Candidates Forum: Taking a Stand on the Slab

pele_18Mayor Bloomberg isn’t the only term-limited politician leaving behind a hotly contested empty seat.  Brooklyn is losing Borough President Marty Markowitz, and we in Fort Greene are losing Councilwoman Letitia James (now running for Public Advocate).  As a whole new crop of candidates competes to fill the void, local voters want to know if any of them can finally deliver a real home field for local sports in our community.  All candidates are hereby officially invited to answer the following three questions, and based on their responses, Turf the Slab will award “Parks and Rec Champion” endorsements.

While other Brooklyn neighborhoods are building new fields and growing sports programs, our local youth still have no home field and our community suffers the continuing division of the soccer dustbowl in Fort Greene Park.

  1. If elected, will you commit to building at least one field for soccer and other local sports in our neighborhood?
  2. Do you support building a turf field with lights on the empty concrete slab in Commodore Barry Park?
  3. Would you go a step further and push for a total renovation of Commodore Barry Park, including a Mondo running track for local runners and other mixed-use fields for a variety of local sports?

We will post the candidates responses as they are received.  Follow us and stay tuned! If you have other questions about local sports and parks improvements that you would like the candidates to answer, please feel to share them in the comments.


Required Reading: Park Avenue Pedestrian Traffic Safety Plan

imageIt is hard to stitch Commodore Barry Park into the fabric of Fort Greene without addressing traffic on Park Avenue.  The Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project and Architecture for Humanity New York have put together a Park Avenue Pedestrian Safety Plan that should be required reading for local leaders and concerned citizens alike.  What do you think could or should be done to make Park Avenue safer?



Let there be light, and so much more!

soccer_nightBREAKING NEWS:  The proposal to turf the slab in Commodore Barry now includes lights!  Lights mean more fun for everyone.  When adults take advantage of extended hours that leaves more daytime play for kids, and we all get a safer park in the bargain. And while we’re talking upgrades to Commodore Barry, it is worth explaining that “turfing the slab” is only the beginning.  The ultimate hope is that a new multi-use sports field with lights will promote a total makeover of the baseball fields and other facilities to serve even more sports.  The Parade Ground in Prospect Park is a good example:

Map of the modern Parade Ground by Christian Zimmerman Drawing courtesy Prospect Park Alliance

Prospect Park Parade Ground boasts baseball, soccer, football, and multi-use fields

And for the growing population of joggers beating their knees and ankles on the Fort Greene Park loop, the cherry on top could be a rubberized “Mondo” running track like the one in McCarren Park.


Rubberized “Mondo” running track in McCarren Park in Williamsburg

Let’s hear from you.  What other sports or activities would you most like to see find a home in Commodore Barry?  Please vote in the poll below.  Choose a sport, or add your own in the “Other” box, and press the vote button.

DNAinfo Gets the Scoop on Commodore Barry!

The Commodore Barry Park proposal got some nice ink in DNAinfo today.  Click here to read all about it.  Excitement is finally building for a real home field in Fort Greene!   The plan promotes organized youth and adult sports, but if the Dustbowl players do get displaced, my door is wide open to discuss possibilities for pick-up play in Commodore Barry. Itai and Dwayne know how to reach me directly, or just reach out here in the comments.  Speaking of the Dustbowl, I noticed that grass is really thriving in the area recently fenced off for re-seeding on the Dekalb side of the oval.  Goes to show how quickly, and robustly, the lawn could come back when given a chance to do its thing.  Does this mean the cicadas are next?!?


The Pitch for a Pitch in Commodore Barry Park

For those who have never spent time in Commodore Barry Park, it is a beautiful park right here in Fort Greene that happens to sit at a major crossroads of Brooklyn neighborhoods, surrounded by bike lanes and greenways.  This little photographic tour illustrates the case for a mixed-use turf soccer pitch there.  The park already boasts two baseball fields, a sizable swimming pool, two basketball courts, two hand ball courts, a paddle ball court, a large playground, and a newly landscaped greenspace with shady trees and chess tables.  Every inch of the park has a purpose, except that big, unloved concrete slab in the top left corner of this map…


Here is a panorama of “The Slab”…


If the Parks Department agreed to turf this lot, with some capital assistance from community partners, it would be an instant home for soccer (and mixed use athletics) in our neighborhood.  It could serve local youth leagues and schools who lack access to fields, and it could give adult leagues a home field.  Such all-ages appeal would attract families…and hopefully food trucks.


