during COVID it’s criminal and unconscionable.”

The project’s proposed budget is $14 million, which will pay for several aesthetic improvements planned before the pandemic hit New York. By summer 2021, New York State planned to add public bathrooms, a small classroom space, a park ranger station, storage and more. To help honor the park’s namesake and New York’s LGBTQ community, more rainbow and celebratory artwork is planned, as are infrastructure improvements to sustain the park’s longevity and help host events like Smorgasburg. As of this past summer, Smorgasburg relocated to an empty lot in Williamsburg to vend a limited selection of pre-ordered food in a socially distant manner. And with the pace of vaccines in New York, it’s unclear if Smorgasburg or any big events will be able to return to the city for summer 2021.

A rendering for Marsha P. Johnson State Park, after work is complete in summer 2021

So why close the park now? Or why not move forward with this project in stages, and allow taxpayers reasonable use of our public space?

“As we’re entering into an austerity budget essentially they’re pushing this through to get it done fast so the money can be spent on this and not, I don’t know, maybe housing, food — real things,” Kuonen said at the same CB1 meeting. “It just proves that they’re trying to push this through because they need to get it done so Governor Cuomo can have a big event and pat himself on the back.”

To fight against the park’s closure, North Brooklynites have decided to organize a protest. Starting at 4 p.m. on Friday, January 15th (an hour before sunset) neighbors plan to gather at the park’s front gates, which will be closed, to voice their disapproval for the project, particularly at this time.

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