WSJ: ‘A Storm Is Raging Over Plan For Brooklyn Bridge Park’

Is the sloooowly buregoning Brooklyn Bridge Park designed to encourage the interaction of those who visit the waterfront oasis—or is it little more than a handsome front lawn for wealthy homeowners, alienated from the surrounding community and lacking those things that make urban public spaces dynamic? That’s the question posed in a Wall Street Journal story Monday, titled “Conflict In Park Plans.”

The piece leads a more or less academic discussion over aesthetic disagreements between developers of the half-completed park’s future. Portions of Pier 1 and Pier 6 opened in 2010, with a new pier and footbridge slated for the latter part of 2012—while a majority remains on the drawing board.

The WSJ explains, “On one side is Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, the firm designing the park’s outdoor spaces, including man-made wetland areas, artificial hillsides and meadows and pathways lined with non-native vegetation that resembles beach grass.” He comments in the article: “We’ve created a calm foreground that allows you to appreciate the sublime beauty of the industrial urban setting.”

An opposing view comes from non-profit Project of Public Spaces (PPS), whose William H. Whyte believes that public spaces should “be designed to encourage the social interactions of the people who use them, rather than for their aesthetic appeal.” His view is that the design of BBP overrides the everyday needs of city dwellers.

The story goes on to describe the playground at Pier 6 as “better looking than for playing.” PPS President Fred Kent adds that “a better park” would allow for multiple uses woven together in a simple welcoming space. “Elderly people would be able to sit on a bench, eat a sandwich and watch the children play, while young couples stroll by on the Promenade, waiting for the sunset over the park’s breathtaking view of New York Harbor.” He calls BBP “one of the deadest waterfronts ever designed.”

The WSJ concludes that on some counts Kent is right, “but in other ways, Brooklyn Bridge Park succeeds magnificently at being a space people want to make their own. Pier 1 is an assemblage of placid meadows and grassy, sloping grades that make the perfect setting for picnicking and taking in the view.”

The full Wall Street Journal article is here. Note that it requires subscriber log-in.

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  • EHinBH

    Kent sounds like a loon to me… We need MORE dead space in this City, not more basketball courts or benches for people… The pilings, grass and trees is exactly what we needed in BBP. Why do we need a giant playground for people to interact? I wish the entire park were just one big lawn and a couple of trees. Just somewhere to walk arouund in peace and have a break from the craziness of our lives in the city…

  • BrooklynLove

    Well ‘one of the deadest waterfronts ever designed’ was packed this weekend and people seemed to be enjoying themselves. I’ll be heading back there after work today. Kent has no argument.

  • Monty

    Yeah, dead space is actually really good. Look at Prospect Park as the perfect example. The Great Lawn is the best feature. That being said, a few attractions like the playgrounds and concessions are nice to have. And most kids (including mine) go bonkers for Pier 6. The biggest flaw is that most of the water toys broke down too quickly because of overuse.

  • ColumbiaHeightster

    Spent a lot of time there on Saturday with my wife…it was absolutely perfect. Despite the fact that there were tons of people there, there was plenty of space, and it never felt crowded. I don’t fully understand the “lack of interaction” argument from Kent – not sure what he’s hoping people will do there, but I couldn’t have enjoyed the park more on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.

  • Remsen

    The park is great as designed, just wish it would get finished a bit faster. Finally made back to the hood from CT this past weekend with the kids and thought Jane’s carousel was pretty cool…though I think it should have been further set back from the water

  • She’s Crafty

    I think it’s very presumptuous to assume that “elderly people” would like to sit on a bench and watch children play in the playground. Please. Not everyone wants to be contantly surrounded by children, and I say that as a loving parent. Second, young couples can stroll on the Promenade and look at the sunset RIGHT NOW and have been able to for years, so what does that have to do with BBP.

  • stuart

    I agree that the criticisms are unfounded. This is just the kind of park Holly Whyte espoused. Now if they would just finish more of it within our lifetimes..

  • Pat R. Ician

    I’ve had it with all this “activity for the people” business. If those people want to recreate– they can join The Casino or get on the bus to Jones Beach like everyone else!

  • http://deleted 1BBP #268

    That’s right, this park is our front yard – we fought for it, we’re paying for it, we’ve earned it. I’m totally fine with children wanting to plant bulbs with the Conservancy in my yard but I draw the line at ball playing, music, fireworks and events of any kind. It is my park now and the rest of you can go out to New Jersey if you want to swim.

  • carol

    So we have a longstanding conflict among the proponents of active (organized) recreation – fields, balls, nets, the people who want unorganized recreation – rolling down a hill, throwing a frisbee, the parents with kids, and the people who want quite contemplation of nature, the river, the plants, etc. Don’t most of us wear more than one of these hats?

    This is nothing new. NYC, and particularly Brooklyn, doesn’t have
    enough parkland (active or passive, green or grey) and the people who plan and design parks try to satisfy all of the constitutents.

    One of the best things about BBP is it’s ability to host a lot of people and not feel overcrowded.

  • http://deleted 1BBP #268

    You are so right, Carol. The park planners have truly looked after my interests and I am glad for it! If people want to swim, play soft ball or baksetball (organized or unorganized – active recreation does not need to be “organized”), or do other park-like activities like laying on beach towels in the sun, listening to music or attending events (all things people tend to do in public parks), I am so glad they can do it elsewhere and not on my lawn.

  • Jorale-man

    It’s worth keeping in mind that Kent will probably get his wish if and when the BBP’s master plans are fully carried out. There are supposed to be acres of soccer fields, volleyball and basketball courts and a full marina slated for the remaining piers. That seems to suggest more activity than relaxation. A more pressing argument to me is getting the construction work sped up a bit more.

  • stuart

    Kent is getting his wish by getting publicity for making wildly inaccurate criticisms of a Brooklyn Park he has probably only visited once on his way to the airport to catch a flight to Paris.

  • BH’er

    sounds like we need some kids to knock some balls through the windows of the possessive owners at 1BBP – Steve & Kendra’s neighbors are getting a bit ornery about “their yard”

  • Jorale-man

    Ahem, I believe that’s Stephen and Vanessa (of the fine aged cognac notoriety).

  • yoohoo

    This is not the first time Fred Kent has shown how divorced he is from reality. After the Cadman Plaza Park section between Tillary Street and the War Memorial was rebuilt, he visited downtown Brooklyn with a New York Times reporter on the Saturday before Labor Day to dismiss the “dead” park. Well, the photo accompanying the article did show a single boy in the background, but who knows whether the photo was cropped on purpose.

    If there’s no razzmatazz, Kent is in opposition. He criticized the poor planning that keeps Columbus Park, the little park opposite the General Post Office and Cadman Plaza Park as separate entities and wanted to see the entire space “enlivened” with markets, book stalls, buskers, music and theater performances, etc., so people can “interact” with each other.

  • waterfront

    I live in OBBP and would never dream of calling it my yard. This is a park for all New Yorkers. I know people from Queens and Manhattan who make a point to visit the park and from the number of cabs dropping people off at Pier 1 as well as the crowd coming off the east river ferry, not to mention busses and vans arriving at Pier 6, I’d say this is very much a public space. Most of us love the volleyball courts outside our windows and frankly even with the crowds it is still more serene here than anywhere in the Heights. Beautiful place to live and visit.