Like Mr. Anderton and others, she was of the mind that this intrusion into Mr. Ali’s set up was related to Mayor Eric Adams’s move to dismantle encampments for the homeless around the city, which the parks department denies. Regardless, the Adams administration seems to be waging an indiscriminate war against the aesthetically displeasing, messing with the belongings of the poor but neglecting to address grafittied and rotting plywood dining sheds with any similar sense of urgency.
Initially, Ms. Davis was also confounded by the tents, but that impression didn’t last. “When I saw the engagement,” she told me, it was just delightful. The city needs to expand on what he founded, not strip it away. Health and fitness should be No. 1 in this community.” The park straddles East and Central Harlem, where rates of asthma among children are more than twice as high as they are in the rest of the city, and rates of obesity are also above the average.
Although real estate prices have soared in this part of Manhattan in recent years — earlier this month a townhouse near the park set a record, closing at $6.4 million — Marcus Garvey has not been on the receiving end of huge amounts of capital, either public or private, which could restore it to its earlier glory. Preservationists did succeed in winning close to $8 million in city funding for the renovation of a historically important watchtower in the park, which was completed three years ago. And while other improvements have been made, Marcus Garvey looks like a park that has been largely ignored.
On Wednesday morning, Mr. Ali was visited by Connie Lee, an influential supporter who served as president of the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance for six years and now sits on the local community board. Ideally, the city would create a state-of-the-art outdoor gym in the park so that the ad hoc approach to Mr. Ali’s enterprise would not be necessary. “Mel” — as Ms. Lee and others call him — “and all the men who work out in the park have led by example, setting a tone for inclusivity and inviting everyone to be a part of the fitness community,” she wrote me the following day. “Marcus Garvey is a culturally significant public space that Mel contributes to every day.”
Ms. Lee said that during her tenure at the alliance, she campaigned for a master plan for the park that would lead to a rehabilitation. For one thing, there were too few bathrooms. The cost would run to approximately $35 million, she estimated, but raising even half of that philanthropically was an unlikely proposition in a place where there were not hordes of people able to write enormous checks as there are along Central Park, for example. Some large companies had offered to donate money to the park but wanted branding opportunities in exchange.
Bureaucracies always have a means of explaining away inequities, but it was hard to overlook the fact that just a few days after Mr. Ali’s outfit was dismantled, the city’s largest rooftop park opened on Pier 57 on the Hudson River, near West 15th Street and adjacent to extraordinary wealth. The pier will also house Google offices. When I asked the parks department what would happen next in regard to Mr. Ali’s pursuits, a spokeswoman, Crystal Howard, offered the following: “Our priority here has always been to ensure a clean and safe park that is accessible to all its users. We are grateful for the community advocates that have helped to bridge a conversation between parks and Mr. Ali, and look forward to finalizing the resolution of this matter.”
Essential to his theories about landscape architecture, Frederick Law Olmsted famously declared, “Service must precede art.” For too long, in parks far from the eyes of the ruling class, the power brokers have prioritized neither.