This is the text of the informational brochure from the Rededication Ceremony:
Johnson Park is the first park in the City of Buffalo from land donated by our first mayor, Ebenezer Johnson in 1837. This historic parkland was a tremendous contribution to the community, providing respite for strolling, picnicking, and gatherings. It is with this in mind that the Johnson Park Restoration Fund presents the following outline for the future of this great public space.
For many years (1960’s to early 2000’s), Johnson Park was in disrepair and grounds for vagrancy, crime, drug-dealing and usage, and other illicit acts. It was not a safe place for the many low-income minority children in the area to play, even though, due to dependence upon public transportation, this park was the best resource for their outdoor activities. Needles, crack sacs, marijuana bags, “whippets,” and broken beer bottles were ever-present. Neighbors discouraged nearby nursery schools from bringing their children to the greenspace for play to keep them safe.
FIRST STEPS OF REHABILITATION
For the past five years, the West Village Renaissance Group (WVRG), a nonprofit community preservation organization and previously known as the Johnson Park Association, has maintained the park with litter pick-up and Spring and Fall Leaf-A-Thons, scheduled by residents throughout the Historic West Village to assure a healthy, albeit somewhat bare, turf. Three gardens have been planted and the park is now a feature on each year’s Garden Walk and a Buffalo In Bloom winner for the past four years.
The WVRG has worked endlessly with Councilmember Brian C. Davis, Buffalo Police Department, Erie County DA’s Office, Judge Henry J. Nowak, and many others to remediate the ills of the past and make this greenspace and neighborhood an area to be enjoyed by residents and visitors alike. It has taken five years to finally “take back the park” and make it that very special place for area children to play, for residents to use as a respite, and for the organizations to work together to rid the park of the crime it had become known for. In 2003 Johnson Park was nominated for “Great Public Space” recognition on the Project for Public Spaces. Later that year, the entire neighborhood was recognized by Buffalo Spree Magazine as one of “Western New York’s Great Neighborhoods.” In 2004, the seed organization (Johnson Park Association) of the WVRG was recognized with a Civic Empowerment Award for its work in neighborhood remediation. We’ve worked very hard to assure the safety and security of this parkland and now it is time to redevelop it for all the residents of the Lower West Side as well as visitors to our city.
THE FUTURE IS NOW
Now it’s time for Johnson Park to experience the renaissance that reflects the vision of Mayor Ebenezer Johnson. On July 28, 2007 the Johnson Park Restoration Fund was launched as the lead organization for the restoration project of this historic site (noted on the National Register of Historic Places) and to raise the necessary funding for its two phases.
Johnson Park will, again, become a destination, recognized for its historic value, complimenting the current redevelopment of the Downtown, Delaware, Niagara Street, and Waterfront projects, and used by residents and visitors alike. The plans will provide for a “Green Environment” that will include projects by local schools.
In Phase 1, the addition of a jogging ring around the park will provide a safe place for current joggers from local hotels, schools, businesses, and the neighborhood, as well as invite future joggers from the loft developments that surround the area. Wheelchair access from all angles of the park will be implemented that will also include the corners located on South Elmwood Avenue. New curbs will replace the 170 year old Medina Sandstone curbs that are almost nonexistent due to wear and abuse from vehicles. The current pathway through the park will be revamped with 21 foot sections in dark gray for hop-scotch and chalk drawings the local kids have come to enjoy producing at record rate. A meditation labyrinth will be added at mid-park, and the turf, always an issue in the past, compounded by the wear and tear of heavy machinery during October Surprise Storm Clean-Up operations, will be reseeded. Enhanced lighting will provide adding security for those wishing to spend a quiet evening surrounded by nature in the middle of the city.
In Phase 2, we intend to request assistance from Hutch-Tech students in the design of a rain cistern system as well as solar power for the future re-installation of the park fountain that was taken out to be melted down for ammunition during WWI, and the covering conservatory. This phase extends the “Green Environment” with these projects utilizing the power of our local youth while also giving back to them. Children from the nearby Herman-Badillo School can use the covered conservatory to learn to plant various seeds and seedlings for their homes, school, and the park while also experiencing other learning pportunities regarding "community" and cultures. Many elderly neighbors will be able to sit in the Conservatory during cold winter months, warmed by the solar heat, enjoying the sun coming through the see-through panels, listening to the sound of the ever-flowing fountain. Other neighbors will be able to start planting for the growing season in early spring. This fountain will be ever-present and usable throughout the year and a youth docent program can be set up for tours for visitors to the area.
Additionally, the Johnson Park Restoration Fund has been established through the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and we hope to start an Endowment Campaign to guarantee the perpetuity of the park and this restoration project for future generations.
What makes a community? The coming together of old, young, well-to-do, impoverished, every race, every creed, contributing to a common goal – a safe, secure, clean neighborhood for them and those around them - creating an environment that addresses the needs of the present, looks towards the future, but forever remembers and learns from the past.
Mayor Ebenezer Johnson envisioned a gathering place for all Buffalonians to enjoy while reaping the benefits of communication and fellowship. We can recreate that vision in this little corner of our great city while reinforcing the slogan of “City of Good Neighbors.”