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Brooklyn Bridge Park

Brooklyn Bridge Park, September 2016
by Joanne Witty, Henrik Krogius

Fordham University Press
272 pages
ISBN: 0823273571
EAN: 9780823273577
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"The inspiring story of how a derelict water front became a public amenity"

Fresh Fiction Review

Brooklyn Bridge Park
Joanne Witty, Henrik Krogius

Reviewed by Clare O'Beara
Posted November 28, 2016

Non-Fiction Memoir | Non-Fiction History | Non-Fiction

Around the world, with the loss of local ship-building and the increase in container port shipping, traditional waterfronts are in decline. Work has stopped and warehouses lie idle. One way to revitalize the area is to make a public amenity such as a cultural space or a park. On the Brooklyn waterfront this has led to the creation of the BROOKLYN BRIDGE PARK.

New York's commercial needs were served for almost three hundred years by the waterfront, and the community wished to preserve a memory of this time. Developers understandably wanted to make money from the space. Residents wanted green areas, while concerns were raised about forced gentrification of the community and some residents wanted more housing. The book by Henrik Krogius and Joanne Witty details their participation in and recording of the planning system, challenges, proposals and building of the park on the west side of the Brooklyn land mass, which stretches 1.3 miles along the East River waterfront. A condition of government support for the park, was that the project had to pay for the park's upkeep. This turned out to mean housing, with successive mayors wanting high-rise or affordable homes. With the government taking over, decisions were made more quickly, but tended to involve less input from the local community. In the middle of the action arrived Superstorm Sandy.

I really like the old photos which show the waterfront and piers, the changing Manhattan skyline and the attempt to stock containers which proved unworkable. Recently I visited Liverpool which lost its harbor and warehousing for the exact same reason. Liverpool has created museums and office spaces to revitalize the former warehousing. The Brooklyn residents were incensed by the initial plan to build seventy-foot structures along the water, as the residents would lose their view. The piers also presented difficulties for preservation. The first technical plan for a park was submitted in 1988, with added skating rink, marina and shops to generate income. How the project trailed and was altered for years before reaching the splendid amenity seen today is a wonderful and absorbing story. Two long rectangular tulip beds were created as a remembrance of the Twin Towers, the first physical sign of a park. Sensibly, the work was kicked to start before all the funding was in place, and concentrated on the areas most accessible to the public. Color photos show today's visitors enjoying the various activities including an open air concert.

The authors tell us that democracy and human nature won the park from hard-pressed governments and profit-seekers. I am personally delighted that space was provided for nature to flourish. 'Birding at the Bridge: In Search of Every Bird on the Brooklyn Waterfront' by Heather Wolf which I recently reviewed for Fresh Fiction, demonstrates how the park is a haven for migrating and resident birds as well as for birdwatchers. BROOKLYN BRIDGE PARK by Henrik Krogius and Joanne Witty will be enjoyed by anyone interested in history, city planning, revitalization of derelict spaces and in local activism.

Learn more about Brooklyn Bridge Park


A major social and political phenomenon of how a community overcame overwhelming opposition and obstacles to build the Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Stretching along a waterfront that faces one of the world's greatest harbors andstoried skylines, Brooklyn Bridge Park is among the largest and most significant public projects to be built in New York in a generation. It has transformed a decrepit industrial waterfront into a new public use that is both a reflection and an engine of Brooklyn's resurgence in the twenty-first century. Brooklyn Bridge Park unravels the many obstacles faced during the development of the park and suggests solutions that can be applied to important economic and planning issues around the world.

Situated below the quiet precincts of Brooklyn Heights, a strip of moribund structures that formerly served bustling port activity became the site of a prolonged battle. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey eyed it as an ideal location for high-rise or commercial development. The idea to build Brooklyn Bridge Park came from local residents and neighborhood leaders looking for less intensive uses of the property. Together, elected officials joined with members of the communities to produce a practical plan, skillfully won a commitment of government funds in a time of fiscal austerity, then persevered through long periods of inaction, abrupt changes of government, two recessions, numerous controversies often accompanied by litigation, and a superstorm.

Brooklyn Bridge Park is the success story of a grassroots movement and community planning that united around a common vision. Drawing on the authors' personal experiences--one as a reporter, the other as a park leader--Brooklyn Bridge Park weaves together contemporaneous reports of events that provide a record of every twist and turn in the story. Interviews with more than sixty people reveal the human dynamics that unfolded in the course of building the park, including attitudes and opinions that arose about class, race, gentrification, commercialization, development, and government.

Despite the park's broad and growing appeal, its creation was lengthy, messy, and often contentious. Brooklyn Bridge Park suggests ways other civic groups can address such hurdles within their own communities.

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