Public housing residents, posh prep school kids spark NYC playground war — with tensions going into full swing

The war of the concrete jungle gym has erupted on the Upper West Side.

Tensions are in full swing at a playground on West 90th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues as housing-project residents battle to keep private-school families, including those from the posh $64,000-a-year Trinity School, out of their newly renovated playground.

“Once they redid the playground, everybody and their mamas started coming,” said Cheryl Russell, 62, a 13-year resident of the sprawling Stephen Wise Towers.

Upper West Side residents and nearby private schools frequented the Wise Towers playground but the property management company has now put up signs saying “residents only.” Helayne Seidman

“They give these looks like we’re the visitors,” she told The Post.

The nasty tug-of-war escalated last week when signs forbidding non-residents from Cassone Playground — also known as “Llama Park” for its collection of concrete horses often mistaken for llamas.

“Can’t you read,” angry residents have shouted at parkgoers, referring to the new and often ignored signs. One nanny said a resident yelled at her, “You tell the other nannies that they can’t come here, either.”

The newly renovated park is a favorite for many in the neighborhood and is often filled with nannies during the day. Helayne Seidman

Residents contend they have a right to restrict access.

They say the rich kids disrespect residents and the space, which was renovated earlier this year after a private management company took over the New York City Housing Authority property in 2021.

“I’ve heard kids say in several cases, ‘Oh, I can’t play with you because you’re black’ or, ‘Why you in my park?’” said Russell.

“They beautified the place, why can’t we keep it that way?” Cheryl Russell, a 13-year resident of the complex said. Helayne Seidman

Some people have gotten too comfortable, she said, letting their kids run through and even pee in the gardens because there are no public bathrooms. That resulted in a neighbor temporarily hanging a sign that read “Curb your child,” she said.

“They beautified the place, why can’t we keep it that way?” Russell said.

Some tenants say more outsiders than residents fill the park some days. “It’s okay if you want to come, but don’t monopolize,” Russell added.

“We love all kids, but treat everybody the same,” another longtime resident, Beverly, told The Post.

The Trinity School is located right across the street from the playground and is a popular for families waiting for kids to be dismissed from the school. Helayne Seidman

She once witnessed a resident tell a man it was against the rules to have his dog in the park.

“The man turned around and said ‘shut up, you bitch,’” Beverly said.

The police were even called to the location twice regarding disputes, but no arrests were made, according to sources. The NYPD could not give specifics on the incidents.

On May 24, before the official signs went up, someone taped the gate closed and hung up flyers saying “This park is for Wise Tower residents only” and “This is not a public park.”

Before official ones were put up, someone attempted to keep non-residents out of the park with their own signs taped to the gate. Obtained by The New York Post

The New York City Housing Authority, even if operated by a private management company, can dictate the use of its properties, according to officials. Helayne Seidman

Though there has been confusion over whether the park is public, the residents appear to be within their right to limit access. The playground is not under jurisdiction of the city Parks Department, according to officials.

“NYCHA campuses are private property,” a spokesman for the authority told The Post, adding that Wise Towers residents have expressed concerns about access to the playground and treatment of the new equipment.

“We support Wise Towers’ residents and their desire to restrict use of the space to residents of the development and the property manager’s signage to notify non-residents that the courtyard is not a public space,” he said.

Nearby private school students, and many others, frequent the park for its newly renovated jungle gyms, sprinklers and scooter path. Helayne Seidman

The Trinity School previously had an agreement to use the space for kindergarten classes and recess, the West Side Rag reported.

But in a May 28 email acquired by the outlet, the school announced it would not be using the grounds any longer.

“We are suspending our recess play there for the time being,” wrote principal Kristin Crawford. “I suggest families also suspend playing there after school and over the weekends.”

B’nai Jeshurun, an Upper West Side Hebrew school, had to stop using it as well, according to parents.

Wise Towers residents are expecting to hold a ribbon-cutting for the park, which was completed during the winter, in the coming weeks. Helayne Seidman

Nearby school kids wrote letters to the Wise Towers tenants association begging to be allowed back to the park. Obtained by The New York Post

Families from all over the neighborhood visited the playground as an alternative to Central Park or Riverside Park. Obtained by The New York Post

Saddened schoolkids sent letters to the board begging to come play in the park.

“Everyone is just surprised and devastated,” said Upper West Side mom Mira G.

“It was kids from everywhere,” she said. “It’s Manhattan. We integrate, we play together. It doesn’t matter what school, where everybody lives, and what the religion or race is.”

Wise Towers residents have expressed concerns about access issues and the treatment of brand new playground equipment and newly-renovated grounds by non-residents. Helayne Seidman

“I understand both sides but I would hate to see this place get shut off to the community,” said David Owens, a dad of two who lives nearby and has visited the park for over 50 years. “You want to bring the community together — playgrounds are what do that.”

Additional reporting by Jon Levine

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