Englewood Council hears plans to improvements to Mackay Park

ENGLEWOOD — The governing body hopes to create a more welcoming environment for residents to enjoy with vision plan to make improvements at Mackay Park, the city’s largest park.

Leonard Vazquez, executive director of The National Consortium for Creative Placemaking, presented the results of a vision plan created for the park to the city council on Dec. 15. The plan was based off of comments heard during public meetings throughout the year and a focus group composed of residents and community leaders.

The Montclair-based National Consortium for Creative Placemaking was hired for $18,000 in July 2014 to help create a vision plan for Mackay Park that would promote “better usage and greater stewardship.”

The plan aims to preserve most of the sports fields, courts and facilities, but also add new elements and “some of the naturalistic and open features that marked the early days of the park,” according to the report.

Some of the new elements in the park include better spaces for “creative play,” such as quiet places for residents to draw and paint.

Planners also imagined having murals of Englewood heroes cover blank walls outside the John T. Wright Arena, adding a multi-purpose room to the arena would help make the rink a year-round facility and creating an active “front porch” section of the park resembling New York City parks.

Increasing safety was another issue addressed in the plan, which was a concern raised by residents during community meetings. Planners pitched a three-step process to make residents feel safer, starting with increased maintenance of park equipment, developing a Friends of Mackay Park group, reopening bridges that connect the park to city streets, hosting more community events in open spaces and providing free Wi-Fi.

During the meeting, members of the focus group discussed their time helping the consortium figure out what to put in the plan. Anita Newkirk, a parent, spoke with students in the Englewood Public School District to get their input on the future of the park. One of the plan’s suggestions, a nature park in a triangle-shaped area near Elmore Avenue, came directly from the students, said Newkirk.

Following the presentation, Vazquez told the council he was willing to bring in students from a landscape architecture class at Rutgers University to create designs for the park’s front porch, free of charge.

Ward 1 Councilman Marc Forman, who helped connect the city to the consortium, praised the work of Vazquez and focus group members who worked on the plan. Ward 3 Councilman Eugene Skurnick said the city should not focus solely on Mackay Park, but study all parks throughout the city.

Former Mayor Sandy Greenberg said she was at first skeptical about hiring the consortium, but was impressed by the results presented. She said she’d like to see the park “as green as possible” with many trees in the park’s proposed front porch area.

“When people drive by it, it should have a Central Park feel, not café and outdoor dining,” said Greenberg.

Melvin Drakeford, chairman of the Mackay Park Legacy Committee, raised a number of concerns about the plan in an open letter to the city released after the meeting.

Among his concerns, Drakeford said the plan needs to include budgetary guidelines of how much it would cost to implement the plan, more direct feedback from residents who live in the area surrounding the park and more focus on the south end of the park.

“The residents surrounding Mackay Park should have been contacted directly because issues such as bridge closing, park lighting, causes of park usage decline, safety, security, basic facilities needed and/or what type of program activities should be promoted directly will impact them,” said Drakeford in the letter.

Email: noda@northjersey.com

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