Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Tour of the New Brooklyn Bridge Park

by baad lamb

Easter weekend, I zoomed off to Brooklyn as early as I could on Saturday morning to check out the newly opened first section of the long-time-coming Brooklyn Bridge Park. I began at the Promenade for a panoramic overview of the current development status.

For me, crossing Columbia Heights and entering the Promenade remains a thrilling experience, every single time. It serves as a reminder that although there is much to despise about R-Mo, he has actually left us all some gifts that keep on giving, and the Brooklyn Heights Promenade must be near the top of the list (too bad it was just his sweet icing on the rancid cake of the BQE hidden below).

From up here, you can see the full reach of the new Brooklyn Bridge Park. The view to the north shows the tiny completed section near the center of this picture (that green grassy area). This is the only part currently open to the public, but the finished park will eventually stretch from Dumbo's shores in the north to Atlantic Avenue in the south.
Plenty more after the jump...

Here is a partial view to the southwest, across the bay to Governors Island. Beyond that, some French statue of a green lady holding a club or something over her head guards the entrance to Uhmerka. In the middle distance is Pier 2, and in the foreground, the tidal pool and additional pathways under construction.

Heading in the non-direct path down to the waterfront area, I pause to appreciate the Financial District view, along with some helpful instructional Parks Department signs. Here in New York even the fruits have their special section of the street. I sat for a few minutes in the official designated area, then continued the looping walk from the Heights to the sights below.

FYI: If you scheme to get up early and be the first in line at Grimaldi's, you'll only be joined by about 100 or so other people at 10 AM who had the same idea.

The new park is not without controversy (is there anything in hyper-opinionated New york that is?). A small controversy is the parking lot at the entrance. By prominently including it, are we encouraging personal vehicular travel and discouraging the nearby mass transit? Or is it a necessary feature for buses bringing underprivileged City residents to enjoy amenities missing from less geographically advantaged neighborhoods?

A much bigger controversy is the handing over of public property to private developers to build something called luxury housing on portions of the park. The "PILOT" (payments in lieu of taxes) profits from this Faustian bargain are the magic financial potion that has allowed the park to finally go forward after more than 20 years of planning. Will future generations look back on this arrangement as brilliant, or at least as marginally beneficial as the Moses promenade/BQE trade-off, or just another example of political fat-cat golfing buddies helping themselves and their friends to whatever they can grab? Unfortunately only time will tell. A thoughtful placement and delicate massing of the (hopefully low-rise) private residential portion may prove harmless, perhaps even helpful, if it functions like a conveniently close-by maintenance and security system. Conversely - tall and aggressive, profit-maximizing glass boxes could scar the currently open views, poison any real park enjoyment, and ruin forever the stunning view from Brooklyn Heights. (And I will not believe any pretty proposal until it is built; we all know the bait n' switch Atlantic Yards story).

But let's put the controversy aside for a moment and take an exploratory stroll through the finished portion to see what we think of the park so far (Brooklyn based Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates are the Landscape Architects).

A very inviting path from the parking area and Furman Street leads past the back side of what I am guessing will be the park info/maintenance building (and maybe restrooms? - there currently are none). I like the way the parallel thick wood panels are sliced at the top and bottom to accept the thin aluminum plate brackets holding them in place.

Walking along next to one of the tidal pools, I also really like the prominent display of these ratchets that tension the galvanized wire railings between posts. They're not hidden at the ends of a run, or concealed inside or against a post, but right in the middle of the run, proudly saying "Hey, look at me. Appreciate my efficient  but tough design. See how hard I work."
A centerpiece of this first phase is Brooklyn Bridge Park's version of Central Park's Sheep Meadow. As you can see, and the sign explains, it was still closed on Easter weekend. It's not hard to imagine the lounging colorful crowds that will fill this space as the temperature climbs this summer.
There are plenty of benches that gaze out across the East River. This will be a beautiful spot to sit and take in the view, people watch, meet a friend or read the Sunday paper. As with the lawn above, it won't be long before all these seats are taken.
A very interesting feature, but also not yet opened for full enjoyment, is this  terraced construction made from  reclaimed granite from the Roosevelt Island Bridge. In keeping with the gritty industrial waterfront theme, they left all the numbering and other identifying marks on the recycled stone, and arranged it up a berm with purposely random endings, not a perfectly aligned formal stair-like edge. I Like it.

Is this enigmatic ghost soon to become the most photographed ruin on the Brooklyn waterfront? Can we guess what they intend to do with this remaining piece of National Storage? They clearly seem to be saving it, since its sibling on the left has been demolished in service of the new park. Get your "ruins" pictures now before they start punching the window holes through. A very happy hedge-fund manager will soon be reclining on that rooftop.
I don't know what this is. Will a landscape architect or someone else who knows please enlighten me? All the non-grass areas are covered with it. It looks like shredded cassette tape, and my guess is that it is binding the dirt in place. Is it permanent? Will aggressive hardy waterfront plants grow over or through it to cover it, or is this the surface we will always see?

Looking back to where we began, you can see the two levels of the BQE hanging under the hillside just below the promenade. Beyond the construction, in the distance, One Brooklyn Bridge Park, the first luxury condo to subsidize this park development, is a conversion of a fortress-like waterfront warehouse that was once a distribution center for the Jehovah's Witnesses.

From the concealing side of one of the many earth berms, the planned  super tall, then abruptly shortened, then tall again luxury residences (very confusingly called Beekman Tower) by starchitect Frank Gehry rises in  the Financial District, attempting to brutishly steal the skyline from the elegant Cass Gilbert landmark Woolworth Building, which was recently converted to (surprise!) luxury residences.

Finally, coming full circle, and looking north across the finished portion, with the namesake Bridge in the foreground, and the Manhattan Bridge beyond.
With precious little public access to the waterfront in a city of mostly islands, I believe everyone can agree that although long delayed, and carrying plenty of controversy on its shoulders, the Brooklyn Bridge Park is a good start to giving New Yorkers back more of their waterfront.


  1. I love the rough hewn stone amphitheatrical terrace. I can't wait to test its acoustics with that Billie Holiday song: "I Cover the Waterfront"

  2. Thanks for the fantastic tour, your baadness.