Filthy parks: Whose fault is it?

By Raphia Ngoutane

Photo by raphia Ngoutane

Photo by raphia Ngoutane

Mott Haven resident Yolanda Martinez has been going to St. Mary’s Park for the past 39 years. “I will live here till the cemetery,” Martinez said about the neighborhood.
Martinez, a native Honduran and grandmother of 11 children, including five foster kids, has been visiting St. Mary’s Park since she moved to building 443-5 just across from St. Mary’s Park three decades ago. St. Mary’s Park gives Martinez’s grandchildren a way of being active and diverted.

Despite the well-rounded activities such as: swimming, computer classes and etc… St. Mary’s Park has to offer, it’s rating on the website of the NYC Department of Parks were poor and the park received mixed reviews on its overall conditions. Why is such a beautiful park with plenty of visitors kept in such poor conditions? Why have residents complained about bug infested garbage, unhygienic bathrooms and garbage chained to tables which makes it hard to resist the bug infested garbage for the people sitting nearby?

(St. Mary's park) Photo by Raphia Ngoutane

(St. Mary’s park) Photo by Raphia Ngoutane

In an email, Zackary Feder, a spokesman for the NYC department of Parks, defended the park’s maintenance, and suggested that park goers need to do their part to keep the place clean.  “Litter does not grow on trees, and we encourage all park visitors to take any trash with them or properly dispose of it in an appropriate receptacle,” he wrote. “Garbage cans are chained to picnic tables in many parks in order to keep them in place.”
According to the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, St. Mary’s Park is one of six parks located in the Bronx and the largest park in the South Bronx. The park is also a main attraction in the South Bronx: its facilities, such as the swimming pool, recreational center, computer lab and sports facilities help maintain the Mott Haven community active and help residents improve their skills with yoga classes, computer classes and many other activities.
Martinez a 68 years-old Mott Haven native and grandmother shared her thoughts of the park.
 “We have to do a little bit better,” Martinez said about the park’s worsening conditions. “They used to take care of things, now you have the garbage full of mosquitoes, garbage chained to tables and a dirty unsanitary bathroom,” Martinez said referring to the Department of Parks.
(St. Mary's Park women bathroom) Photo by Raphia Ngoutane

(St. Mary’s Park women bathroom) Photo by Raphia Ngoutane

“I never use the bathroom here, it’s so dirty. Last week in the bathroom, there was a woman having sex with a man,” she added with disgust.

Martinez also mentioned that the changing rooms in St. Mary’s Park, where her grandchildren go for swimming, need more security in order for people to feel more comfortable. “The room barely gives you privacy,” she said.
But the conditions of St. Mary’s Park have not stopped Martinez from going there with her grandchildren to enjoy a cookout or to just sit around and talk with friends from the neighborhood.
When asked Martinez about her thoughts on the parks annual budget, she said, “I don’t think they [St. Mary’s Park] have enough funding.”
According to Feder, the NYC department of Parks received a $380 million annual budget this year – the largest parks budget ever. Despite that amount, some residents still believe that more can be done with the funds.
Juanita Mitchell, the mother of two daughters, shared her wishes for the park.
“It’s a nice park, they have a lot of space for my daughter to run and it also has a bathroom,” Mitchell said, but she thought there was much room for improvement.
“They should make the playground area bigger, more swings, repair the ground and keep the bathroom sanitized,” she said.
Biktor Ciones, a regular visitor of St. Mary’s Park, also thought that more could be done with the space. “They should have more activities, especially for the summer to keep kids active,” he said, “but it’s nice, people could play and it’s easy to get here from the transportation.”

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