NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP, joined Assembly member Al Taylor, Manhattan Deputy Borough President Matthew Washington, Community Board 10 Chair Cicely Harris, President & CEO of Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement Malcolm Punter, and community members this week to cut the ribbon on the reconstruction of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson Playground in Central Harlem. The $1.59 million renovation is the 51st project completed through the Community Parks Initiative (CPI), the City’s first-ever parks equity initiative, funded by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
As part of the Community Parks Initiative, the project at Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson Playground reconstructed the playground with new play equipment for all ages and abilities. The basketball court was lengthened and bleachers and a scoring table were added to support youth tournaments. The project also restored the iconic mural of the park’s namesake, entertainer and philanthropist Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, who was instrumental in creating this park in the 1930s. The playground now features an updated entryway with new pavers and plantings, a new seating area with game tables, and graphics that illustrate one of Robinson’s signature dance moves, the cross-over step.
“Through the Community Parks Initiative, Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson Playground has undergone the first major reconstruction in almost 30 years, with vibrant upgrades that reflect the community’s input,” said Commissioner Silver. “Thanks to a $1.59 million allocation from Mayor de Blasio, this small Harlem playground will better serve the neighborhood and honor the legacy of its namesake.”
The Community Parks Initiative (CPI), launched by Mayor de Blasio in October 2014, is NYC Parks’ first major equity initiative. CPI is a multi-faceted investment in the smaller public parks that are located in New York City’s densely populated and growing neighborhoods where there are higher-than-average concentrations of poverty. Two nearby playgrounds, Harlem Lane Playground and Frederick Johnson Playground, are also being reconstructed through CPI – Harlem Lane Playground is about to enter construction, and Frederick Johnson Playground is in construction with completion anticipated for Summer 2021.
“Thank you to the Community Parks Initiative for restoring and revitalizing the Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson Playground and helping to introduce a new generation to the life and legacy of this incomparable Harlem legend,” said Assemblymember Al Taylor. “Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson was a groundbreaking entertainer, philanthropist, and a beloved honorary mayor of Harlem who defied the odds to overcome the great racial barriers he faced. He also never missed an opportunity to give back to others and uplift the community he loved. Today this park remains a testament to Mr. Robinson’s dedication to the people of Harlem. In these difficult times, we all have a new appreciation for the vital role outdoor spaces play in the health and wellbeing of our communities, and I can think of no better time to unveil the exciting restorations made to this playground that will undoubtedly be enjoyed for many years to come.”
“The Community Parks initiative keeps yielding improvements to previously neglected parks,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “The renovation of Bill Robinson Playground’s basketball court, play area, and seating will benefit kids, parents, and players from across Harlem. Bojangles would be proud!”
“Manhattan Community Board 10 is excited to see the Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson playground renovation come to a beautiful fruition,” said Community Board 10 Chair Cicely Harris. “The playground renovation is a wonderful way to give the community more opportunity to fellowship in an inviting atmosphere. Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson Park has always been a recreational oasis in the neighborhood and we are happy to see the tradition continue.”
“This project is a long-awaited and welcomed improvement of an essential Harlem park and recreation space. This park will inspire our community youth and families to increase their movement, exercise, and healthy relationship with each other and their environment,” said Dr. Malcolm A. Punter, President & CEO, Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement. “HCCI has been committed to revitalizing the Harlem neighborhood through affordable housing, education initiatives and equitable open space uses. We celebrate the commitment of Mayor de Blasio, NYC Parks and the community partners for this new addition to our neighborhood.”
After living across from this site for years, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson persuaded property owner John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to deed the land to the City as a public park. The playground opened in November 1934 and included a jungle gym, swings, seesaws, and handball courts. In 1992, Mayor David Dinkins funded a $375,000 renovation that added new play equipment, basketball courts, seating, and the mural of Robinson tap-dancing.
Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson Playground is located at 269 West 150th Street in Harlem.