Place  /  Retrieval

The Neighborhood Nuisance: One Woman’s Crusade to Shape Brooklyn

“It is true that my life has been threatened as the leader of this playground campaign,” wrote Mabel E. Macomber in 1929 from Brooklyn’s Bedford neighborhood.

Macomber serves as a microcosm of the larger park and playground movement because she faced twelve long years of a fight over the construction of just one playground, all the while holding dear to the ideals of location and supervision she had adopted from the national movement. After leaving Seward Park, she turned her attention to her own playground-less neighborhood of Bedford. Here, Macomber wanted to recreate what she saw as Seward’s great success by building a centrally located playground, with an even pitch and natural shade, which would be staffed by a capable director, possibly even herself.

In 1922, she began advocating that the city purchase an unused estate called Rusurban.[7] She rallied many of her neighbors to her side, including the Borough Civic Association, local Aldermanic Board, Bedford YMCA, Bedford Boy Scouts, and many schools, churches, and individuals, such as State Senator Marcellus H. Evans. By involving children in this and other playground campaigns, Macomber and other advocates hoped to embed playgrounds further in their communities and teach young people how to work with local government, thus making playground advocacy a sort of training ground for active citizenship. She even wrote a song called “Yes! We Have No Playground” to the tune of “Yes! We Have No Bananas” for children to sing and “make their plea through song” for the Rusurban playground.[8] Macomber also drew on her influence in women’s clubs, including the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, the City Garden Club, and of course the City Playground League, and she wrote dozens of editorials and letters to the editors of newspapers across New York, all advocating for her playground. Along with her allies, Macomber lobbied the New York Park Board first to buy the land. After only two years, in 1924, the city purchased the one-acre plot for $164. Then the hard work began. Macomber continually lobbied for the city to both not sell the land for commercial use and instead to develop the land by equipping and staffing a playground.[9]

Macomber continually rooted her pro-Rusurban arguments in what she saw as the great need for small, centrally located neighborhood playgrounds. In 1925 she argued that the city should provide for the 529 children that lived in walking, seeing, and hearing distance of the site. The two parks within a mile of the location, Macomber claimed, could never fully serve the high-density, multi-dwelling homes that packed the area around Fulton Street and Classon Avenue. By 1929, Brooklyn newspapers reported that nearly ten thousand children would be able to play there.[10] The playground’s location would enable the director and neighborhood adults to supervise the equipment and children, thus building supervision into the landscape, just as she had witnessed at Seward Park.