A Park in Progress: Marsha P. Johnson was a hero in the Black trans community. Will the park designed in her honor earn the same admiration? Landscape Architecture Magazine, Oct. 28, 2022.
A subtle shift has taken place in the park at the end of North 7th Street in Brooklyn, New York’s Williamsburg neighborhood. Recently renamed for the late Black trans LGBTQ+ civil rights activist Marsha P. Johnson, the redesigned park has retained the relatively ad hoc feeling of its previous iteration as East River State Park. It still has swaths of concrete embankments scattered around the site, remnants of the place’s industrial history as a rail and marine terminal. The main entrance has been repaved with cobblestones, mirroring the crumbling remains of the original entry. New seating is fabricated from rough-cut logs.
Beyond, a winding path of porous concrete passes through gardens of perennial flowers, bioswales to retain stormwater, and a hill that will eventually grow into a lush landscape. Didactic panels along the path recount the formation of trans identity and the history of that community’s civil rights struggle. The sandy shoreline is bordered with granite blocks and a pebbly intertidal zone. A large sign at the entrance dedicated to Marsha P. Johnson is not yet installed, nor is a planned monument to Johnson.
For some, namely the trans constituents meant to be most honored by the park, it hasn’t been a dramatic enough turnaround. As the visibility of trans people has increased, the community is demanding more cultural ownership and agency over the spaces that define their legacy and role in the public discourse. And this demand is complicating what New York civic officials viewed as an acknowledgment of trans people’s role in securing a more just, egalitarian, and humane world.