Plenty of room in the shade for permanent seating for fans


A vast unused space in the developing Navy Yard and Admiral’s Row district

Community events, like the popular Afropunk Fest in late August, could absolutely still do their thing on turf.  Folks can flock to this corner of the park (at Flushing Avenue and Navy Street) where a nexus of local bike paths and new bike share routes connect Fort Greene to other destination neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights, and Dumbo.


At the crossroads of Brooklyn’s busiest bike routes and greenways

The Navy Yard and Admiral’s Row are right across the street.  Admiral’s Row was transferred to the City last year, supposedly for development of a major supermarket for the 13,000 residents of the three housing projects nearby.  Suffice it to say the immediate area is about to get busy.  In the shadow of the BQE, Commodore Barry’s brightening presence can also bridge the discouraging divide of Park Avenue and stitch the Navy Yard district into the fabric of Fort Greene…


Just two blocks for Fort Greene’s other historical park!


A green oasis in the shadow of the BQE

Inviting food trucks into the mix, as they exist in Red Hook and elsewhere, is an exciting possibility.  Commodore Barry is full of potential parking locations, under the BQE being perhaps the most intriguing, and weatherproof…

photo-2 copy

Plenty of all-weather parking, especially for local entrepreneurs with food trucks


Now a divide, Park Avenue could be a seam sewing the fabric of Ft. Greene together

And lastly, it is worth mentioning that the park has a park station with restrooms…


A large park station with restrooms

There is so much to love about Commodore Barry Park, and recent improvements are proof that the Parks Department wants it to be a community destination.  Turfing the concrete lot just seems like the perfect finishing touch to the park’s facelift, and would solve a critical lack of local fields available for wildly popular local sports like soccer and football.  I look forward to discussing this exciting proposal with local leaders and neighbors alike, and encourage everyone to chime in by voting in this blog’s polls (click here) and sharing your thoughts in the comments.  Thank you!


Two baseball fields are a sea of green where neighbors come to play and cheer



A permanent home for local sports in Brooklyn’s greatest neighborhood!

While we’re at it…

photo[1]Let’s address the drainage problem on the East side of the oval, along Washington Park.  The ponding seems to be getting worse.  As you can see from the close-ups below, it extended all the way to the Willoughby Avenue entrance this[2]photo

Get to know Olmsted and Vaux


A petition is circulating to bring grass back to the dustbowl, that further intends to install a dedicated astroturf soccer pitch in the middle of the oval.  The grass part sounds wonderful, but the astroturf is problematic on several levels…

•  Astroturf is not just a carpet.  It would require a concrete slab to be poured under the entire footprint of the pitch, and might require a fence.

•  The oval would necessarily become a permitted sports area just like the tennis courts, meaning soccer players would need to organize teams, secure permits, and schedule playing time.

•  Fort Greene park is a landmarked park, and astro-turfing a central lawn in an historically preserved Olmsted and Vaux designed park would be next to impossible.

That last one is the real kicker.  Fort Greene Park was landmarked along with an adjoining swath of brownstone blocks back in the 1970’s.  Many people living within the landmark district know how stringent a concept landmarking can be.  Preserving the historical character of our park is a burden we bear, but it is also what makes our neighborhood so popular, for better or worse.

Some may say, “But what about the tennis courts?  Why do they get to be there?”  It may be that tennis courts were part of the Olmsted and Vaux design, and so any update would have been permissible.  Curiously there is some unsubstantiated evidence to suggest that the oval was originally a croquet field!  As referenced above, the tennis courts are permitted athletic fields, and any proposed soccer pitch would fall under the same regulations.

