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Welcome to Urban By Design Online! This blog is a notebook of my travels as a city planner, historic preservationist and nonprofit advocate. It's a virtual collection of the many things that I adore, featuring cities, the arts, architecture, gardens, interior design, and retail. Enjoy! - Deena
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Entries in Brooklyn Bridge Park (2)

Friday
May062011

A visit to Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 1

The Brooklyn Bridge Park by cbreuk via flickr

A dozen years ago, I toured the future home of the Brooklyn Bridge Park on a class fieldtrip. The site was a jumbled patchwork of vacant warehouse buildings, parking lots, and decayed piers, overlooking the East River. The Port Authority had ceased operations there in 1983, coinciding with the end of an era of manufacturing on a significant part of Brooklyn's waterfront. Historically, it was also the original home of the Fulton Ferry, that linked Brooklyn to Manhattan, as far back as 1642.

On the initial visit, a local Brooklyn Heights resident, gave my urban planning class her vision for the site's potential as a recreational resource. She shared how one day, this derelict space would become a park. I'll admit that I wasn't a believer, especially during an era when the city did not consider large-scale civic beautification projects a high-priority.

Fortunately, after nearly two decades of planning, as well as ongoing legal, and funding challenges, the Brooklyn Bridge Park made its debut in 2010. The $350 million, 80-acre, 1.3 mile park designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, is still under construction, but several areas are now open.

Here is the synopsis of the park plan:

Brooklyn Bridge Park will transform this underused and inaccessible stretch into a magnificent public space filled with lawns, recreation, beaches, coves, restored habitats, playgrounds and beautifully landscaped areas. The Park will connect visitors to the waterfront and NY Harbor in extraordinary ways with floating pathways, fishing piers, canals, paddling waters and restored wetlands. This is the most significant park development in Brooklyn since Prospect Park was built 135 years ago. -Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York City

The Brooklyn Bridge Park is a 21st century modern open public space that will inevitably redefine how New York City's parks are built from this moment forward. It has received rave reviews for its innovation in design, as well as sustainability practice. The park's infrastructure has several reused elements from deconstructed buildings that had previously been on the site. Park planners purchased native plants from nurseries located within a 500-mile radius. The landscape architects have also designed a sophisticated storm water management system that meets 70 percent of the pier's annual irrigation needs.

The Brooklyn Bridge Park's manmade topography was constructed with fill from the East River.

Recently, I visited Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 1, a 9.5-acre site. This section is larger than Manhattan's Bryant Park, and includes two large lawns, known as the Bridge View lawn, and Harbor View lawn. There is also a playground, and a waterfront promenade. It was built on bulk fill, salvaged from the Long Island Railroad's drilling operations for the East Side Access tunnel project.

The park is surrounded by the most identifiable landmarks in New York City. It is an impressive space that takes full-advantage of the majesty of its surroundings. One powerful vista from a 29-foot hill provides sweeping, scenic, and stunningly unobstructed views of the Manhattan skyline, the East River, and the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.

The park is an exciting place to visit, because it marries the tranquility of open space with one of the most densely populated cities in the nation. As I walked the series of paths filled with mature trees (although not in bloom during my visit), I even spotted Frank Gehry's 76-story residential tower, 8 Spruce Street. The site contains over 500 trees, including Kentucky Coffees, Catalpas, Magnolias, Lindens, Sweetgums, Serviceberries, London Planes, and various species of Oaks.

New York City is surrounded by water, but its residents have rarely utilized it for recreational use. Unlike other cities where waterfront parks are fairly commonplace, New York's waterways have traditionally been used almost exclusively for manufacturing or transportation. This park is unique, because there are several walkways that led directly to the East River for a boat launch. It is also one of the few places in the city where one can meet water, and actually get close enough to touch it.

Throughout the year, the Brooklyn Bridge Park hosts many events including bicycle clinics, summer movies. and kayaking programs. There are also public tours of the park, and the surrounding historic neighborhood.

The Future: A new pedestrian bridge and park maintenance

The proposed Squibb Park Bridge

Currently, pedestrian access to the Brooklyn Bridge Park is not exactly direct. The Robert Moses-era Brooklyn- Queens Expressway, literally divided the nearby Brooklyn Heights neighborhood from the river. Park planners recently received approval for a $4.9 million, sustainable, 396-foot-long timber bridge designed by structural engineer Ted Zoli that will connect Squibb Park, a small, paved park at the north end of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade with the Brooklyn Bridge Park. It will provide a quicker path to the Brooklyn Bridge Park for those using several nearby subway lines.

According to a recent article that appeared in Crain's New York Business, the biggest challenge that the Brooklyn Bridge Park currently faces is a plan for operational revenue, which is needed to meet the park's estimated $16 million in maintenance costs per year.  A proposal has been floated to build six new residential towers, and a hotel on the park s edge, which is city-owned space. The revenues from the properties would be used for a maintenance fund for the park. However, many area residents have opposed this plan, because it would take away public space. The city has said that it will not give an additional $50 million, which is needed to complete the park, unless there is self-sustaining funding.

I look forward to returning when more plants are in bloom, because I really had an enjoyable time. Here are some additional notes from my visit:

A salt marsh at the southern edge of Pier 1, planted with native plant life and nestled within a salvaged granite seating area, provides a unique opportunity to experience the tidal river, and a boat ramp at the southern edge of Pier 1 provides access for non-motorized watercraft. Granite salvaged from the demolished Willis Avenue Bridge was used to create a seating area along the Salt Marsh.

The park benches and the cladding on park buildings were constructed with Long Leaf Yellow Pine, obtained when the warehouses on the site were deconstructed. This resinous wood is known to be resistant to fire.

 

Another sustainability project was the construction of the Granite Prospect on Pier 1, made with over 300 pieces of granite salvaged from the reconstructed Roosevelt Island Bridge. Visitors to the park can enjoy the New York Harbor from this vantage point overlooking the waterfront promenade.

For more information about the Brooklyn Bridge Park, please visit their website.

Recent articles:

Work on Brooklyn Bridge Park Could Stall [Crain's New York Business]

An improved Brooklyn Bridge Park Among the Changes in Dumbo [NY Times]

Monday
Nov302009

Jane's Carousel

A few weeks ago, after going to the Brooklyn Flea's DUMBO location, I stumbled across this most interesting of urban curiosities. There was a small crowd of people, outside, gathered by a warehouse gallery, staring at a merry-go-round, and I decided to take a picture.

Brooklyn-based artist Jane Walentas purchased what is now known as Jane’s Carousel, in 1984 for $385,000 at an auction. It was beautifully restored after 22 years of meticulous work, and is on display seasonally (April - September) at 56 Water Street. In December 2010, it will make its debut at its new permanent home in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Here's a clip from CBS Sunday Morning, featuring the latest in New York’s many attractions, with a brief history of carousels.