Oct 5, 2014

Robert L. Clinkscales Playground and Community Garden Opens

Last Monday, September 29 was a perfect and unseasonably warm Fall day and it marked the official opening of the Robert  L. Clinkscales Playground and Community Garden on West 146 Street in Harlem. This project has been long in the making and many turned out for the auspicious event attended by a range of dignitaries, politicians and community activists as well as the family of the community activist and advocate for whom the project is named. Robert Clinkscales, who passed away in 2001 was the champion  responsible for the revival of Jackie Robinson Park and for the development of many housing and outdoor projects in Harlem.

 Senator Bill Perkins, son and wife of the late Robert Clinkscales and Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver

Former Council Member Robert Jackson, NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver and Assembly Member Herman D. Farrell

                                       Testing one of the water features in the playground area.

The community garden and playground is an ambitious project encompassing five city lots and outfitted with ramps, a sunken sand box, a play area with water features, a storage area and ample seating. I spoke with the landscape architect, a young man from Manhattan Capital Projects group. The layout of the planting beds was meant to mimic ones that were there in the space many years ago. There are twenty planting beds of varying heights to accommodate persons of different physical abilities. Gardening for wheelchair-bound residents is a possibility. Paths are made of crushed stone aggregate that would provide some drainage but heavy rain is meant to drain towards the west side of the space with its obvious lower elevation. There is no designated composting area. However, areas planted with ground covers or covered with mulch could easily be used for composting or for additional planting beds. Also, there is no sheltered area for gatherings, but, with the aid of organizations such as GreenThumb, this and other amenities can be added.

What appears to be a large pergola stands without horizontal beams at the top. I imagine this area can be covered in grape vines, honeysuckle, clematis or other ornamental vines and translucent roofing.

The opening of this community garden and playground is a cause for celebration. Many residents (myself included) have been patient and eager to add their names to a list, any list that may get them close to securing an area to grow vegetables and herbs. There is an early childhood center just across the street and beds will be allotted solely for their use and others for older children. It will be interesting to see how the other beds are assigned. Hopefully, by this time next year the space will be hosting workshops for preserving food and teaming with gardeners harvesting the last tomatoes, performing early Fall chores and planting cold hardy crops.

This garden and playground is another example of a few working for the benefit of the community. With most of the city's vacant lots located in Harlem, there is hope that other such spaces will be withheld from developers and transformed into spaces that connect and strengthen Harlem communities. Thanks to Robert Clinkscales, community activist like Frederick Wilson and to all who worked tirelessly to make this dream a reality.


Russ, a recently added member, has been keeping the paths weed-free and tidy. The black swallowtail butterfly lays its eggs on bronze ...