Newark’s Newest & Largest City-Owned Park Opens (NJ)

Newark, NJ – 7/28/2009: Yesterday Mayor Cory A. Booker celebrated Newark’s new Nat Turner Park and threw the first football to former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber. Barber and Mayor Booker were among the many dignitaries and hundreds of Central Ward families on hand to join The Trust for Public Land, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and donors to celebrate the grand opening of Newark’s newest and largest city-owned park. The nine-acre park was designed in part by the community and students from three adjacent schools.

“We have made the dream of a quality, modern, park in our Central Ward a reality through the partnership we have built with The Trust for Public Land, the Newark Public Schools, and the creativity and input of the Central Ward community,” Mayor Booker said. “Together, we have manifested the spiritual strength that enables us to transform our city into a national leader in safety, prosperity, and the nurturing of family life. We are creating positive social change by improving the quality of life for every resident of our community.”

The White House sent Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs David Agnew, the administration’s liaison to the nation’s mayors.

“In a city where more than 50 percent of its children do not live within walking distance to a public park, Mayor Booker’s plans to create and revitalize more than 20 parks and playgrounds throughout Newark are both bold and absolutely necessary. By creating a partnership with TPL, the State of New Jersey, private funders and the community, Mayor Booker is quickly succeeding in implementing his vision for quality parks in all neighborhoods of Newark. Nat Turner Park is just one of many on-the-ground examples of how this partnership is leading to real improvements in communities. The Obama administration subscribes to the same belief as you all today: that access to clean, healthy parks is a right, not a privilege, and an absolutely critical component to building livable communities,” Mr. Agnew said.

The construction of Nat Turner Park was highlighted in the Mayor’s 2008 State of the City Address as the largest city-owned parks initiative in the history of Newark and is an example of the Mayor’s commitment to expand and rehabilitate parks throughout the City with state-of-the-art amenities. The new park includes an amphitheatre, community event space, a multi-purpose athletic field, 400-meter regulation track, ornamental perimeter fencing, a playground, picnic areas, and streetscape improvements-all elements requested by community members.

Lead funding for Nat Turner Park was provided by the City of Newark, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and Victoria Foundation. Additional support was contributed by Essex County Recreation & Open Space Trust Fund, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Johnson & Johnson, The Kresge Foundation, Local Initiatives Support Corporation’s NFL Grassroots Program, National Recreation Foundation, New York Giants, The Prudential Foundation, and New Jersey Urban Enterprise Zone Authority. The project was completed in partnership with Newark Public Schools, Springfield/Belmont Super Neighborhood Council, and Friends of Nat Turner Park.

The land has been owned by the City of Newark since the 1970s. The park is named for black leader Nat Turner, born to a slave family in Virginia in 1800. On August 2, 1831, he led a successful slave revolt, but was later hanged for his rebellious actions. In the 1970s, a group of Central Ward community activists demanded green space because of the lack of major parks in the area. They eventually won the right to have and name a park in the Central Ward.Working in partnership with the City of Newark, Newark Public Schools, and the Central Ward community, The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national conservation organization, took the lead in fundraising and managing the design and construction of Nat Turner Park. Notably, TPL involved the community, including students from three nearby schools, in the process of designing the new park. Nat Turner Park will provide recreation opportunities for the Central Ward’s Springfield neighborhood. It is adjacent to Hayes Park West Pool and Recreation Center and surrounded by multi-family residential housing and several schools, including Eighteenth Avenue School, Cleveland School, and the new Central High School.

“Our involvement with Nat Turner Park reflects TPL’s ongoing commitment to help in solving the need for recreational open space in the city,” said Anthony Cucchi, TPL’s New Jersey state director. “Urban parks are a critical component to building sustainable neighborhoods and a good quality of life for residents in Newark and other cities, and we are thrilled that Nat Turner Park is now open to the public.”

Participatory design is a signature of TPL’s park creation program. The process is both educational and rewarding, helping to establish a community investment in the new park and playground. Guided by a Master Plan Steering Committee with representatives from the City of Newark, Newark Public Schools, and the community, TPL held a series of workshops with local residents and students, providing them with the opportunity to set priorities for the park and create their own models of the design.

