The continuing fight over the luxury residential buildings planned for Brooklyn Bridge Park—the latest installment of which will be the two towers planned for the Pier 6 area, as covered in an article in this paper yesterday—is sort of missing the point.
Among the contentious items, as Brooklyn Eagle reporter Mary Frost has pointed out, are the number of affordable units (a term that can mean different things to different people) and the height of the buildings.
These are all very important considerations. After all, if you were living in a small-scale, low-rise area for many years, you wouldn’t want to be suddenly overwhelmed by a bunch of high-rises more suited to Battery Park City.
But this is beside the point. One of the problems, as I see it, is the original plan that specified that Brooklyn Bridge Park must be self-sustaining, or pay for itself.
To me, this is ludicrous. Does anyone suggest that Central Park, Prospect Park, Fort Greene Park or Marine Park be self-sustaining?
Note that I’m definitely not criticizing the park itself. Brooklyn Bridge Park’s bike paths, concessions, playgrounds and lawns are very impressive, the park itself has vastly improved the Brooklyn waterfront and the planners should be praised for their efforts.
I’m the first person to admit that the city’s parks budget is insufficient, and I applaud the work that support groups like the Prospect Park Alliance, the Central Park Conservancy and the Friends of the High Line are doing to improve conditions and attractions in their respective parks. I’m also well aware of the role that concessions such as pedal boats in Prospect Park have in creating a better park and bringing in needed funds.
Still, as far as I’m concerned, the entity to develop parks should be the New York City Parks Department. The idea of publicly funded parks goes way, way back to the mid-19th century, when Central and Prospect parks were first built. In the 1930s, John D. Rockefeller gave his estate in upper Manhattan to the city so that Mayor LaGuardia could build the Cloisters and Fort Tryon Park, but Rockefeller didn’t insist that Fort Tryon Park continue to be governed by a board in which he and his supporters held a controlling interest.
Maybe the problem is the fact that the Parks Department is so woefully underfunded. The advocacy group New Yorkers for Parks has pointed out time and time again how low the city’s parks budget is compared with other large U.S. cities, and how quick the city is to slash that budget. As representatives of the group have testified several times at budget hearings, at the same time the city is planning a million new trees under its PlaNYC environmental program, the Parks Department’s budget for pruning and stump removal has been slashed by 80 percent since 2008.
While the private sector definitely has an important role in helping to maintain the city’s infrastructure and attractions, such as parks, the lead role should fall to the public sector. Brooklyn Bridge Park was developed in an era dominated by Governor Pataki and Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg, all of whom advocated privatization to some degree. Perhaps the original planners of Brooklyn Bridge Park felt that in this atmosphere, the park had to be self-funded or it wouldn’t get built. That era is over. What’s done is done, but in my opinion, the idea of a privately funded park should not be repeated elsewhere.