The pickleball turf wars sweeping the city have arrived on the Upper East Side, where makeshift courts in Carl Schurz Park have become the subject of a territorial dispute among skateboarders, basketball players and of course, pickleballers. Meanwhile, neighbors and the NYC Parks Department are caught in the middle.
“I hate them. They’re the worst at sharing space” Sam Katzman said of the Carl Schurz newcomers.
Sam and his friends, Upper East Side residents in their 20s, skateboard in the park every evening after work— and have for years.
“We’re friends with everyone, and we didn’t have a problem until they created one. We coexisted for so long,” Katzman added.
The courts in Carl Schurz were only recently drawn — by a man who calls himself The Pickleball Doctor — after players felt the squeeze of limited court space in Upper Manhattan. He sets up pickleball nets every morning for people to play from 9:30 am to 8:00 pm.
These courts occupy the center of the park’s long asphalt court. On opposite ends, basketball players dribble in one-third of the area while skateboarders practice rail glides on the other.
Last month, during a meeting of Community Board 8’s Parks and Waterfront Committee, many members of the public voiced their support for permanent pickleball court markings in Carl Schurz Park. However, a follow up meeting offered little more than an update that they’re mediating the situation and a promise for more answers come December.
“Folks are asking for this now because it seems like the city is starved for places to play,” said Gary, a local pickleballer who declined to give his full name.
“We’re just looking for shared time,” said Scott Stein, a pickleball player who spoke during the Community Board meeting on the issue.
“We are gracious about sharing with basketball, and all we are asking for is something like one-third basketball, one-third pickleball, one-third empty.”
Yet, Katzman and his friends shared similar experiences of bumping up to the pickleball courts, only to be berated by a player.
“It’s hit or miss. Some people are really nice but others have a really big sense of entitlement—it’s like ‘we own this park, we can do whatever we want,’” Katzman said, recalling an incident where an 11-year-old skateboarder “got chewed out by the pickleballers” for infringing on their territory.
On the opposite end of the court, basketball players echoed an annoyance at the encroachment on shared space: “It can be intrusive,” said Philip Maier, who was out shooting hoops at the park.
“There sometimes are issues, but never anything really too big.”
Meanwhile, some park users haven’t experienced any of these annoyances at all.
“I’ve had only good experiences with the pickleballers,” said Chris Gleason, who rollerskates at Carl Schurz, “Everyone keeps to their space and respects it.”
“The only interferences I’ve had might be when a pickleball rolls around, and I’ll just roll it back to them,” Gleason added.
“It’s a very orderly, very friendly system,” said pickleball player Brad Hershenson.
“We know we’re new to this section. People really understand that the skaters were regulars in the park before pickleballers were regulars, so the players defer to the skaters.”
Many players described that as soon as school-age children come to the park — usually at lunchtime and after school — they take down their third net to make more room for kids and local students to ride their bikes, play and eat lunch.
“I’d rather let a six-year-old learn how to ride her bike here than get more playing time,” Hershenson said.
“There’s always a little drama, but if kids are playing, we’ll take down a net. We all try to coexist,” said Linda Carrucciu, another pickleball player.
NYC Parks, for its part, tells Upper East Site that it is dedicated to keeping the pickleball problems at the busy UES park from turning even more sour.
“It’s always our goal to provide a balance of access between all of the various sports and activities that our regular park visitors enjoy,” an NYC Parks spokesperson said.
“We have been in touch with local stakeholders around the use of shared space at Carl Schurz Park, and we are committed to finding a solution that works for everyone,” they added.
“We gotta share the space,” said pickleball instructor Eric Ho.
“If there is an established schedule, we need to follow it and acknowledge we’re the newcomers here.”