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Von King Park: The Buck Stops Where?

Other parks are cleaner. But who is responsbile for keeping our park clean?

Although both parks have roughly the same number of staff assigned to clean them, it appears that Fort Greene Park is better maintained than Bedford-Stuyvesant's Herbert Von King Park.

Inspection reports between 2008 and 2011 from New York City's Department of Parks and Recreation, interviews with local park-goers and several walk-throughs of both parks show a glaringly different picture of the upkeep between the two parks, which are less than two miles apart.

Although Fort Greene Park (30.16 acres) is three times as big as Von King Park (7.82 acres), still there are sections of both parks that can merit comparison.

At Fort Greene Park, most litter finds its way into the trash bins. The lawn boasts lush green grass that has been water and mowed regularly and meticulously-- enough so that park-goers feel comfortable enough to lay down or take a nap right in the grass.

However, at Von King Park, trash is sprinkled across the walkways, playground and center lawn. The lawn boasts jungle-like overgrown grass and weed, large spans of dirt patches where grass should be, and missing bars from the fence that outlines the lawn.

Local residents who frequent Von King Park agree that Fort Greene Park appears to be kept much cleaner, but they say the long commute to Fort Greene Park keeps them from making the trek.

"This is our neighborhood park," said Taleisha Hunter of Bed-Stuy. "I shouldn't have to go that far for a nice park. This should be as clean as all the others."

Earlier this month, Bed-Stuy Patch a three-part investigation looking into why Von King Park has lacked adequate upkeep in recent years. Local residents called for parks department employees to clear the litter, trim the shrubbery and re-paint the park benches and amphitheater.

Since then, the benches have received a fresh coat of dark green paint, but the trash remains scattered across the ground and the grass inches taller and taller. 

Philip Abramson, a spokesman for the parks department, said, "a crew mowed the lawn and maintained the area around the benches, flowerbeds, lamp posts and perimeter" on August 8 and 9. He added that, "Our horticulture crews have continued to wood chip and weed the park on a weekly basis."

Abramson said there are three parks employees charged with cleaning Fort Greene Park along with roughly 6 to 12 job training workers. Von King Park also has three dedicated cleaners who are also “augmented by the mobile crews who clean and pick up the garbage daily," Abramson said.

“In addition, the central Borough Crews and Horticulture staff, and the Von King Recreation Center workers, also help the district staff in cleaning and maintaining the park," Abramson said.

Bed-Stuy Patch caught up with two of the three parks department staffers assigned to clean Von King Park. The workers, who did not want their names mentioned in this article, said their job was solely to empty the trash bins and re-fill them with a new bag.

The workers boarded a garbage truck, stopped at every trash bin in the park, emptied them and ignored the litter laying on the ground.

“We just do the trash cans,” the male worker said before jumping back into the truck. “It’s a whole separate parks department staff that’s suppose to clean up the garbage.”

A Bed-Stuy Patch reporter contacted the Herbert Von King Cultural Arts and Recreation Center to confirm if the center's staff indeed helps clean the park. When reached, Lemuel Mial, the center's manager, did not wish to comment on the center's part in park upkeep and referred all questions to the parks department public affairs office.

But perhaps, some of the extra litter that remains lying around, even after trash pickup, can be reduced if the park-goers and other residents shared in the responsibility of throwing their own trash in the garbage instead of on the park grounds.

For example: Ronald Stevenson of Bed-Stuy said he believes the Fort Greene Park is cleaner, partly because the people who use that park are more likely to throw their garbage in a trash bin.

Those who visit Von King Park aren't that polite, Stevenson said; "They don't pick up after themselves here, it's just sad," he said. "If I was the trash collectors, I wouldn't clean up after grown folks either."

In the analysis, Fort Greene Park received an "acceptable" cleanliness grade during each of its last 15 parks department inspections. In comparison, Von King Park received an "acceptable" cleanliness grade for 10 of its last 15 inspections.

One of the Von King Park's five "unacceptable" reports appeared April 4. In the report, park inspectors labeled the park's litter, benches and playground equipment unacceptable. A similar unacceptable grade for litter was filed for Von King Park on August 30, 2010. 

In the final installment of this three-part seires on cleaning up Von King Park, we will talk about the Parks Department's role in helping to improve Von King Park's condition, and also what the community is doing on its own to help change things.

Click here to read the first story in this series, Von King Park: The Pride or Shame of Bed-Stuy?

