Photo: Andrew Ancheta. Children gather for "Parking Day" at an impromptu playground on Willis Ave.

Mott Haven kids had a chance to play with one of their elected representatives today, at a pop-up playground on Willis Avenue. There were free books, coloring pages, games, and a giant Jenga set, all in an area barely large enough to fit a minivan. 

It was organized by the staff of Assembly member Amanda Septimo for “Parking Day,” an international movement to temporarily convert parking spaces into impromptu playgrounds.

“It’s a bit of a play on words,” Septimo explained between games of Jenga with the neighborhood children. “People take parking spots that are meant for cars and turn them into smaller parks to highlight the need for greener spaces.”

Septimo is a Democrat who represents the 84th district, and is approaching the end of her first term this year. She is up for reelection in November. 

“Every issue that you can think of, we’ve got a lot of it,” Septimo added, noting that there is also a shortage of housing. “Not only people being able to access housing generally, but housing that’s affordable that they can stay in over the years. That’s probably at the top of people’s lists right now.”

Although there were initially only a couple of neighborhood children, the crowd quickly grew as schools let out. About a dozen children stopped by to join the fun, while passersby picked up free books for their kids back home. 

Organizers say that they wanted to highlight the lack of usable public spaces in the South Bronx. 

“In Mott Haven, there’s not really a lot of parks at all,” said Brittney Ron, who grew up in the district and now works as the community outreach coordinator for Septimo’s office. “We definitely want to advocate for more open spaces and more activities for kids to do. One of the big things that we try to do is see how any kind of youth program or organization can build and grow.”

While the event may have helped the Assemblywoman make some new playmates, it’s not clear if it won her any votes.  

“To be honest, I haven’t really thought about it yet,” said 23-year-old Jonathan Labra, as his 3-year-old perused the free books. Labra had dropped out of college to take care of his son, but hopes to go back. His main worries right now are paying the bills. 

“Rent is high,” he said, “and my job is cutting my hours.” He says he has never voted because he only recently got his first legal identification papers.

For the moment, though, Septimo had more pressing problems than her reelection. “I think Julio is going to win right now,” the legislator sighed, as a 6-year old successfully extracted the last loose block from the Jenga tower. 

“I’m being beaten by a first grader.”

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