I used to work across the street from Bryant Park and eat lunch there every day, which my father got a kick out of: in his day, you couldn’t walk five feet through the library-adjacent greenspace without hordes of competing drug dealers fighting over you. The company that reclaimed Bryant Park, transforming it from drug haven to Midtown oasis, has recently turned its attention to Maria Hernandez Park in Bushwick, which for some, in its present condition, bears certain similarities to Bryant Park back in its bad old days.
Maria Hernandez lived on Starr Street until 1989, when the drug dealers she had fought to keep out of her neighborhood park shot her. The seven-acre, Knickerbocker Avenue park was renamed in her honor and, starting last summer, started to undergo changes that are part of what the Daily News calls “the Bryant Park playbook”: old garbage cans were replaced with Victor Stanley models (that, presumably, deter rummaging); elaborate flower gardens were planted at all four entrances; yoga classes were started; concerts were sponsored, as well as multilingual theatrical productions. They even brought in movable chairs, though those have since been stolen. “If I had brought moveable seating to Bryant Park in 1980, it might have been too early,” the chief planner told the Daily News. “It’s a little early. Movable seating will not disappear if you have created an environment that discourages pilferage.”