Stephanie Thayer and The Open Space Alliance

Interview

By Lucas Kavner

WG_thayer__mg_9514

The Open Space Alliance walks a complicated line. On the one hand you have a community-based organization that, through private fundraising, works to improve and create public spaces and develop a diverse array of programming for North Brooklyn. On the other hand you have Stephanie Thayer. Thayer is the OSA’s executive director, but also serves as an “administrator” for the city’s Parks Department—an employee of a city, which, in case you haven’t noticed, is rather strapped for cash at the moment. So where does that leave the Open Space Alliance? Are they fighting with themselves over how to best use their own money? Do they side with government interests or with the community they represent?

For the most part, Thayer seems comfortable with the balance. However, a few issues still loom over North Brooklyn’s public spaces. They include the extremely popular free summer concert series—though the OSA and newly hipster-fied-friend-of-Jay-Z Senator Charles Schumer have pledged to keep them alive—and Newtown Creek, the 3.5 mile-long estuary that remains a mass of toxic sludge the EPA warns could take 20 years to clean up. [Since the printing of this story, the pool parties have been reinstated.]

In this interview with The WG News, Stephanie Thayer tells us where her loyalties lie, why we should be hopeful for 2010, and how the OSA can use your help.

What are some of OSA’s plans for 2010?

There are big plans for this year. McCarren Park Pool is in full construction for swimming and year round recreation; Transmitter Park will be in renovation for a playground, bird garden, and fishing pier; phase two of Bushwick inlet—including playgrounds and community facilities—will be in construction; the first segment of our waterfront esplanade will open; and we are planning improvements in Rodney Park.

We also accomplished a lot in 2009. We built and opened the athletic field at Bushwick Inlet, opened the skateboard park adjacent to McCarren pool, and opened a kayak launch and greening at the end of Manhattan Avenue. We also tore down illegal gates to create public waterfront access in Greenpoint, opened North 5th Street Pier to the public, and planted trees, grass, and gardens in McCarren, Cooper, and McGolrick parks.

As director of OSA, you’re working for both the city government and the community’s interests. Can you talk about the position that puts you in?

I live in the neighborhood, as well as work in and for our neighborhood, and I have a history of community activism. Ultimately my job is to get new parks built and improve our existing neighborhood parks, and these goals are shared by both our community and the city. In the past I would pound the doors from outside; now I can pound the conference room table inside, so to speak. My goals are still the same, but as part of city government I have a lot more resources and support where needed to make them happen. As a resident of the community I push that much harder to green North Brooklyn for my friends and neighbors.

You ran into so many hurdles with the “Pool Parties” series, first at McCarren Park and then at East River State Park. Do you envision other outdoor venues for live music/theatre/arts in the future?

Yes, it was absolutely a challenge for OSA to gain the support needed across many community groups, residents, multiple government agencies and officials, never mind the financial haul and risks involved. The result? OSA raised more than $90,000 from the  concerts for physical improvements to this park. The East River State Park had to close in early 2009 due to the fiscal crunch, but the OSA insured that won’t have to happen again in 2010. OSA also expanded small scale programming throughout our district, working with many partners to bring free local indie movies to Sternberg’s handball courts, free theater using playground equipment as sets, and childrens’ crafting in McCarren. Transmitter Park was transformed with community groups hosting free dance performance, art, and movies. In the coming summer, I would like to see the underutilized Newtown Barge Park, at the tip of Greenpoint, activated for small scale, appropriate programming, and encourage our local talented performing artists to get in contact with me through osa@osanb.org.

So what’s the current status of the programming at East River State Park?

Last summer there were 60 events there and more than half a dozen promoters. “Pool Parties” is a trademark of one promoter, but there wasn’t just one promoter doing concerts at the pool. There’s the strange assumption that every concert that’s in a pool or a park, any large scale concert, that it’s one promoter—that it’s a “Jelly Pool Party”—that’s not the case. The exact status is that the concerts will certainly work out this summer; we will host concerts at the waterfront.

What plans are in the works for testing and revitalizing Newtown Creek? Do you know anything we don’t know?

Newtown Creek has not been officially designated,as a Superfund site, though it will likely happen. It is correct that this will be a very long-term effort to continue testing, then plan and remediate. The city has urged, among other things, that the EPA help us insure that creating new waterfront parks can proceed as planned along with the clean-up.

What are the major impediments to more public space in Brooklyn?

Money! Takes green to make North Brooklyn more green. Nevermind the gazillion dollars needed to build the parks that our neighborhood needs and deserves, we are chronically short of the basics, such as enough garbage bags for the district. The children at PS 132 collected their pennies to help plant a butterfly garden in Cooper Park. Any amount donated to www.osanb.org is a significant contribution to improve our parks and make a better North Brooklyn.


