Just as the Parks Department and local elected officials were set to begin the event, the clouds opened up and dumped buckets of rain. Community members weathered the storm underneath a green tent, waiting for the downpour to end.
After a few minutes, the clouds parted and the sun arrived, just in time to celebrate a new beginning for the Gowanus community.
“What a beautiful day to celebrate the future of Ennis Playground,” said Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver. “It may not look much right now, but by this time next year, this playground will be fully transformed.”
The $3 million renovation, funded by the mayor, borough president and City Council, will bring a new multipurpose synthetic field, perimeter walking paths, play equipment, swings and entrances to the playground.
Other features include reconstructed sports courts, a shaded seating area and a system to capture rainwater, which would have come in handy during the ceremony.
Neighbors and park users were the source for many of the ideas during a community input meeting in January 2016. After rejecting the initial design, community members worked with the Parks Department to come up with a design that “fit all of your needs,” Silver said.
“The community has been part of the process from day one,” he said.
Councilman Brad Lander said the end result was one that “everybody was happier with.”
He compared the collaborative method to a broader approach taken with the whole Gowanus neighborhood, an area with a complex industrial past, rising real estate values and that is vulnerable to climate change.
“We can come out with a place that reflects our shared values, that’s rooted in sustainability and resiliency,” Lander said, “that we make more inclusive so more people can be part of living in and celebrating this place.”
Esther Robinson, who has lived in Gowanus for nearly two decades, said she takes her five-year-old son to Ennis Playground frequently. For a mixed-use industrial neighborhood, she noted, Gowanus has “a lot of residents.”
“This park is highly used by the kids of the neighborhood,” she said. “I’ve been here at all hours, and it’s really, really used.”
Not only was Ennis Playground dilapidated, she said, but it’s in a low-lying, flood-prone area. Neighbors took that into consideration when dreaming up ideas for its redesign.
Even the kids who were at the input meeting were cognizant of those factors, she said.
Robinson said she was pleased to see how responsive the Parks Department was to community concerns.
“We had one design we didn’t really like, and then we pushed back, thinking they would override it, but they didn’t,” she said. “They came back and really listened and redesigned. That was really exciting for us.”
The refurbished playground is expected to open next summer, and Robinson said her son has already been asking her when it will be finished. The longtime resident said she looks forward to seeing how the park will match the love and care that neighbors bring everyday.
“Parks make neighborhoods like this extraordinary,” Robinson said. “It becomes a place for all of us to play, and we need those spaces more and more.”