On a somewhat related note, the dustbowl players are circulating a photograph that claims to show “football” players in Fort Greene Park in the 1870’s, tagged with the comment “As Olmsted and Vaux envisioned it!!!!!”  In the sense that there is grass on the ground, yes.  Otherwise, one can’t really tell whether the activity captured was soccer, or football, or rugby…or whether a dot in the air is a ball, or a dot.  One thing is for sure, the photo was taken before Olmsted and Vaux’s park even existed.  Their plan was implemented after that photograph was taken, in fact, Fort Greene Park was not even officially Fort Greene Park until 1897…until then it was known as Washington Park.

From website:

In 1867 landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, designers of Central and Prospect Parks, were engaged to prepare a new design for Washington Park and a crypt for the remains of the prison ship martyrs. At the top of the hill was a trellised walk approaching two flights of steps that led down to a circular parade ground in the northwest corner of the park. Olmsted and Vaux proposed that the rest of the hilly site would be “somewhat closely planted, and . . .so laid out that it will offer a series of shady walks that will have an outlook over open grassy spaces.” Washington Park was renamed for Fort Greene in 1897, less than a year before Brooklyn was consolidated into greater New York City. The street that bounds the park on the east is still known as Washington Park.

That “outlook over open grassy spaces” line certainly strikes a chord today.

And while we are on the subject of history, did you know that Commodore Barry Park was the first park in Brooklyn?  Fort Greene Park was a close second!  Regardless of which came first, our neighborhood is blessed with two amazing, historically significant parks.  One is landmarked, increasingly crowded, and suffering a dustbowl.  The other is not landmarked, underutilized, and suffering a desolate concrete slab.  If we can find a way to serve the needs of both our parks, they can serve ALL of Fort Greene, and take a positive step towards bridging the divide that has existed across Myrtle Avenue for a century or more.  There is so much density in our area today, from housing projects to glass and steel high-rises, and since Fort Greene’s growth shows no signs of slowing down, we need both our fine parks to thrive.  Let’s come together and get to work on a greener future for our historic hood!  Anyone who wants to get involved in the conversation about the Commodore Barry Park proposal, click here, and speak up in the comments, and click here to make your vote count in our community polls.  Thank you!

Well, Well, Well…

funny-soccer-photoI had hoped to keep the movement focused on ideas and community dialogue, and keep the spotlight off myself, but thanks to the message boards at the Fort Greene Local, it’s unfortunately all about me all of a sudden.  Just so there is no lingering mystery:

I am TC, and yes, I am Tom Wentworth. I was not concealing my identity, but rather hoping to make Fort Greene Soccer about the ideas and not about me. Comment boards allow us all privacy for a reason, but since I know you’re all curious now: I am a writer and documentary producer, a local business owner, and a family man. I have served on the board of the Fort Greene Association and with Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn. I have lived within a block of the park for 13 years, and until 2009, I spent every day of the year in the park with my dearly departed dog. Since then, my wife and son are my regular park companions. We have a personal connection to the oval as it’s where I first met my wife at a Brazillian Girls show, and we moved on to court (entirely platonically) on the benches and fields near the tennis courts every afternoon for weeks. Over the years, I have rescued 3 stray dogs from the park. I am inspired by our park, it’s history, it’s famous architects, it’s denizens, and I am proud to see community dedication return it to life after years of neglect. Though my playing days are behind me, I am a tremendous soccer fan, and I’m saving up to finally see a World Cup in Brazil this time around. I grew up idolizing Pele, and curiously, I was once bitten by Johan Cruyff’s doberman. My son actually takes soccer lessons from Itai and Dwayne, who are totally amazing, so I have nothing but love for the players. I am just over the dust and the division, as are many folks, and so I am trying to find a way for everyone to rise above the BS. I believe we can care for our park, and make soccer a force for good in our community, at the same time. I have seen all the amazing soccer pitches Parks has brought to Brooklyn, and I think Fort Greene deserves one, not least because the sport has been growing here for years. My vision is totally distinct from the dustbowl. I’m talking about a permitted pitch for leagues of all ages sponsored by local businesses like mine; one local schools can share and food trucks can encircle. Clearly none of this can take place in Fort Greene Park, so my idea need not concern the dustbowl players, although I’d love to have them on board. In the end, my mission will continue whether they stay or go. If they go, they know where to find me now. If they stay, I think they should show some real community spirit and take charge of helping Parks seed and maintain the oval instead of playing “tragedy of the commons” with our park. To the rest of my neighbors, I say this…if you want to help “green” Fort Greene Park, let’s work together. If you want to help win an official home field for soccer in our hood, let’s work together. My bet is most people want both. So, that’s me. Anyone else want to divulge their identities? Thought not. Thanks for listening and I’ll see you in the park!

