Rally to save Pawtucket’s Morley Field as city ignores residents’ pleas

Neighbors have spoken out against the plan to pave Morley Field at several City Council meetings. For the children and families who live nearby, Morley Field is an invaluable oasis in this densely populated corner of the city. Yet the City continues to move forward with plans to replace the park…

Rhode Island News: Rally to save Pawtucket’s Morley Field as city ignores residents’ pleas

November 4, 2022, 3:38 pm

By Steve Ahlquist

Despite community opposition, the City of Pawtucket has continued its plan to pave Morley Field, the only youth sports field and public recreational green space in the densely populated Pawtucket neighborhood of Woodlawn. In response, concerned neighbors organized a second rally to voice their opposition to the plan outside Pawtucket City Hall on Thursday.

Neighbors have spoken out against the plan to pave Morley Field at several City Council meetings. For the children and families who live nearby, Morley Field is an invaluable oasis in this densely populated corner of the city. Yet the City continues to move forward with plans to replace the park, saying it will only pave 60% of the green spaces as part of a “compromise.”

The 90+ people who attended the rally were encouraged to call Terry Gray, Executive Director at RIDEM at 401-222-2771 with a message of support for Morley Field.

Here’s the full video of the rally:

Save Morley Field Rally 2022 11-03-01

What the Pawtucket city leaders characterize as a “compromise” is the result of District 5 Pawtucket City Councilmember Clovis Gregor‘s discovery that part of Morley Field was gifted to Pawtucket, and therefore cannot be sold per RI General Laws §45-2-6. The City now admits that it cannot sell the 40% which was gifted, but still plans to sell the 60% which was purchased with money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The National Park Service and Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) must approve any sale or conversion of that parcel, and both have guidelines that say environmental injustice is cause to reject a conversion. Moreover, the two parcels have always been completely integrated and were always designed to be a single park, known as Morley Field. The community of Woodlawn, say advocates, needs the entire park, not just 40% of the park.

Representative-elect Jennifer Stewart (Democrat, District 59, Pawtucket) emceed the rally

Organizers of the rally say the City’s plan is an example of environmental injustice, targeting a historically underserved community. The Woodlawn neighborhood is approximately 74% people of color, 59% people living at or below the poverty rate, and 29% children. Many people in this working-class neighborhood live in multi-family homes, often with no backyard. Since the 1970s, local families have used Morley Field for youth organized sports including Pop Warner football, youth soccer and little league games. In addition, residents have used it for picnics, reunions, etc. Morley Field is also the only public access point to the Moshassuck River in Pawtucket, and home to nesting osprey protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

“Every community should have access to green space,” said Representative-elect Jennifer Stewart (Democrat, District 59, Pawtucket), who recently won a Democratic Party primary to represent Woodlawn and Oak Hill in the Rhode Island House of Representatives. “Parks like Morley Field are one way we can mitigate the effects of the climate crisis, like the heat wave we experienced this summer, especially in densely populated neighborhoods. So rather than 60% less green space, as the City now plans, Woodlawn needs more green space, as we see in Oak Hill.”

Pawtucket City Councilmember Clovis Gregor, who represents District 5 where Morley Field is located explained that, “The loss of Morley Field will have a substantial & profound impact on the health and well being of our community. The children of District 5 deserve the same opportunity for healthy green space and recreational activities as are available in all other districts in this city. Preserving green space in this community is a moral imperative.”

The developers of the new proposed trucking depot being built on the 10.2 acre former Microfiber site, plan to use Morley Field for an additional parking lot, and in exchange would fund a new park between the Riverside Cemetery and Max Read Field in the whiter, more affluent Oak Hill neighborhood. This would deprive Woodlawn of its one and only green space, while adding another park in the Oak Hill neighborhood, which is adjacent to Blackstone Boulevard on the Eastside of Providence. This new park would also be very close to the Tidewater soccer stadium currently under construction along the Pawtucket River.

Organizers of the rally point out that the City of Pawtucket has neglected Morley Field for decades while investing in other city parks in Oak Hill and elsewhere. They argue that city leaders need to listen to the people who have enjoyed Morley Field for decades. While the City claims selling 60% of the green space is a compromise, the rally organizers argue this “compromise” is one-sided, and the community members who have spoken at public meetings on the issue have been ignored. Instead of turning 60% of this valuable green space into a parking lot, said organizers, Pawtucket should invest in environmental justice, equity, and fairness for people who live in Woodlawn.

