Bushwick's Maria Hernandez Park Getting Bryant Park-like Makeover

New York Daily News
April 4, 2011

The moveable chairs disappeared, but no matter.

Bryant Park Corp. President Daniel Biederman said the rehabilitation of Maria Hernandez Park in Bushwick, Brooklyn, will continue apace, using many of the same techniques that have made Bryant Park one of the most popular urban landscapes in the country.

Biederman's company has been at work in Hernandez Park, located off Knickerbocker Ave. between Suydam and Starr Sts., since 2008, and started implementing changes last summer.

Biederman took on the project at the request of City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe.

"Adrian is terrific," Biederman said. "I often go to him and say, you know, we work so well with you. What is your big problem you think we can be helpful with?

"He told me about Maria Hernandez Park and said, 'Why don't you go out there and see what you can do?'"

The former Bushwick Park was renamed for Maria Hernandez, a Starr St. resident who fought to keep drugs off her street and was shot to death by drug dealers in 1989.

Biederman dispatched BPC Operations Associate Kati Solomon, a New York University Metropolitan Studies graduate, and eight other employees to Hernandez Park with instructions to see if the techniques used to reclaim Bryant Park would work there.

Following the Bryant Park playbook, Solomon brought in chairs that could be picked up and moved around. They replaced most of the old trash cans with Victor Stanley models like the ones now used in Bryant Park.

Believing that constant programming increases park visits and deters crime, they brought in more musical groups in the summer and started free exercise, yoga and dance classes.

"We saw there were a bunch of children using the park, so we did a couple of bilingual children's theatre events," Solomon said. "We were trying to speak to the usage that we saw."

Believing that "making things that look fragile present" is important, BPC came up with $100,000 to plant elaborate flower gardens at all four Hernandez Park entrances.

"This has been terrific," said Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Kevin Jefferies. "These gardens will add color to the park in the summer and fall."

The park took a hit when a tornado rambled through Brooklyn last September. Jamey Hewitt, Brooklyn Director of Forestry for the Parks Department, said more than 50 trees, mostly mature linden, oaks and sycamore, were toppled by the storm.

In December, Bette Midler's group, the New York Restoration Project, planted 74 trees in the park to replace those lost to the storm.

"Each one of these things moves the park in the right direction," Jefferies said.

One technique that didn't work so well was the movable chairs. Bryant Park sports more than 5,600 pieces of moveable furniture, the idea being that people will make more use of the park if they can place chairs where they want them.

The chairs have vanished. But Biederman is undeterred.

"If I had brought moveable seating to Bryant Park in 1980, it might have been too early," he said. "It's a little early. Moveable seating will not disappear if you have created an environment that discourages pilferage."