Community members met at Brooklyn Law School on Monday night to discuss ideas for the Brooklyn Strand — a plan to connect and reinvigorate a swath of unconnected parks, plazas and underutilized sites running from Borough Hall to Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The meeting was hosted by the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, Community Board 2’s Parks Committee and Claire Weisz of WXY Studio.
Weisz presented recommendations in seven different areas.
“These aren’t final designs, but they illustrate what some of the desired features might be,” Weisz said.
For Borough Hall Park, the planners want to improve bike access and walkability. Suggestions included shortening crosswalks to make certain areas less crowded.
One plan would put the parking lot next to Borough Hall and underground, providing pedestrians with amenities and a spot for events.
At the Korean War Memorial, a better connection to nearby Cadman Plaza Park was declared a priority, and an idea to create a plaza in front of the General Post Office building was introduced.
Weisz said plans for the War Memorial in Cadman Plaza include renovating the building and possibly turning it into a learning center. She also discussed making the building seem less cut off from the lawn by adding more bike lanes and having a better connection with the Brooklyn Bridge.
The “Gateway to Brooklyn” includes plans for the area immediately coming off the Brooklyn Bridge, where the group wants to utilize Anchorage Plaza.“The goal is to make it as easy as possible for pedestrians to go down Old Fulton to get to DUMBO and to get to Brooklyn Bridge Park,” Weisz said. “Also maybe when you get across the Brooklyn Bridge, maybe that’s a place to celebrate where it all comes together, as opposed to a walled-off area that no one knows where they’re going to.”
Long-term and short-term proposals were discussed regarding the BQE Connector — the area by the stairs coming off the Brooklyn Bridge that is used by pedestrians. A long-term proposal suggested creating a land bridge by which people exiting the Brooklyn Bridge would enter into a park with views of the bridge and of Manhattan.
A short-term proposal would retain the stairs leading from the Brooklyn Bridge pedestrian footpath, but would provide better lighting under the overpass, turn it into more of a pedestrian street and creating places for people to sit. Potentially, a maintenance space can also be turned into a cafe.
To enhance safety in the area, one suggestion was made to close off one of the exits coming from the Manhattan Bridge. That idea brought up many concerns from residents about increased traffic. Weisz said that those involved in the planning process have talked with transportation engineers, the Department of Transportation (DOT) and others about feasibility of these concepts. She added that some ideas were continuations of studies the DOT previously conducted.
Finally, Weisz discussed turning the Brooklyn Strand into a brand. She said it would go further than matching benches and railings and would be more about being ambitious with architecture, landscape, lighting, park furnishing, art installation and event ideas. She added that uplights for trees, glow-in-the-dark edges and solar LED lights could easily be implemented as part of this overall idea.
The attendees expressed both support and concerns. Someone asked if the Department of Homeland Security was consulted because of the area’s proximity to the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, and Weisz confirmed that it was.
Andrew Lastowecky, chair of the CB2 Parks Committee, brought up the idea of having pedestrian underpasses that would be funded by private businesses – a plan similar to Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center.
Doreen Gallo, director of the DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance and board member of the Historic Districts Council, was concerned about why the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership was seeking out private partnerships for some of these ideas rather than having the Parks Department provide the funding. She referred to a recent Crain’s article in which NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer was quoted as saying that the Parks Department only uses 24 percent of its $1.6 billion budget.
“I would rather see the agencies step up rather than outside people and developers who are selling a vision,” said Gallo. “We have a vision, we’ve been advocating it forever. It’s taking underutilized spaces which are misused by city agencies.”
Toba Potosky, board president of Cadman Towers, said that if the city wasn’t going to fulfill its obligation, somebody else needed to step up. Others questioned why public money needed to be invested to create programming in a city filled with great activities.
When And Who Pays?
Attendees peppered presenters with questions about the timing, process and funding for the project.
“How is it going to happen? I can’t stand up here and say that we have any idea,” said Tucker Reed, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. “But city agencies have been involved in the process and are interested in working with the community.
“Now all of the real hard work starts, and we can’t do it on our own. We’ll follow up with different groups and hopefully get some letters of support that we can pass on to our colleagues at the city,” Reed concluded.