Comments

  1. Laura Hofmann says

    Stephanie Thayer stated, “, I would like to see the underutilized Newtown Barge Park, at the tip of Greenpoint, activated for small scale, appropriate programming,, and encourage our local talented performing artists to get in contact with me through osa@osanb.org.” …

    Underutilized in Newtown Barge Playground & Greenpoint Playground means that people can’t stay as long as they’d like. That’s because there is no parkhouse with toilet even though DEP gave the Parks Dept the money to build one. The Parks Dept. ( including Stephanie Thayer ) is taking their sweet time getting the parkhouse with toilet built. Our small parks group Barge Park Pals as well as NCMC has been working toward getting a parkhouse with toilet built for many years. At one time, Barge Park Pals was able to run softball tournaments there because we had the cooperation of local Bodegas to allow the kids use of the toilet. Stephanie Thayer’s call for bringing in artists before toilets and water is actually a step in displacing long time park users. Park gentrificaiton. I believe it was two years ago when DEP turned over the money to Parks for the toilet. Park users are slowly finding other parks to play in because they’ve lost confidence in Parks Dept promises, and so have I. Thayer is successfully kicking out long time Greenpointers to make way for newbies. I’m more than happy to see new people and new things in Parks. But not at the expense of disposing of those that don’t conform to Thayer’s way of thinking. A perfect example was her eviction of the Red Gate garden. There’s lots of kids that want to be able to use Greenpoint Playground & Newtown Barge Playground. How bout giving them the parkhouse with toilet before you go looking to displace them further?
    Laura & Mike Hofmann
    Barge Park Pals

  2. Horton says

    I don’t see any mention of the clear conflict of interest that Ms Thayer’s two positions as a parks director and as an executive director at OSA creates. It’s a nice fluff piece for her resume. Hopefully, one that will come in handy for her in the not too distant future when she seeks other employment not related to parks at all. Maybe she will head back to Wall Street, where at least she has some experience. Her dalliance in parks is not working out well for anyone but herself and OSA’s agendas.

  3. donna says

    I didn’t vote for Stephanie Thayer or OSA. Why are they the gatekeepers of everything that goes on with the parks? I have a problem with her conflict of interest here. Also, if someone maintaining a small and well kept garden for 15 years is a “renegade” What is she / OSA? At their “public forum”, (mutual admiration society), Steve Hindy publicly thanked the members for their financial contributions and how much they have helped the community. I beg to differ. People of this community have been vocal and active for years. No one however, has paid to be on a board , gotten a city job to “help her friends and neighbors” or made themselves such a focal point. Not even our politicians! I for one would like them to make public exactly how much is earned from their events and what portion actually goes to the parks? – I don’t like the way they act lke they are working for the community “their friends and neighbors” yet a large portion of people who might dare to disagree are marginalized.

  4. Lauren says

    As others have pointed out, it is ridiculous to keep pushing through this kind of programming when the basic facilities are lacking. Please, can we call a halt to turning the area’s parks into “performance spaces”? Why on earth would you consider drawing crowds (even on a “small scale”) to a space that doesn’t have toilets? This kind of talk leaves me wondering what is so difficult or radical about pursuing plans to upgrade Greenpoint’s green spaces in a way that makes the day-to-day experience of ALL residents better. I suppose this thinking stems from the idea that the influx of younger bohemian types with fat wallets must be catered to, but here’s a newsflash: Many of us relative newcomers would prefer to enjoy consistently maintained parks in which the entire community feels comfortable, rather than stand around with people exactly like ourselves in makeshift venues amidst the odor of Port-a-Potties.

  5. WG News + Arts says

    In response to New York Shitty:

    From our perspective as a local newspaper, we feel our reporter covered the story appropriately. It’s up to the public to draw their own conclusions and then act on them, in the appropriate manner, whether commenting or going further. That’s not our call. We feel that this story points out the conflict of interest between OSA and the Parks Dept of which Ms. Thayer serves in an executive position on both. Unless we were Bloomberg Media or Fox News, we’d be more inclined to put a spin on the story. We have no interest in putting a spin on the story.

    Due to the many comments, I have requested our reporter to do a follow-up story.

    —Genia Gould, WG News +Arts, Publisher

  6. Concerned says

    This is the tip of the iceberg for “conflicts of interest.” Steve Hindy also serves on the OSA board, aka head of the Brooklyn Brewery. Funny how all concerts this summer from what I hear have to use Brooklyn Brewery beer and can’t/work find their own vendors as in years past.

    As a friend of JELLY, I know that OSA has been very open that they do not want JELLY back on the Waterfront, hence Schumer having to step in at all. Funny as the only people who did concerts in the space last year, and the ones who had to PAY the 90k themselve that they are now being treated as bastard step children while OSA gets to gloat about raising that money for the park. And now they don’t want them there?

    Pretty disgusting.