Last night I spent some quality time at a beautiful park that’s about to be bulldozed beyond recognition. After September 30th, there will be no more mini-farm, no more tipi, and no more dirt moguls for bikers, when the lot will be wiped clean and prepared to make way for the massive Domino development.
But while the sun was setting, Henry Sweets, one part of the duo of farmer-architects responsible for North Brooklyn Farms, a mini-farm and produce stand operating within Havemeyer Park, was already digging up plants, and encouraging visitors to help him unearth a tree that was to be transplanted. The strange thing was, he didn’t look melancholy or defeated, something you might expect of a person whose farm is about to be dismantled. Henry looked enthusiastic about the task at hand.
“Henry’s still encouraging people to plant stuff,” explained Leyla Acaroglu, the energetic and talkative founder of the Un-School of Disruptive Design, an organization that hosts education events around the city pertaining to sustainability, design, and the urban landscape. “His thinking is, why don’t we make it a beautiful place until the very last minute?”
The Un-School’s event last night was aimed at spreading awareness while inspiring critical thought and discussion about the dismantling of Havemeyer Park, a space that has been not just a zone for much-needed respite from city life and the increasingly saturated neighborhood that surrounds it, but a place of productivity and community engagement. Participants picked herbs from the garden and plopped them into teacups, pouring hot water over them, and then foraged for ingredients to be used in spring rolls. They sat around and discussed the space, asked questions and looked around in silence. Leyla encouraged people to explore the park and help plant, but also to help in demolishing it. This created a sort of cognitive dissonance.
“People want condos, but they also want a park,” Leyla mused. “It’s a kind of dichotomic irony.”
Leyla reminded me that Havemeyer Park owes its very existence to Two Trees, the developers responsible for the project that will transform an enormous swath of the Williamsburg waterfront. But the park will also be destroyed next week to make way for groundbreaking.
In January of this year, Two Trees announced they were accepting proposals from community members who had creative ideas about what to do with a large vacant lot at the corner of South 3rd Street and Kent Avenue. The space would be made temporarily available for a sort of pop-up park. Several ideas were accepted, and by late March implementation and construction was underway.
Ryan Watson is a partner at North Brooklyn Farms, one of the plans chosen for Havemeyer. Watson moved to Brooklyn back in 2012. “I was planning to go to law school,” he explained. “But I was in an office one day in the middle of the summer with a sweater on and it was 80 degrees outside. And I realized, I need to do something different, something better.”
Watson said he knew he wanted to be outdoors, and was already passionate about plants. He met up with Henry while working at the Battery Urban Farm, and shortly after the two teamed up to found North Brooklyn Farms.
“We knew since the beginning it was going to be dismantled,” Watson explained. “Of course I’ve grown more attached to it over time, but we knew going in to it that it was an exercise in impermanence.”
The park opened in July, and since then has drawn visitors from all over the community. “Usually people can point to where they live,” Watson said, poking his finger up into the sky towards apartment buildings jutting up around us. He said that frequent visitors counted from the Orthodox community, the Puerto Rican community, as well as North Brooklyn. “But people from all over the world come here and enjoy this place,” he said.
When asked how he felt about the dismantling of his farm, Watson remained positive. “We like the place, but we like the people that come here the best,” he said. North Brooklyn Farms will be giving back to the community even beyond its death. Watson explained the farm was constructed with mobility in mind. The produce beds will be removed, intact, and distributed to community gardens in the area, as well as to a host of schools.
But looking out on the park, through the skeleton of the Domino factory, and across the waterfront knowing it would all be over soon was still a bit depressing. The timing of the park’s closing with the end of summer doesn’t make things any better. The temperature dropped as the sun set and a breeze picked up. I went home to south Brooklyn and sat on my stoop, thinking about a recent encounter I’d had with a stranger who stopped out front of my house. “Is there a park around here, like a place with a bench I can sit on?” she asked. She was waiting for a friend and had time to kill. I racked my brain and reluctantly told her, sorry, there aren’t any parks around here.
“The idea is that we all want these public spaces,” Leyla said. “But unless we participate in them, we aren’t going to have them.”
Stay tuned to the Un-School’s calendar for upcoming events, and stop by Havemeyer Park one last time before it closes September 30.