Michelle Knapik, Environment Program Director
Choosing a starting place for the story of the opening of Nat Turner Park, the largest City-owned park in Newark, is challenging. This is a rich, multi-layered story, filled with numerous champions, diverse entry points and, finally (after nearly 30 years), the realization of many hopes and dreams.
The parade and dance of speakers will give you some indication of the level of commitment behind this park, but the two lead entities that paved the way to this day were the City and the Trust for Public Land (the Dodge Foundation is a major funder in the TPL Newark Parks for People program).
Pictured below are some of the people who provided words to help with the celebration (Jay Watson, Deputy Commissioner for the State Department of Environmental Protection, Joe “D” DiVincenzo, Jr., Essex County Executive, Councilman Charles A. Bell, Gabriella Morris Prudential Foundation President, White House Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs David Agnew, Sadia White, Chief of Staff to Newark School Superintendent Dr. Clifford Janey, and Rose Harvey Senior Vice President of TPL (pictured with youth who spoke about the mosaic tile project for the amphitheater):
Jay Watson spoke of the more than $3 million brownfield and soil remediation effort to make the grounds safe; Joe DiVincenzo said the park was a testament to the types of collaborative projects public funding can support, and he underscored the need for residents to vote for the open space ballot measure this November; Councilman Bell delivered a strong message about stewardship (“This is not worth anything if we don’t take care of it”); Gabriella Morris spoke about the investment and commitment from area foundations (including Prudential, Victoria and Dodge); David Agnew spoke about Mayor Booker as someone who had the vision to see what was possible, the guts to take a risk (“This was not a foregone conclusion when the project started”) and the pit bull mindset to get it done; and Rose Harvey, TPL master of ceremonies, painted the picture of the collaborative process, including the community participatory design process and the launch of the Friends of Nat Turner Park, a community organization that will lead the stewardship effort.
Nat Turner Park before and now:
Then the Mayor delivered an electric speech:
He talked about the person who was not there, Nat Turner, the black resistance leader who led a slave revolt in 1831 and was later hung for his rebellious actions. He said that Nat Turner failed, but embodied the spirit to fight for what is right (this park is right). The Mayor also talked about setting a very high goal for the Park – one that many people doubted – but will doubt no more.
“DON’T TELL ME NEWARK CAN’T DO THIS,” the Mayor chanted repeatedly.
Nobody looking out at the fireworks of activity and the celebration of the community design aspects in this park was thinking anything but “can do.” Children frolicked in the spray park and playground (a major thanks to Tiki Barber and Tiki Recreation for the playground funding).
People ran, skipped, wrestled and clamored about the turf field (major thanks to the Giants Football organization, and to Giants President John Mara for attending the opening). This field promises health and fitness and broad ranging recreational opportunities.
Residents meandered through the green spaces (300+ trees will mature in the years ahead to provide much needed shade).
Young and old explored the amphitheater where the arts will come alive and where public voices will be heard.
This is the full outdoor and recreation package – a nine acre community asset with welcoming gateways that is within eyesight of three public schools (Eighteenth Avenue School, Cleveland School and the new Central High School). Yesterday’s opening was a community festival story, and in the days ahead it will become more than 5,000 stories from those who can walk to this park – and thousands more stories from those who visit. This park is based on the power of urban energy and faith. These are the kinds of assets people want to, can, and will continue to create in Newark.
What are your urban park stories – we want to know.
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