Roger Smythe, a longtime Central Ward community activist, who was instrumental in creating the park, discussed the project’s importance in historic terms. “This project began in the 1970s, during a period of change and conscience, when we began to recognize African-American heroes like Nat Turner. This project will also recognize the people who brought about change in the Central Ward during the 1970s, and show respect for the ancestors of today’s leaders and activists. Today’s generations and children of many ethnic groups will learn this history, and to work and live together. I’m grateful to The Trust for Public Land and Mayor Booker for making this park a reality.”

Other critical factors in the park’s success were $3 million in cleanup funding from the state Department of Environmental Protection and $2.1 million in Green Acres funding for the construction of the park’s new amenities.

“We are grateful to the DEP for its continuing support of Nat Turner Park and in working to create a clean and green Newark for everyone who lives and works here,” Mayor Booker said. “We will provide our youngsters with a clean, fresh, safe place in which to grow their minds and bodies.”

“We are delighted to celebrate the successful creation of Nat Turner Park and congratulate everyone involved not only for achieving a very impressive result, but also for truly caring about the quality of life in our urban communities,” said acting DEP Commissioner Mark N. Mauriello. “We have no doubt that this park will serve as an oasis for the people of Newark for recreation or quiet contemplation, lifting their spirits and strengthening their sense of place.”

“The network of urban green space that TPL’s Parks for People program is bringing to life in Newark is enhancing individual lives and transforming neighborhoods. The Dodge Foundation is proud to be a funding partner in this great effort,” stated David Grant, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation President and CEO.

“The grand opening of this beautiful new park demonstrates the progress that can be made when the public and private sectors join forces for the benefit of our communities,” said Gabriella Morris, vice president and head of Community Resources at Prudential and president of The Prudential Foundation. “All our research tells us unequivocally that parks greatly improve the quality of life for residents of urban areas. That’s why we are proud to have played a role in establishing TPL’s Parks for People – Newark program. We applaud their commitment over the last fourteen years to provide Newark residents with access to thoughtful, well designed greenspaces.”

“Since 2002, Victoria Foundation has been a proud funding partner of TPL’s Parks for People -Newark initiative, helping to create school playgrounds and neighborhood parks,” said Irene Cooper-Basch, Executive Officer, Victoria Foundation. “Children and families in Newark deserve safe and creatively designed open space within walking distance of their homes for both active and passive recreation.”

“Recreational space like this is critical to communities,” noted Michael Rubinger, president and CEO of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), which supported development of the park’s new football field through its partnership with the New York Giants and the NFL Grassroots program. This is the second of three neighborhood fields the NFL, the Giants and LISC are funding in Newark. “This park is joined to the schools that border it, and the bustle of the local commercial strip, and the new affordable housing nearby, and the growing number of jobs being created. By connecting them all, the city has laid the foundation for a healthy, sustainable community.”

“Tiki Recreation is proud that our sustainable play equipment is part of such a magnificent park. It’s an honor to be a part of the great team that made it happen. I commend all the players-the City, State, TPL, the NY Giants and the NFL’s commitment through LISC, and most importantly, the community,” said Tiki Barber.

“We are proud to be one of the contributing partners of the City of Newark’s new Nat Turner Park. Green spaces are important resources in urban centers like Essex County, providing an oasis for residents of all ages,” said Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. “That is why we have made the preservation of features in our historic Olmsted designed parks, and the acquisition of new open spaces a priority. There is no doubt that Nat Turner Park will have a positive impact on the immediate neighborhood, and the entire city of Newark. We congratulate Mayor Booker and the community activists who made this happen.”

This project is part of The Trust for Public Land’s Parks for People-Newark program, launched in 1995 to address the lack of outdoor recreational space in Newark’s neighborhoods. TPL is currently working to bring a $30 million investment into eleven of Newark’s parks and playgrounds. Other projects include the renovations of Jesse Allen Park, the creation of a new school playground, the expansion of play space at two existing playgrounds, and park development along the Passaic River waterfront.