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OPENED: The Gate of Seward Park

The gates of Seward Park were open during the weekend of July 10. That, however, was not altogether unusual — the gates are often opened one weekend each summer to accommodate the surge of visitors drawn to the annual NY MINI volleyball tournament. But the gates were opened again on the weekdays and weekends that followed; clearly something had changed.

Since 2012, SPBuzz has been advocating that the gates that border Seward Park on Essex Street be opened in order to foster vitality and connectivity to the park and the neighborhoods that surround it. In this context, SPBuzz has reached out to, met, and in many cases gained the support, of many leaders of our community, including representatives of Sheldon Silver's office, the Parks Department, Susan Stetzer of Community Board 3, the Police Department, local business and property owners, community organizations, the SPC Board of Directors, local families, and more. It seems all this advocacy has taken root.

Will the gates remain open? SPBuzz reached out to Mark Schulz, manager of Seward Park for further information. Mr. Schulz expressed that the Parks Department aims to keep the gates open. He mentioned that the decision to open the gates had the full support of Susan Stetzer, District Manager of Community Board 3. He said the viability of the plan was somewhat uncertain once the school year begins beause of the tendency for "rambunctious truants" to frequent the park, and he supposed that our the Seventh Precinct Police Department might prefer that the gates be kept closed to facilitate their "rounding up" of truant kids who frequent the park. Mr. Schulz also indicated that gate the northernmost gate was selected to be opened because it is ADA compliant, there being no steps to climb in order to enter the park.

It's worth recalling the reason the gates have been closed — as per former park manager Robert McClean, the park is not a "park" but a children's "playground", and the gates were closed as a safety measure to protect the children playing inside. Over the years, SPBuzz has presented many angles in which this claim is inconsistent both with the aim of safety and with the treatment of other "playgrounds" in the city. [A full discussion of such issues can be found here.]

In the past, people advocated strongly with regard to the park — most notably, a group calling itself "Friends of Seward Park" — called to restore the Schiff fountain. However, SPBuzz has long maintained that this was putting the cart before the horse — restoring a fountain along a desolate street would be a waste of money; if the open gates indeed lead to revitalizion along that street, other investment is warranted and is more likely to follow.

On weekends Rachel Mae's Farmstand can be found by the newly opened gate. Ms. Mae had set up a much larger-scale farmstand several years ago when the Hester Street Lot was first opened, but the lack of foot-traffic quickly reduced the scope of her operation. She has since operated a single table farmstand; she is hopeful that the increased circulation will lead to more business, and that this will, in turn, allow her to bring in more vendors. Her assessment is that the open gates haven't resulted in increased business. In any case, SPBuzz observed people wandering out of the park in order to buy produce — something that would have been impossible just a month ago.

The opening of the Essex Street gate of Seward Park is an extremely promising development that may spur the revitalizaton of Essex and Hester Streets (and beyond), a thriving greenmarket, a more bustling and representative park, and restoration of the Schiff Fountain! But anything can still happen. Neighbors are encouraged to demonstrate their appreciation of this development by passing through the park, supporting the farmstand and frequenting the businesses on Essex Street and Hester Streets.