By WAYNE T. VENDETTO JR.
In early 2011 old playground equipment was removed from parks around New London. Almost a dozen new playscapes were constructed in parks scattered throughout the city, one in a park scarcely larger than a city lot. The lone exception was Riverside Park.
In retrospect, it is clear why a playscape was never constructed there. Presently, the reason is not so clear.
During this same period in excess of $1 million was spent in the renovation of the parking lot at Bates Woods. Currently, the city is seeking bids for a nearly $1 million renovation of Calkins Park. It is appropriate to spend tax dollars on the kids of New London and the infrastructure that contributes to their quality of life, including at Bates Woods and Calkins Park.
The problem is that the money for the children is not distributed equitably.
In November 2011 a referendum was held on the proposed sale of Riverside Park. At that referendum the voters of New London decided it was in the best interest of the city to maintain its ownership of Riverside Park. During that contentious election, and regardless of your personal positions on the future of the park, those of you elected to serve made a promise to the people of New London that if they voted to maintain control of the park, you, as elected officials, would support the park to the best of your abilities.
Today Riverside Park remains the only park in the city without a playscape. This, even as nearly $1 million of taxpayer money is expended on soccer fields in a part of town that boasts among its assets - two public beaches, tennis courts, basketball courts, volleyball courts, hiking trails, baseball fields, softball fields, and more than a few playgrounds.
The citizens of New London have not forgotten Riverside Park. In fact, more interest than ever is being shown: New London Landmarks received a Placemaking Grant and subsequently held Art Jams in the park throughout the summer; Friends of Riverside spearheaded a viral, online vote that landed Riverside the #24 seat, out of over 9,000 parks across the country, in the Coca-Cola's America Is Your Park 2012 competition; and my wife, Corina Vendetto, led Friends of Riverside's effort to fill the park with flowers by raising funds, rounding up volunteers and donations and spending a weekend in November with other park enthusiasts to plant over 2,400 daffodil bulbs set to bloom this spring in Riverside Park.
Almost a year ago, in February 2012, Kathleen Mitchell and I, representing Friends of Riverside, stood in chambers asking the council to begin to make good on its promise by having the playscape at the portable classrooms on Cedar Grove Avenue relocated to Riverside. That request was transferred to committee, where it remains, all but dead. As the only park in the city without a playscape, Riverside remains a testament to inaction on the part of council and city administration.
While we support, wholeheartedly, future plans of other organizations, planning is for the future. Dozens of mothballed documents in the city archives speak clearly to this. The time for the city to act on its own merits is now. The time for a playscape in Riverside Park is now. The time for the kids in East New London is now.
The time to make good on your promises and take action is now.
Wayne T. Vendetto Jr. is a New London resident and a member of the group Friends of Riverside.