Community activists and residents have reacted angrily to the announcement by New York City Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver renaming Hell’s Kitchen Park as Lorraine Hansberry Park — with immediate effect and with no community consultation.
The name has already been changed on Google Maps, and Hell’s Kitchen residents are upset and frustrated by the move. The 47-48th Street Block Association — which takes an active role in maintaining the garden in the park — has called an emergency meeting for this evening. Their President, Elke Fears, said members were “extremely upset.”
NYC Parks Department spokesperson Crystal Howard told us: “The namings announced were not proposals. The park has been renamed, per our announcement.”
Locals have long resisted business interests “trying to make the neighborhood’s colorful if forbidding name fade away” and be called Clinton. This move by NYC Parks cancels out the only public place in the neighborhood carrying the Hell’s Kitchen name.
Christine Berthet told us: “Personally, I think this effort may be well intentioned but its execution reflects the blind and brutalist process of a bureaucracy. The priority is to create new parks for communities in need and name them appropriately, not to cancel existing parks’ names which have deep connections to the community. There is a new park planned nearby on 10th Avenue — that would be an excellent candidate.”
Lorraine Hansberry was a playwright and writer who died in 1965. She was the first African-American female author to have a play performed on Broadway. Her best known work, the play A Raisin in the Sun, highlights the lives of Black Americans living under racial segregation in Chicago.
Tom Caylor, who leads the gardening at the park on 10th Avenue between W47/48th Street, said: “There are many things Hell’s Kitchen Park needs. Compost for the beds for instance; parks cannot supply any compost! That’s up to the community. But a new name to make high city officials (who are counting their days to cash in their pensions) feel good, is not one.”
Emile LaFargue expressed the feelings of many neighbors, saying: “We as residents of Hell’s Kitchen want to have a say in how our park is named, and we don’t want the Hell’s Kitchen name scrubbed away. We must be included in our own neighborhood affairs”
Rosemary Garces LeBron, a former President of the 47-48th Street Block Association, told us: “For me coming from Brooklyn as a child to Hell’s Kitchen as a Latina child, I was enamored with the diverse life in the community of Hell’s Kitchen. The nearest park at the time for the community was DeWitt Clinton and Central Park, the group that worked to clean out the empty lot now called Hell’s Kitchen Park was just as diverse as those I grew up with. The name Hell’s Kitchen Park is all-inclusive and represents the history of the cleanup and the residents who still call HK home. I don’t feel that this park has to be named specifically for any one individual, because the title of the park is an umbrella for all who have grown up, lived here and worked.”
Jean Daniel Noland has drafted a letter to Commissioner Silver for this evening’s meeting. He told us: “Hansberry’s great play, A Raisin In The Sun, is about dreams, about wanting a better life, about affirming the dignity of identity and the importance of family. Would Lorraine Hansberry want her name to replace a name which celebrates the identity of a neighborhood, a community family of immigrants and artists and exiles seeking a better life? Would we do better to honor her by being true to her vision?
“Over a half-century ago, the Hell’s Kitchen community lobbied to make a parking lot into a park, advocated for funds to develop it, and agreed to name it Hell’s Kitchen Park. The name Hell’s Kitchen is part of our identity as a community, a name that honors our immigrant history and celebrates our diversity and inclusionary spirit,” continued Noland.
District Leader Marisa Redanty said the move was “insulting to the community,” continuing that residents of Hell’s Kitchen were “sick and tired of not being consulted.”
“I think the community should have had input before they went ahead and did it. I understand the thought behind it, but just like making Juneteenth a national holiday, officials are trying to take the easy way out and neglecting the hard work that needs to be done to end systemic racism. The overnight park renaming spree is this year’s ‘black lives matter’ street murals. Flashy, but not actually doing anything to get to the root of the social injustices many city residents face on a daily basis,” said Catie Savage from HK Litter Legion.
Suzy Darling, the owner of The Pocket Bar on W48th Street which looks onto the park, was frustrated that the move was so fast when plans for a new park a block away have been so slow. “We’ve been talking for years with the City about a new park diagonally across from this on 10th Avenue. It’s just dragged on. Now this has been changed with a click of the fingers. Why not focus on building and naming the new park — and leave Hell’s Kitchen Park be?”
The New York City Parks renaming project was set up to “help us take another visible step in the fight to end systemic racism in our city!” The Parks Department asked park goers to submit their suggestions to rename a park or park space for a prominent Black historical figure or someone who has impacted New York City or your neighborhood.
“Regarding the process — this initiative was announced a year ago. The first 10 were primarily suggested internally and chosen by Commissioner Silver — which is his privilege and ability per the City Charter. Yes, for this tranche we accepted suggestions on names from the public — and her name was in fact recommended — broadly. Commissioner Silver selected and named, again per his jurisdiction,” said Crystal Howard from NYC Parks.
The Parks Department confirmed that “all signs will be installed by the end of the summer for all of the newly named parks.”
We asked local council member Corey Johnson for comment. “The Speaker’s office was not consulted on this change. He is extremely disappointed in the lack of transparency surrounding this process from the Administration, which sought zero community feedback. He is grateful to the 47-48th Street Block Association for all of their hard work in maintaining the park, and is looking forward to working with them to determine next steps,” said Jennifer Fermino, a spokesperson for Speaker Johnson.