Who gets to speak for a community?
That’s something I’ve been wondering a lot lately. Since last year, a small group of New Haven residents called the Friends of Kensington Playground (FOKP) have been fighting to stop the construction of a new affordable housing project on what is currently the Kensington Playground in Dwight. Their ongoing efforts would lead you to believe that the Dwight community does not want this project. Some, like FOKP, do not, but others like myself are excited and eager for this project to move forward. They don’t speak for me. Which makes me wonder: who gets to speak for Dwight?
In November, FOKP filed a lawsuit against the city to stop the sale of Kensington Playground. This lawsuit has not just impacted the new housing but community members too. In addition to the new construction, which is a combination of affordable and deeply affordable housing, the project plans to renovate 88 apartments, improve and create new park space in Dwight and expand community-based resources and programming. Since the new housing at Kensington Playground is part of the much larger project by The Community Builders, the lawsuit has forced the entire project to be put on hold. As a 24-year resident of Kensington Square, the housing community at the center of this redevelopment, I am one of the community members who has been affected by the delay.
Our community deserves access to parks that are used and taken care of — Kensington Playground is not that. The park has been represented as a community space that is used by children and families. This is simply not true and is a misrepresentation of reality. I have lived in the Dwight neighborhood for over two decades and I have never once seen kids safely play in this park. Many residents like me do not use the space because we do not feel it is safe. Parkland is important to me and I don’t think we should have to choose between parks and housing, but we are not losing anything with Kensington Playground. This parkland has been unsafe and underused for decades. Transforming Kensington Playground into new housing will allow the space to be turned into a resource that actually supports community members. There is such a great need for housing that we owe it to our neighbors to support more affordable housing in our community.
It is only now that a better use has been found for the space, that events are being hosted in the playground. We don’t need to give up housing to have parks. As part of the project we also have the opportunity for a new, small park on Garden Street and updates to Day Street park that is only one block away. Those are two parks just one block away from Kensington Playground.
My neighborhood has come a long way in the past two decades. I want to see it go further. If there’s going to be more developments and more housing — and there will be — I want it to be for me and my neighbors. I want it to reflect our hopes for the community. I do not want us to be left behind.
At the end of the day, if the lawsuit succeeds and prevents the new housing in Dwight, I will not be impacted. My home will still be renovated and modernized even if I have to wait a while longer. But everyone deserves to have stable, safe, and nice housing — not just those who already have it.
We don’t need to choose between parks for our neighborhood and homes for our neighbors. If we let it, the Kensington project can give us parks and affordable housing. Let’s choose both.
Cesar Lacen lives in New Haven.