The Panic In Barker Park

July 16, 2017 by Jessica

So many things are weird and annoying when you’re pregnant. Probably the worst was people telling me that I shouldn’t be eating the thing I’m eating, whileeeee I’m actually eating it. You’ve successfully ruined my lunch AND chances of being a good mom because I almost/accidentally/already killed my kid by eating raw cheese. Sigh. People warn you of a million things that are probably never going to happen, and I hate that…pregnant or not. If the odds are more likely that I’ll be eaten by a grizzly bear during a plane crash, please don’t even waste your time telling me about it….I’m eating the damn cheese. The second weirdest thing (aside from the inherent weirdness that comes with hosting a tadpole/alien human) was this:

“Hooray! You’re pregnant! Are you moving?!

Probably by the 7th month,  I stopped trying to hide just how far back my eyes could roll. Just because some cheesy diaper commercial says “having a baby changes everything” doesn’t mean I’m am about to change my zipcode on account of someone who isn’t paying rent and has yet to form any substantiated opinions on urban living. Don’t get me wrong, babies are an awful lot of work, but one positive is that they are fairly low maintenance roommates. Loud, but portable. I was having a baby….not 12, and certainly not some kind of life crisis that made me suddenly crave vinyl siding or want a mini van. My body was different, my self was the mostly the same.

So, here we are. Life with a toddler in downtown is good. It’s better than I can imagine it being in any other place. But, certain things re: babies are just harder in cities. I get what people were saying….it is no doubt easier to pull into driveway in a snowstorm, into a heated garage, and plop your baby and million bags of groceries onto a conveyor belt that conveniently shoots everyone into the house…..warm and dry….or whatever is going on in the burbs. For me, it’s the little things that can seem hard.  No one has a place to change a diaper. Unless were counting an unclaimed piece of reclaimed wood laying in the corner of a cool brunch spot. Stairs on stairs on stairs. Ascending your dreamy historic stoop with a stroller in one arm and a flailing 1 year old under the other is NOT for the faint of heart. Deathtrap sidewalks haze urban elite Euro strollers through various levels of concrete hell. Brand new walkers rise to the challenge. (City babies are gritty babies and those skinned knees aren’t stopping us.)

Four alarm fires. UPS guy. Dogs that exist only to bark. Fireworks. I’m not talking about your All American 4th of July fireworks. I’m talking about Troys unchecked enthusiasm for July 5th fireworks, and 6th, and 15th, and every day that’s warm and has sleeping children and ends in the letter “y”.

But it’s all good. Because unlike our suburban mom counterparts, we can walk to the best wine store on any particularly harrowing or beautiful afternoon. We see civilized adults ALL the time, like several times a day. Sometimes we even manage to string together a few sentences about subjects unrelated to sleep regressions or potty training. We have real diversity. And not just different shades of white people. We have grit & gentrification. Alleys and avocado toast and cardamom lattes, libraries, interesting people, live music, and stuff going on. Firetrucks galore, friends around every corner,  and every size dog imaginable, most that we can pet, some that even come in baby carriages or wear miniature cowboy hats. Never a dull day.

It’s kind of like inserting your toddler into mostly an adult life, which is good because all of the best things are reserved for adults. It means you are lucky enough to brunch with 10 adults while your kid is happily passed around like a little hot potato, stealing everyone’s soba noodles and empanadas. It also means I get to surprise myself by saying things ridiculous things to friends and strangers: “Sorry about the cream cheese on your cat”, or “No….you don’t have to give him a bite of your ice cream”. I spend a lot of time teaching a toddler how to NOT touch moving cars, why we don’t sit on cats or throw decorative glass objects (IT’S NOT A BALL.) So, it would be really nice to unleash him in the ONE little playground we have down here. ONE contained play area. It’s not great, but its ours, and it’s all we have. I remember the days I could drink  a coffee, have a conversation, and let the little guy run free for a few minutes. Being somewhere fenced in is a big deal for downtown-ers! Without a fence, any toddler can/will attempt to make an exit to the street any time they feel like it, so approximately every 8-10 seconds. This playground has a swing, two slides, and a working FENCE. Lets be honest, its a sanctioned pen for babies and because of that, it is gloriously beautiful to me.

