In December, an article written in a throw away newsletter, wrapped deep within sales and advertising flyers that are delivered on Friday to doorsteps, came to my attention. The article involved a massive renovation plan for Church Square Park that has been evolving behind the scenes.
Last summer, a couple of women took their children to Liberty State Park (300 public acres), and afterwards bemoaned that the playground equipment in Church Square Park (around 3.67 acres) was inferior and started an initiative to renovate Church Square Park with new play equipment. This would entail new area resurfacing and higher fences that entirely enclose the playgrounds. They want to organize the space to accommodate specialized activities areas geared to three different age groups. The women dubbed the renovation Project Play, and have held meetings and are attempting to obtain corporate sponsorships and grants to raise the $500,000 they estimated will be needed to customize the park as a playground for other parents and children.
In 2006, behind the scenes lobbying by a group of parents and schools to customize the park for themselves resulted in the entire northeast quadrant of the park being covered over with a kiddie playground, monkey bars exercise area, and a field of Astroturf. This was done with no public process and was a shock to many who have for years enjoyed the historic green and verdant character of the park. The resulting citizen outrage induced the City Council to enact an ordinance that prevents any changes to public parks without public approval established in properly advertised public hearings. This legislation recognized that Hoboken has very little green and natural park space and that it must be protected for all citizens to enjoy and not furtively transformed into artificial playgrounds to serve a small sector of our community.
At the Jan. 6 City Council meeting, I had planned to mention what I had discovered via the newsletter, and coincidently Project Play was brought up for the first time as “New Business.” Apparently the idea of putting pavers in the park came up and required a resolution to establish a policy regarding the parks and possible corporate sponsorships. Corporations who fund public renovations expect to be recognized with engraved advertisements on plaques, benches, sidewalks or pavers.
Presentations by Project Play have been made to the Director of Environmental Services and to the Parks and Recreation Sub-Committee. The Hoboken Family Alliance has contributed $10,000 toward their cause and will be helping to raise additional money for them. I am legitimately concerned that more destructive transformations of the park are in progress without the public process that our City Council has mandated.
Church Square Park is a public park and should not be transformed to satisfy the personal agendas of a select few who consider it their personal property. Such transformations have already inflicted severe damage upon its historic and natural character by the death of ancient trees, fields of grass replaced with artificial turf, and additions of plastic and rubber that mar its natural state.