But enough about me, let’s hear from you.  Got any bright ideas?  Got a post you’d like to submit for publication?  Reach out in the comments, and we’ll get a conversation going!

Bound for Greener Pastures, Building Greener Pitches

Turf the Slab is here to help build Fort Greene a permanent home field for local sports at long last.

The goal is to build a turf field with lights on the unloved concrete slab in Commodore Barry Park, and promote a master plan that includes additional athletic fields and a Mondo track for area runners.   Click here to read all about the pitch for a pitch in Commodore Barry Park!

There are so many amazing public sports fields in Brooklyn, from Prospect Park to Red Hook, and now Brooklyn Bridge Park and Bushwick Inlet Park.  We think it’s Fort Greene’s turn.

Red Hook soccer fields

Red Hook soccer fields

Red Hook food trucks!

Red Hook food trucks!

McCarren Park mixed use field in Williamsburg with Mondo track for runners

McCarren Park mixed use field in Williamsburg with Mondo track for runners

New turf fields in Brooklyn Bridge Park in Dumbo

New turf fields in Brooklyn Bridge Park in Dumbo

New turf field in Bushwick Inlet Park in Greenpoint

New turf field in Bushwick Inlet Park in Greenpoint

“The Slab” in Commodore Barry Park in Fort Greene…a future home field for local sports?

Imagine an official pitch in our own backyard; a community magnet for athletes and fans of all ages, and maybe even food trucks!

FORT GREENE TRIVIA:  Did you know thatCommodore Barry is the oldest park in Brooklyn?  Originally called “City Park”, it was purchased by the Village of Brooklyn in 1836 and was renamed after Commodore Barry in 1951, owing to its proximity to the Brooklyn Navy Yard that Barry helped found.  Fort Greene Park, originally called “Washington Park, was a close second dating to 1847.  It was named Fort Greene in 1897 when its Olmsted and Vaux makeover was finally completed.

While growing fields and a sports community in Commodore Barry Park is our top priority, we also support efforts to revitalize Fort Greene Park.  We are blessed to have two such amazing, historic parks in one little neighborhood, and they both deserve the greenest futures we can make for them.  Now that the “Dustbowl” soccer game is over, it is important that Parks be allowed to reseed Fort Greene Park’s oval properly and tackle lingering drainage issues.

The photos below offer us all a sense of what Parks can accomplish with our support.  Here is the oval in 2013, after a the Dustbowl soccer game trampled reseeding efforts in 2005-2006


Here is a rare picture of the oval before the soccer game arrived…


The Parks Department and dedicated local leaders and neighbors have brought Fort Greene Park back from the dead, and returned it to greatness.  Thanks to their tireless efforts, the Prison Ship Martyr’s Monument has been lovingly restored, but it now looms over a desolate oval.  It is safe to say that Olmsted and Vaux never envisioned a dustbowl as the centerpiece of our fair park.  To experience their vision, head to Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park…


Ours is not the only Olmsted and Vaux oval to see hard times.  Central Park’s “Great Lawn” also had a “Great Dustbowl” phase, thanks to unregulated use in the 1960’s and 70s’…


However, in 1995, it was closed for a two-year restoration…


And today a well-regulated Great Lawn is once again a lush green retreat for the public, that also hosts concerts and permitted baseball leagues.


It’s time our little oval got a similar chance to come back healthy and green once and for all.  We hope to provide you a full Parks department assessment on what that process may require, from re-seeding to proper drainage.  When the time comes, we look forward to raising community awareness and support.

This is a community movement, so let’s hear from you!  This site is a forum to share ideas, information, and resources, so please feel free to comment here.  We intend to keep the conversation positive and productive.  Angry speech and personal attacks should find other outlets.  Thank you for understanding.  Now let’s get to work!!!