“It is time for the City to follow the law and do what is right for the families in this community,” said Representative-elect Cherie Cruz (Democrat, District 58, Pawtucket). “We can no longer allow city leaders to ignore and neglect the needs of the families in Woodlawn and selling our kids’ resources and opportunities to corporations – Corporations that do not have the health and wellbeing of our community at heart.”

“What we found is that the neighborhood where Morley Field is positioned actually has the lowest tree equity score in Pawtucket and one of the lowest scores in the state,” said District 5 resident Molly Henries, who works for the environmental group American Forests. “Why would we remove more greenspace when we should be prioritizing putting more resources into our parks?”

“One of the hardest things to witness [is the] countless amount of people who have been here to fight and to speak against this and to feel ignored – not only to feel ignored but to feel overpowered,” said Pawtucket City Councilmember Melissa DaRosa (at large). “This is a great example of how important it is for us to vote, for us to be on top of our elected officials and what’s happening in the city because sometimes when we’re not paying attention we lose things…”

“What we’re asking for is not crazy. It’s not too much. It’s not impossible. We’re asking for what we need and what we deserve,” said Devon Pinkus of Sunrise Providence. “We’re asking the same thing we were asking at the beginning. We’re demanding the same thing we were demanding at the beginning, which is, don’t sell community greenspace in a primarily working class neighborhood and relocate it to a more affluent district, a whiter district, a mile and a half away, over a hill. Whether it’s half a field or a whole field, our concerns remain the same.”

“This is just another step in the way that Pawtucket has decided to treat people of color, it’s a way that Pawtucket has decided to disenfranchise voters, and the only way that we’re going to get out of this is with people like you,” said Pawtucket City Councilmember Alexis Schuette (District 4). “Issues of police brutality have plagued this city for countless generations and now, not only are we being brutalized on the streets, but we’re being brutalized in our parks.”

“These green spaces are of the utmost importance to our community. They bring the people of Pawtucket so much. Whether it be a field for youth to practice and play ports on, or a place for elderly members of our community to walk and relax at,” said Shea High School Student Zachary Pinto. “But Morley Field brings a greater benefit than just fun and relaxation. A greenspace like Morley Field helps protect our community from rising temperatures and increasing levels of rain…”

“I want to speak to the intersectionality of all this. When you take away parks, when you take things away from the community, they compound. When you take away parks and things kids can go to, it leads to things like crime,” said Black Lives Matter RI PAC Executive Director Harrison Tuttle. “If this were in Western Cranston, or if this was in Warwick, or a more affluent area… would this be happening? It’s because this is a historically Black and brown area, it’s because we have lower economic folks here, that they think they can roll over all y’all.”

“When I talk to my neighbors in Providence, they say, ‘What can we do about Morley Field? We want to help,'” said Providence City Council (Ward 3) candidate Sue Anderbois. “I’m here to say you’re not alone, Pawtucket. Providence is here with you and we’re going to save Morley Field.”

“This is not by accident. This community is being targeted because historically in this country Black and brown communities have been disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards,” said David Veliz, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty and the Rhode Island Sierra Club, speaking in both capacities. “That means higher asthma rates, higher respiratory problems, less greenspace than other communities. Whenever we look at a map of environmental hazards and a map of communities of color, these maps are identical…”

“I’m really confident that when it comes to DEM and the National Park Service, the environmental injustice of what they’re proposing will stop them,” said local environmentalist Greg Gerritt, who is the Moshassuck River steward. “I want to contrast this a little bit with the situation in Providence. Providence has a Racial and Environmental Justice Committee. If someone in Providence proposed getting rid of a park like this, they would be laughed out of the room!”

“Urban rivers have been neglected for a very long time in Rhode Island. I’ve heard Rhode Island DEM brought up quite a bit and you can’t rely on Rhode Island DEM to protect our natural resources because they have a very specific mandate,” said Kate McPherson, the Narragansett Bay Riverkeeper with Save the Bay. “When you look at Morley Field and its position right next to the Mosshasuck River, it is such a sad thing. It is the last piece of greenspace in Pawtucket along the river. To propose to pave it is completely unbelievable to me…”

“People tell me all the time ‘You need to get off your phone. You need to go outside and run around… You need to breathe in the fresh air,'” said a Shea High School Student. “When I go outside, after I’m let out of school, I see these signs and these signs are always telling us, ‘No Loitering.’ You can get arrested if you are standing somewhere you are not supposed to.

“So I ask Pawtucket, If I can get arrested for standing outside, but you want me to stay outside, where should I go?”

“I think it’s important that we have Morley Field so we can play,” said schoolchildren Zooey and Jazz.

More coverage of Morley Field:

City Councilmember Clovis Gregor and Representative-elect Jennifer Stewart