A lot of people want the parks open. A lot of people don’t.
Earlier this week, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop announced the re-opening of five municipal parks, in an effort to ease residents back into recreation while still maintaining social distancing amid COVID-19 restrictions.
“We closed the parks early on to keep people safe, which helped slow the spread of the virus,” said Fulop, in a statement on April 25. “After nearly 2 months of quarantine, there’s also a mental and physical health aspect that needs to be considered, and we know we can’t ask our residents, who rely on parks for outdoor access, to stay inside indefinitely. We believe now is an appropriate time to responsibly provide residents with that public health outlet in a controlled setting, especially as the weather warms.”
Not everyone warmed to the idea.
“I urge Jersey City residents to continue to shelter in place,” said Jersey City Councilman Rolando Lavarro, who himself suffered through coronavirus. “While I understand the need to get exercise, stretch, breathe the fresh air, and to maintain sanity, let’s not regress. Walk around or up and down the block. I know the view gets stale, but it’s a small price to pay to save lives.”
Governor Phil Murphy has made his request for more patience well known, but has left the decision of re-opening municipal parks to local municipalities. Today, a coalition of six Mayors in North Hudson—Mayor Ravi S. Bhalla of Hoboken, Mayor Gabriel Rodriguez of West New York, Mayor Nicholas Sacco of North Bergen, Mayor Brian P. Stack of Union City, Mayor Richard Turner of Weehawken and Mayor Wayne Zitt of Guttenberg—agreed to a collaborative, regional approach to a gradual re-opening of their respective municipal parks.
Only in the event of a joint agreement, based on what they say is a data-driven approach, will the eventual re-opening of parks will occur. When they do, parks will open incrementally and in unison—in an effort to prevent overcrowding in any one municipality’s parks.
“As we consider an eventual re-opening of our municipal parks, we do so knowing that north Hudson County is perhaps the most densely populated region in the nation,” said Mayor Bhalla, Mayor Rodriguez, Mayor Sacco, Mayor Stack, Mayor Turner, and Mayor Zitt, in a group statement. “With this in mind, it is absolutely critical for us, as mayors, to work together to ensure that any reopening of parks is driven by science and data and protects the health and safety of our residents. Acting as one collaborative group in our approach ensures that no park is unintentionally attracting additional residents of surrounding municipalities due to conflicting rules and regulations.”
One of the primary arguments for maintaining closures and coordinated re-openings is the demands placed on first responders and law enforcement.
“This will allow our cities to take a cautious and deliberative approach that prevents the unintended spread of COVID-19, while promoting social distancing to the greatest extent possible. We know how difficult it has been without access to our parks and recognize the importance of getting fresh air as the weather gets nicer. While our parks remain closed until further notice, we look forward to working together to implement a gradual re-opening, when it is safe to do so, that prioritizes the health of our residents.”
All municipal and county parks in Hoboken, Union City, Weehawken, West New York, North Bergen and Guttenberg will remain closed for the rest of this week. As for playgrounds, the six Mayors agreed that all playgrounds would remain closed until further notice and stay closed until the last stage of any park re-opening plan.