Riverbank and Riverfront Parks are two parks located along the Passaic River in the Ironbound section of the City of Newark. Like the more recent incarnations showcased last week, these parks have LONG had community advocates fighting to make these parks a beautiful and useful part of the lives of those living in the East Ward.
Riverbank Park was birthed by Newark industrialist, founding the world’s largest varnish company, and later governor of the State of New Jersey, Franklin Murphy, who wanted a healthy, green space for his employees living in the East Ward. He would help to form the Essex County Park System. Land for the park was acquired in 1907, after a long stand off with Ms. Ward and was planned by the Olmsted Brothers.
In earlier years the famous “Newark Bears,” a semi-professional baseball team, used the park’s baseball diamond. This created controversy in recent years when the city and county, initially wanted to build a stadium on the location of the park. Hard work from Ironbound organizations like SPARK – Save the Park At RiverbanK – created strong opposition and after environmental damage was discovered, the park was remediated. Later, in 2003, the county would renovate the park. Returning it to the community hub for athletics and gathering once again to the people of the Ironbound.
I think that it is important to acknowledge the work of the City of Newark, Essex County Parks, but particularly the people of the Ironbound, who fought to protect their neighborhoods and create opportunities for healthy, outdoor space in their communities.
For a long time, the view from the current Riverfront Park was obstructed by shipping containers, a reminder of the strong, industrial presence, in that part of Newark. When the city and county were first beginning to work with the community and reach out to citizens to get their feel for a new park on the Passaic, some life-long residents did not even know that their neighborhood had a river running through it. There was no relationship between the people from the Ironbound and the Passaic River anymore. I could try to tell the story of this journey, but there are too many others who have captured it before me. Here are some great links that can probably tell the story better than I can:
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to hang out with residents in Riverfront Park, as a volunteer. I assisted community members (mostly children) paint tiles which will become a part of the new Jackson Street bridge. A reminder once again of the presence of this community in shaping its neighborhood and parks. It is also a reminder that sometimes we fight the good fight and win! – gaining the support and respect deserved from our local government and community leaders. They helped shape this park and they use it! I see high school soccer teams, families, and young professionals all reaping the benefits.