What type of public park would you like to see developed at the lot where Flatbush’s African Burial Ground is located?
This is the question that the New York City Parks Department is now asking local stakeholders more than two years after the City unveiled controversial plans to sell the lot to developers who would build an apartment building on the site with more than 100 units. Since the remains of enslaved Africans who lived in the area during the Dutch colonial period were found buried on the lot, protests from neighbors followed.
Monday night’s Community Input Meeting was NYC Parks' first formalized attempt to hear the local community’s desires for what they’d like to see at the future park — which has been vacant since 2015 when a school was demolished — on the corner of Church and Bedford avenues.
The virtual meeting began just after 6:30pm and had more than 100 participants present at its start.
Chief of Staff at NYC Parks Brooklyn Davey Ives led the meeting, emphasizing the importance of the Flatbush African Burial Ground Coalition, which helped advocate for the space to be open to the community rather than developed into housing.
“Cemeteries are the original parks here in New York," Ives said. "And we want to do this in a way that's respectful of what's happened before us on the land and what's going to happen afterward."
City Councilmember Rita Joseph, who represents Brooklyn's 40th District where the burial ground is located, attended the event and offered input.
“This is just the beginning of conversations, as we take this on the road to speak to community members-- whether it's at churches; whether it's in front of the train station where we will be tabling to make sure that we have as much input as possible from the community," Joseph said.
Landscape architect Emmanuel Thingue, who has been tasked with reimagining the park, presented his ideas.
"I've been working at Parks for over 30 years, and I consider this probably the project that I am most vested in doing a good job for the community," Thingue said. "As a Haitian, we are especially proud of our African ancestry and I feel really privileged to be working on such an important project."
Hazel Martinez, who has lived in Flatbush for more than 60 years and is a graduate of the neighboring high school, said she would like the park to be a relaxing space.
“Since our community has a shortage of green space, I would like to just see a very nice memorial, maybe with a reflection pool or some sort of monument to the formerly enslaved,” said Martinez. “I can see lots of greenery pretty flowers, trees and a place where people can go to be contemplative.”
Other suggestions for the space included adding signage with information on the enslaved people buried at the site and incorporating African architectural elements. Meeting attendees also said it would be important to create educational programming about the history of the burial ground to raise awareness about the City's history of slavery.
NYC Parks said the design process alone would take 10-15 months, and the construction timeline after that would be 12-18 months. As of now, the park will be tentatively named “Flatbush African Burial Ground Park,” however, this may not be the park’s final name.
The Community Board 14 Flatbush African Burial Ground Task Force will be meeting on April 27, to discuss ideas about what the park’s future holds.