At 6 p.m. on a recent Saturday, Big Bush Park in Woodside, Queens, buzzes with activity. In a children’s playground, little girls swing, out of sync, screaming with delight. Nearby, families gather in packs by a dormant fountain to socialize and exhaust their tykes before bedtime. A few older adults grace the area, solitarily or in small groups, sitting at chess tables or using the few spare suspension bars for their fitness routines.
Few seem to know that their cherished park will soon receive a $1.8 million renovation.
On October 2, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski unveiled plans to upgrade the tired Woodside fixture, which has not had any major improvements since its construction in 1987.
This park does need renovation,” said a local father, pausing as he chased after his 2-year-old son. “It’s in dire straits.”
The wear and tear is obvious. Pocked with old gum, large, mismatched chunks of concrete
buckle like tectonic plates. Paint peels off of benches, exposing
years of neglect, and graffiti mars the small brick building that houses a dilapidated public restroom. Weeds grow, untamed, by the handball courts, but that does not deter devotees, mostly teenage boys, who line up to wait their turn on one of the eight courts.
Weeds are likely to disappear after the renovation, which includes repaving the north end of the park, adding new swings for toddlers, updating the spray shower and drinking fountain, installing new adult exercise equipment and expanding green areas.
Significant planning has gone into these changes. Woodside residents began requesting renovation of the rundown park shortly after Van Bramer took office in 2009, according to one of his staff members. Van Bramer secured $500,000 for the project in 2013 and an additional $300,000 earlier this year. After Katz committed an additional $1 million, Van Bramer’s office, together with the New York City Parks Capital Projects Division, began mapping out the design.
The park upgrade will be conducted independently of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Community Parks Initiative, which has allocated $285 million in capital investments to improve underfunded parks in historically impoverished neighborhoods.
Van Bramer’s staff sought community input on the upgrade design, canvassing park patrons and residents of the nearby Big Six Towers for input. The plans were submitted to Queens Community Board 2 for feedback and approval.
Big Bush Park is a great example of community-led design in action,” said Lewandowski. “We look forward to opening a new and improved space that reflects their vision.” The Community Board did not respond to calls and an email requesting comment.
Though no one interviewed recently in the park had been approached for input on the upgrade, they seemed optimistic about the changes. The father of the 2-year-old, a long-time Woodside resident and finance professional, said he brings his two sons there often as it’s the closest outdoor play area to the co-op apartment he and his wife recently bought across the street. “The more parks that they have that are properly used, the better for the families and children and young people – for everybody who lives here,” he said.
Mario Andres, 22, shared a similar sentiment. Andres, who moved to Woodside from Ecuador, has been coming to Big Bush Park for four years. A competitive soccer player, Andres uses the park almost daily to practice and socialize with his friends. On weekends he competes in tournaments hosted in the park’s pitch. Andres said he appreciates the amenities the park provides and the sense of community it brings to diverse Woodside.
Along with enthusiasm for the new project came concern about the upkeep of the park after construction. “Hopefully they can maintain the balance of building a great park and also having it properly scrutinized as far as police patrolling,” said the Woodside father.
The park is relatively safe. Only one major crime, a robbery, was reported between April 1, 2014, and July 30, 2015, according to statistics released by the New York Police Department and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. The primary complaints received by the NYPD concern vandalism, noise and loitering, according to Officer Stan Ng of the 108th precinct.
Van Bramer’s staffer said the council member hopes to secure funding to increase patrolling in and around the park when the renovation is completed – to maintain safety and to protect the new construction. Renovations are scheduled to begin next fall, with a grand opening set for 2017.
— Chloe Aiello