Opinion: Let the PS 16 Schoolchildren Play Safely in Paulus Hook’s Four Corners Park

The contested southwest corner of Four Corners Park sits largely empty over Labor Day weekend on the morning of Sunday, September 5, 2021.

If you have ever walked by Grand St. and Washington St. during morning drop-off, mid-day recess, or in the afternoon after school, you have seen the scores of children playing in the only functional corner of Four Corners Park. The adjacent school, Cornelia F. Bradford Elementary School (PS 16), lacks an outdoor space, and its students need a large, safe place to play. Fortunately, this corner has provided this opportunity for years, and during school hours, it makes sense that the school should have exclusive use of this space. In the evenings, weekends, holidays, and summers, the space can be used by the entire community.

Our children recently graduated from PS 16, where they benefited enormously from the wide open, mostly flat space that allowed them to play soccer, tag, and football during recess, along with their classmates. Allowing the school the exclusive use of the space during school hours will ensure that hundreds of students will continue to enjoy this space safely on a daily basis for regular exercise. And the reality is that the vast majority of the child-hours spent in this park is indeed because of the school. During school hours, other children have access to a number of nearby parks and open spaces:

  • General Nathanael Greene Park by Essex Street Light Rail Station
  • Morris Canal Park
  • Morris Canal Square Park by the Marin Boulevard Light Rail Station
  • Korean War Veterans Memorial
  • Van Vorst Park

The Historic Paulus Hook Association (HPHA) opposes the exclusive use of this portion of the park by the school. To its credit, the HPHA has led various efforts in an attempt to improve the park; however, we have been disappointed by the results of these efforts. The introduction of the playgrounds was certainly an improvement, but the additional landscaping and impractical fencing also reduced the limited functional open space for sports and games of tag. The community already had three corners of landscaped, unusable park space, and the modifications further restricted the space in the most popular corner of the small park. Why has the southwest corner of the park always been the subject of discussion and dispute? Because this corner was the Four Corners Park’s only flat, open space that could be used for free play.

Instead of opposing the efforts of the school and the PS 16 Concerned Parents Association (CPA) to make extensive use of this open space, the HPHA should concentrate its advocacy on transforming the other three landscaped corners of the park into a more functional space for the community. The rest of the Four Corners Park is underutilized and could benefit from additional play spaces. Additionally, the HPHA can continue its work to improve the community’s use of the space near the Korean War Veterans Memorial, which is currently poorly used primarily as a parking lot. The paved entrance to the memorial has often served as a play space for the neighborhood, and with a little extra protection from cars, it could better serve the children of Paulus Hook.

But the HPHA does importantly highlight something we can all agree on: the need for school buildings with more classrooms, potable water, and safe play spaces. Perhaps we can build consensus around this demand and redirect the efforts of the various neighborhood groups toward this common goal.

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