But the park is closed now. It’s been closed since April 18th. Gone are the days when I could walk by it without my child throwing himself onto the pavement in revolt. His one year old self is just dying for one more romp down that burning hot sun baked slide. More importantly, gone is the ONLY walkable play structure in the downtown neighborhood. (And no, monument square is not a playground. And yes, I COULD drive to another park, but many people cannot, and I don’t want to. We like to walk. That’s why were here.)

So why is the park closed?

The City claims the park is closed because the neighboring building has “facade issues”. If you’re familiar with this building, that’s one way to put it. The historic First Baptist Church was converted into a fraternity house in 2014 after Phi Gamma Delta’s Tau Nu chapter purchased the building from the city for about 275,000 and WITH a stipulation that the new owners make repairs to historic steeple. Nothing has been done with the steeple as far as I can tell, but my formal investigation begins and ends with the astute observation that it still looks terrible. (EDIT: Work is slated to begin on the steeple this September, according to fraternity members.) In the meantime, the left side of the building has flaking paint chips, or is being scraped of paint. Apparently, all of this super old scraped paint landed right in the playground, and going how old paint goes, is probably full of lead. So now, we have a playground littered with lead paint chips.  Someone else noticed the paint chips, went to the hardware store across the street to purchase a home lead test. This test indicated what anyone could have guessed, that the paint was lead based. When this person approached the city and their councilperson, the playground was chained with lock and key, and was told the fraternity is working on repairing “facade issues” as the reason. This is where I get annoyed.

City officials responded to my inquiry about the playground closure and said the fraternity is scheduled to begin work on their crumbling facade this Fall. Great. Can’t wait. But does that mean the park is now closed because the building next to it is going to undergo renovations in a few months? What are the chances they begin on time? Also, how is repainting the building going to change the status of current soil in the park, if that is in fact why the park is closed? Don’t get me wrong, I think its great that Phi Gamma Delta will finally improve their facade in the Fall of 2017 (three years later) but why can’t we go in the park in the meantime? If the soil is not contaminated, and I’m hearing it’s not, and the paint chips are continuously being picked up, why can’t we go in?

Or, if Barker park playground is closed due to real lead contamination and is unsafe, why is the rest of the park open to the public? Is there an imaginary line that makes only the playground unusable? Why can my kid play 10 feet from the slide, but not ON the slide? Shouldn’t parents use their own judgment to decide if their kid can play in a park next to peeling building, where a few paint chips may fall, if that’s all it is? I personally like to live on the edge (remember that raw cheese?) and am comfortable with the risk. I will also come help pick up paint chips in my spare time. I’ll even round up my crew of scrappy downtown moms and we will pick up every single paint chip if that’s all it takes. Let us know how we can help so we can lock up our children once again. Cage our children! Free or fix Barker Park.


Thank you, too?


POST BY Jessica
There was a void in her life. A spicy, meaty void . And the desire to fill that void led her across the river from Albany, to Troy, NY. It was there that she finally found it. Jamaican Beef Patty perfection. And lots of it. Late at night, I Love NY Jamaican Beef patties fueled her shenanigans. During the day, the premade frozen beef patties at the 3rd St bodegas kept her energy up for back to back yoga sessions. Like the Bee Girl from the Blind Melon video, she finally found a place with people like her. Except she’s a ginger. And not chubby. Slowly, it dawned on her. Troy, NY was meant for her and she made the purchase that would ensure she could remain, pockets filled with spiced meat encased in preservative laden dough: white curtains to put in her windows so as not to run afoul of the Troy Historic District’s guidelines. She could breathe easy. This was home. *****************************************************************************************************