Katrinna Martin-Bordeaux, the prominent Black Lives Matter activist and founder of Young Black Democrats of Western New York, is announcing the formation of the Martin Luther King Park Renaissance Corporation. The entity is intended to better manage the East Side’s Martin Luther King Park, designed by landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted and currently controlled by the well-funded non-profit group known as the Olmsted Parks Conservancy.
Martin-Bordeaux thinks that public spaces can be far more valuable to communities when they are thought of as civic institutions rather than merely open space. For that evolution to occur, she argues, the space must be actively managed by the community it serves and the governance structure of the space must begin with the objective of empowering that community.
“Olmsted has done a good job of taking this role out of the city’s hands and into the civic sphere, and they’ve certainly improved the management of the park,” Martin-Bordeaux concedes. “But now we need to really embrace this movement towards participatory governance and put the East Side community in the driver’s seat when it comes to operations, programing, and planning.”
It’s not just political rhetoric. Martin-Bordeaux believes in decentralized decision making as a deep principle of governance.
“Public space is a deeply democratizing force. You can’t protest in a suburban shopping mall, because it’s private property. Historically, town squares and public markets have been the places where the public assembles together, celebrates together, protests together, enjoys together,” she explains. “As a civic institution the park can empower the community to work together.”
Martin-Bordeaux expects that she will have an actionable motion for the Common Council before the end of the year. “I trust that Council President Pridgen will be an ally on this, and I applaud him for that,” she said.
Her planning committee is in the process of developing a capital improvements plan that thus far includes repaving Fillmore Avenue in brick to slow vehicle traffic, building a new bandstand amphitheater, rennovating the historic park casino, installing new street fixtures, and transforming the science museum into a more community oriented institution.
Much of those resources can be found from contributors and corporate sponsors, but she argues that the city should fund a basic operating budget similar to the Olmsted Conservancy and Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation’s programing budget for Canalside. Through improved programing, she thinks that MLK Park can become as busy as Canalside, with music festivals, art festivals, food festivals, public lectures, a farmers market, and a slew of other activities.
Asked if she expects opposition from the Olmsted Conservancy, Martin-Bordeaux thinks that the liberal-minded organization can appreciate that the East Side community wants to control its flagship public space the same way that the Delaware District community wants to control its flagship public space.
“I don’t think they want to have that fight,” she adds.
The organizing committee is currently accepting nominations to the Board of Directors. If you are interested in becoming involved with the Martin Luther King Park Renaissance Corporation, you can reach Katrinna Martin-Bordeaux at 716-930-7433 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.