Grounds for Change: Activating Vacant Land

Pearly Gates Park


Tags: Bronx, infiltration, municipal, neighborhood, NewYork, NewYorkCity, PlaNYC, playground, porouspaving, stormwater, waterpark, youth

A playground in the Bronx updated under PlaNYC.

In the six decades since it first opened, Pearly Gates Park has evolved from a simple neighborhood pool and playground to an extensive recreation complex and water park, all within a small footprint: 0.659 acres at the corner of St. Peter's Avenue and Tratman Street in the Bronx.  The park was founded as part of a city-wide playground building program executed by New York City Parks Commissioner Robert Moses.  Originally named Westchester Playground, it was re-named in 1998 after the avenue, itself  a namesake of nearby St. Peter's Episcopal Church.

The park's current incarnation, which re-opened to the public on September 25, 2010, is the result of roughly $1.9 million in improvements funded by three New York City Council members.  New features were added, including updated play equipment like balance beams, spinning units, and low-flow, timer-operated spraying showers.  The park's playspace was also divided between areas for younger and older children ages 5 to 12.

The use of recycled materials-including recycled asphalt and glass in pavement, and recycled plastic lumber in park furniture-was a priority for renovating non-absorbent elements of the park.  Murals, handball and basketball courts, and a red brick comfort station were also installed, while pin oaks were planted at intervals around the playground fence.  In all, these features helped reduce the park's impermeable surfaces to 75% of the total property.

Each of these new features was conceived as part of a larger commitment to alleviating sewer overflow issues by reducing stormwater runoff from the playground site.  Stephen Koren, a landscape architect with the NYC Parks Department's Bronx Team and one of the park's main designers, created a rain garden border for the park that catches stormwater runoff from the basketball courts and other paved areas in addition to absorbing heavy rainfall.  The rain garden's presence means reduced quantities of stormwater enter surrounding sewer inlets at any given time, particularly helpful during storm events.

The larger context for Pearly Gates Park's renovation is PlaNYC, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's set of sustainability goals for the city to achieve by 2030.  The plan states two goals for the city regarding water systems: "To ensure the water we drink is pure and reliable, and that the waterways surrounding our city are clean and available for use by New Yorkers."  Keeping the existing combined sewer system in good working order requires managing stormwater at various points in the urban water cycle between rainfall and sewer inflow.  A project like the Pearly Gates playground is just one example of how this management can occur within the context of social or recreational space.

Parks' in-house Capital team, which designed the playground and managed the construction project, included Project Manager/Designer Stephen J. Koren, RLA, LEED AP; Assistant Designers Nette Compton & Patricia Clark, RLA; Design Supervisor Jim Mituzas, RLA; Civil Engineer Raymond Palmares, PE; Resident Engineer Malak Tenisa; Bronx Construction Supervisor Fred Hammerling. The contractor was Vernon Hills Contracting of Mt. Vernon, NY.

The Westchester Square / Zerega Improvement Organization (WSZIO), the neighborhood and community development arm of the Westchester Square Business District, a local business owners association, lobbied heavily for the park's renovation.  Funding for the renovations was provided by three New York City Council members: Jimmy Vacca, Council President Ruben Diaz, and Annabel Palma.

New York City Department of Parks & Recreation

Rocchio, Patrick.  "Pearly Gates Opening." Westchester Square / Zerega Improvement Organization Blog.  (October 1, 2010).  Accessed online March 19, 2011.
Zumhagen, Brian.  "New York Looks to Philadelphia for Ideas on Sewer Overflow Issues."  WNYC Radio archive (July 15, 2010).  Accessed online March 19, 2011.

"Pearly Gates Playground unveils improved facilities in New York."  World Interior Design Network (October 1, 2010).  Accessed online March 21, 2011.

"Pearly Gates Playground Re-Opens as Model of 21st Century Sustainable Design 9/25." (September 25, 2010).  Accessed online March 21, 2011.

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