Additional reporting by Katie Honan
On Monday, Mayor Eric Adams vowed to “immediately” reopen a playground inside a Bronx public housing complex that was closed in early 2019 because of drug dealing in the area — but four days later the kids’ park is still closed and nowhere near ready to open according to a city official.
“I cannot subscribe to the theory that someone is committing crime on the playground that we want to penalize the children,” Adams told reporters during a news conference at the beginning of the week. “That’s not acceptable.”
“And those that are closed because of illegal activity that took place, we are opening them immediately,” he added.
His promise came days after THE CITY reported that the playground at the Morrisania Air Rights towers has been padlocked for three years with no scheduled reopening date.
But on Thursday, a New York City Housing Authority spokesperson said the agency wasn’t even close to actually reopening the beleaguered play area on Park Avenue.
The playground “has a history of heavy drug activity and will need overnight police presence and/or cameras to be installed for the safety of the community,” said NYCHA spokesperson Rochel Leah Goldblatt.
Officials at the housing agency plan to do a “walkthrough” of the space “to assess any necessary repairs and schedule if needed,” she added.
The playground had been closed for so long that some tenants and elected officials had no idea that the closure was ordered by the NYPD.
Adams said cops should never shutter playgrounds.
“I’ll tell you this, there won’t be a playground closed because there’s illegal activity,” he said during his press conference Monday. “We’re going to fix the illegal activity.”
The Police Department repeatedly declined requests seeking comment on the closure.
Jumping Through Dilapidated Hoops
Longtime tenants of the complex welcomed a possible reopening.
“You see parents and kids walk up and go home like, ‘Oh that’s not open,’” said Jarred Vance, 27, who plays basketball on a court in the complex at 161 Street.
Another resident, Sam Santiago, 35, said he usually takes his 8-year-old daughter, Angelica, to the nearby public park or a playground in the Jackson Houses across the street, because it has a sprinkler.
“We have some options,” he noted. ”But it’s crazy. You gotta jump through hoops, cause they aren’t trying to get it done.”
There are four other playgrounds at The Bronx housing complex. One had been closed because of a sinkhole but appears to be partially reopened with construction near completion. Another reopened on May 27 after it was shuttered due to unsafe conditions, and two are open and operational, albeit with antiquated equipment.
Last summer, THE CITY showed some rundown playground equipment still in use to one expert who recommended that the structures be buried in the ocean.
“That’s stuff that goes out on a barge and gets dumped at sea to form a reef,” said Thom Thompson, a playground safety consultant based in Issaquah, Wash.
He noted that any playground built prior to 1991 no longer meets industry standards based on federal safety guidelines and should be replaced.
The shuttered spots in Morrisania are just two of 98 New York City Housing Authority playgrounds presently blocked off because of unsafe conditions. For decades, NYCHA has failed to fix old play equipment.
The overwhelming majority — 48 — are allegedly shuttered for “Sandy recovery and resiliency work,” according to NYCHA.
Another 20 spots are closed for renovations, and 30 are shut due to fixes in nearby buildings or areas, the housing authority said.
Some of the closed locations have languished for years with no plans for repairs.
That includes a play area in the Marlboro Houses, in Gravesend, Brooklyn, where equipment was removed in 2018 and never replaced.
Scheduling a Play Date
A spokesperson for Adams on Thursday deferred all questions about the public housing playgrounds to NYCHA.
On Monday, Adams, like former Mayor Bill de Blasio, promised to develop a “comprehensive plan” to overhaul the city’s closed and rundown playgrounds after years of neglect.
“So we are going to do an analysis of every playground that’s closed,” Adams told reporters. “I’m going to find out why, and we’re going to get a timetable on when they’re going to be open.”
That is still being worked out, according to NYCHA records, which show multiple locations without a scheduled completion date or estimated cost.
As for playgrounds run by the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, a spokesperson for the agency said it had no idea how many of its 1,000 play areas have been closed at the request of the NYPD.
“Playground closures by/in coordination PD are not tracked by us,” said Parks Department spokesperson Crystal Howard. “These types of closures tend to be fluid and if they are a moment in time, at times may not be shared with us.”
Overall, 36 Parks Department playgrounds were closed because of repairs as of June 21, records show.