Meet a New Yorker for Parks


Lucy Aponte
 

January 13, 2012

Along the city’s 520 miles of shoreline, New Yorkers are embracing newly accessible waterfront space. From new residential developments in Brooklyn and Queens, to expanded East River ferry connections, to long-term plans for a continuous greenspace down Manhattan’s east side, new public spaces and amenities are taking shape.
 
But that transformation isn’t simply reliant on elected officials, developers and planners. In the southwest Bronx, one woman has helped bring her neighborhood’s waterfront park to life.

Lucy Aponte first saw Soundview Park 12 years ago while searching for a new home. She had heard about it as a young girl growing up in the borough’s Belmont neighborhood. Her father used to fish in the park, but, she says, everyone knew the space was essentially unusable.

When she returned in 2000, nothing had changed. The place was littered with trash, and often occupied by gangs. But the waterfront access was plentiful and the views were spectacular.

“Even then, I saw the possibilities,” she said. Because of Soundview Park, she bought her home just blocks away. But when she told her new neighbors about her plans to transform the park, they scoffed.

“Everyone said, ‘why don’t you go up to Pelham Bay Park? You don’t need this park,’ but I said ‘No, I live here, this is our park and we can make a difference!’”

A longtime painter who grew up in an artistic family, Aponte had visions of music and art festivals, poetry readings and children’s puppet shows in the park. Still, those who lived nearby were skeptical. Residents and management at an area co-op building adamantly told her the park’s history of crime made her vision a fantasy.

Undeterred, Aponte pressed on. She made calls to the City requesting better upkeep of the park and for permission to host concerts on its grounds. In the meantime, she took matters into her own hands, hosting her first Make Music New York concerts in 2008 and 2009 in front of the park.

“If I couldn’t do it in the park at least I was going to get close,” she said.
 
She would get in soon enough. In April of 2009, Soundview was named one of the four waterfront parks in Partnerships for Parks’ Catalyst Program, which helps historically underserved communities revitalize parks through physical renovations, cultural and recreational programming and local stewardship.

In 2010 and 2011, with the help of the catalyst program and a grant from the City Parks Foundation, Aponte put on SummerStage concerts, puppet shows, readings, and art exhibitions. The City’s Parks Department offered Urban Park Ranger walking tours, and kayak clubs from as far away as Long Island often visited.
 
Especially satisfying for Aponte has been the presence of children from the Soundview Houses, a publichousing complex that faces the park.
 
“It’s like their backyard,” she said. “These children don’t have a lot, but when they come into the park they can see and imagine possibilities beyond the four corners of their block.”

Besides her arts and cultural programming, Aponte runs the Friends of Soundview Park, a volunteer group that she founded in 2010. They routinely enlist local support for cleanups, and help spread the word about cultural events. The group is in discussions about a summertime farmers’ market in the park. Aponte, 65, has no plans of slowing down anytime soon.
 
“Lucy is totally dedicated to the park and the community,” said Carlos Martinez, Waterfront Park Activites Coordinator for the Catalyst Program. “Our program revolves around dedicated people like her. There’s hardly a day when she doesn’t call with new ideas for the park.”
 
Twelve years after Aponte first drove past Soundview Park, her work, along with Partnerships for Parks' help, has changed the neighborhood—just as revitalized waterfront open spaces around the city are altering the way New Yorkers live and experience urban living.
 
“Police drive by our events and tell me ‘great job – we don’t even need to come inside.’ That’s when you know things are different,” she said.
 
And as for the co-op building that had warned her to keep out? It now runs advertisements on local television that highlight the building's proximity to Soundview Park as a primary benefit.

Dorothea Poggi: Ferry Point Park West, Bronx
Phyllis Yampolsky: McCarren Park Pool, Brooklyn
Debra Meyers: Claremont Park & Mount Eden Malls, Bronx
Phil Hawkins: Brower Park, Brooklyn
In Memoriam: Greg Jackson: Brownsville Recreation Center, Brooklyn
Kamillah Hanks: Tappen Park, Staten Island
Pat Courtney: Isham Park, Manhattan
Rocco Bescia: Kaiser Park, Brooklyn
Lorita Watson: Williamsbridge Oval
Christine Murray: McCarren Park Dog Run
Kathleen Vorwick: Pouch Camp & Staten Island Greenbelt, Staten Island
Len Maniace: Jackson Heights Beautification Group, Queens
Martha Lopez-Gilpin: Astoria Park, Queens
Lucy Aponte: Soundview Park, Bronx
Lynn Rogers: Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries, Staten Island
Beverly McDermott: Kissena Park, Queens
In Memoriam: Evelyn Lauder: Citywide