Marina Stanley August 23, 2011 at 10:49 PM
Great piece! I will say it's one of my great pet peeves in life to see people litter and leave their trash behind! This city belongs to all of us. Hopefully this will keep the parks department on its toes and remind us all of our civic duties. Ps if it's not life threatening it's ok to extend ourselves and pick up a piece of trash even if it's not ours. Thanks.
pat August 24, 2011 at 08:17 AM
The reason why Fort Greene park is cleaner is because the residents in that area care for the park and themselves better. How is this even a question. When are the readers and editors of The Patch just state the obvious and tell the readers what you are trying to get across. The parks in Bed Stuy are more dirty because a a lot of people in Bed Stuy don't take care of nice things, period. Once again not that difficult to figure out. Don't forget there is also Saratoga Square Park that is also in dire need of repair and attention. The workers in these parks are terrible also, they spend most of the day on the cell phone and arguing. They speak with a foul language and make the parks department look terrible. How can we find out the grade Saratoga park received?
Marina Stanley August 24, 2011 at 12:14 PM
Our environment does speak to the deeper social ills. How do we make people care or motivate people to community action? In my old hood I was part a community team of volunteers who helped transform 16 Sycamores Park. There were a variety of characters at that park in a so-called "nice," or upper middle class neighborhood, but it was run down, littered and had drug users and the homeless occupying during prime time hours (there's a playground as well). Granted it is a very small play-ground but we painted, picked up garbage and made it ready to hold a movie-night projected onto our newly painted pristine hand ball court wall. We did this in a short ammount of time. My point is yes there are problems but if we take a "this is how it is" attitude there is no space for anything great. This article starts the conversation. Why don't we all in Bed Stuy deserve a nice green space and why don't we all take it on to make sure that space is amazing for everyone? It starts with awareness. I am happy to volunteer my time and bring friends to find solutions for the space. We can get the parks department to support with supplies. I'm just saying Pat, you're not toally off base, but what good is it to just sit back and do nothing? Maybe there are deeper reasons why people don't take pride or care for the green space. Pat I challenge you and all the readers on here to meet me and be pro-active in supporting the community and parks department. Down?
Josh August 24, 2011 at 12:17 PM
I agree Marina, and I will show up to help. Let's do this! Let me know when and where and I will be there, ready to help clean up.
pat August 24, 2011 at 12:39 PM
@Mrs. Stanley Thank you for taking the time to offer your help. Believe me when I say that I do more for this community than you, or any reader on this site will ever know. I just don't like talking about it, it is not the way I was raised. I was raised to do things because they need to be done and leave it at that. The reason I am so vocal about these things is because I do pick up trash with my family, we do volunteer, we do give money, we do all the things that good families are supposed to do in a neighborhood. We just have a very small tolerance for the absurd. I agree awareness is the first step, but everyone should know that you don't poop where you live and that is what happens in our community. I think it is great to finally have a group that will start picking up the slack for the parks department. Thank you once again for your help and hopefully more city parks can attract more groups like this.
Josh August 24, 2011 at 12:41 PM
So... let's not argue about who does more. Let's prove it - let's all get together and attack the problems at this park. How do we get started?
Claudette Brady August 24, 2011 at 12:49 PM
Hi Josh, Please send me an e-mail at friendsofherbertvonkingpark@gmail.com. A project to clean-up and spruce up the park is underway. I have met with Parks officials and we have set dates and a created a plan of action. Hope to hear from you soon.
Josh August 24, 2011 at 12:53 PM
Claudette: Sent! Thanks so much for the info on the project. I'm in!
C. Zawadi Morris August 24, 2011 at 01:11 PM
Yay! :-)
Marina Stanley August 24, 2011 at 01:16 PM
Congrats on your service Pat... it's ok to talk about, there's no "how i was raised" qualifier on not playing small. Keep up the good work but remember the word "should" is a tricky one. No, not everyone "knows better." We have to keep in mind all of humanity worldwide and in our neighborhood. I don't want to live in a world of complaint for myself or my community. I want to replace those thoughts with solutions. That's just where I am right now.
Marina Stanley August 24, 2011 at 01:24 PM
Fantastic Claudette... I will send an email and get involved with your ongoing project. I'm also happy to reach out to the parks department and other supporting agencies to get some money behind this if you haven't already. How about Bed Stuy Restoration Corporation? .. In any case, I didn't know much about Von King Park but I'm excited to learn more and meet all of you to enjoy the space together .
Hancockone August 24, 2011 at 02:08 PM
Trash does not just "appear" strewn across the paths and grass,The people who use the park drop it there. The parks dept should not have to clean up behind littlsers and persons who abuse the park. Individuals have civic responsibilities. Everyone who uses the park should feel responsible for its upkeep.
Claudette Brady August 24, 2011 at 02:13 PM
Small world Marina. I lived right behind that park years ago and also volunteered there. Looking forward to meeting you.
Marina Stanley August 24, 2011 at 02:40 PM
Yes we all have a civic duty but in a city of 8 million we do pay city, state and federal taxes for services. Society will always be filled with indifference and lack of self responsibility. Yes we'd all love to live in this perfect world where everyone is so perfect but we don't we live in reality where we all slack in one way or another. And we let others slack too. So problem has been highlighted and we vote and we pay taxes and we can use our resources personal and as citizens to improve it. Tired of finger pointing. Identify and change as decided and needed by the community.
Claudette Brady August 24, 2011 at 03:06 PM
Hi Pat, We are also looking at doing some work in Saratoga Park but, need some help with building a team on that end of Bed-Stuy. You know how to reach me. Hope to hear from you.
Johannah Rodgers September 18, 2011 at 11:53 AM
Claudette and Pat, I, too, would be very interested in doing some work at Saratoga Park.
Claudette Brady September 18, 2011 at 11:38 PM
Johannah - Please send me an e-mail at friendsofherbertvonkingpark@gmail.com,

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