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Exploring the Still-Developing 85-Acre Brooklyn Bridge Park

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Welcome back to Camera Obscura, Curbed's series of photo essays by Nathan Kensinger. Every other week, Kensinger will explore one of the city's less-known corners, beginning with the new parks built during the Bloomberg administration. Up now, Brooklyn Bridge Park.

[In Brooklyn Bridge Park, which covers 85 acres of East River waterfront, several new areas were recently opened to the public.]

Over the past 12 years, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has directed enormous amounts of energy and resources towards building a series of new waterfront parks in New York City. Brooklyn Bridge Park, the 85-acre super-park currently being assembled along 1.3 miles of East River waterfront, is the best known of these new parks, and is considered by many to be one of the crowning achievements of his waterfront agenda. The park is so large that it has swallowed up several pre-existing parks nearby, and includes landscapes ranging from elaborate wooded playgrounds to hilly hiking trails. The newest section of the park, Pier 5, opened to the public on December 13th and contains an immense soccer field, a picnic area, a fishing station, and a tether ball court. However, like all of the recently opened sections of Brooklyn Bridge Park, it lacks any truly significant means of engaging the water.

Situated south of the Brooklyn Bridge, the newer sections of Brooklyn Bridge Park were designed by landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh in 2005, and began opening to the public in 2010. They include many areas to walk or run above the water on concrete promenades, and countless places to sit on benches or fields while passively enjoying a cordoned-off view of passing boats. There are even a few areas to fish. In the entire 14 block park, though, there is currently only one access point to the East River - a cinderblock boat ramp that is crumbling into a cove of old pilings. Closed for the season, the ramp ends at a guard rail covered in caution tape. While the park is eventually scheduled to include a marina, a beach, and a second boat ramp, these additions will only focus a small percentage of the park's 85 acres onto water-based activities.

The most successful and interesting sections of Brooklyn Bridge Park - in terms of creating an opportunity for visitors to meaningfully engage the waterfront - are not part of the newly designed parkland south of the Brooklyn Bridge. They are two older sections, Main Street Park and Empire Fulton Ferry Park, which are located in Dumbo between the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge. These two parks have been incorporated into Brooklyn Bridge Park, but present a wholly different idea of how to engage the waterfront. In the 4.5 acre Empire Fulton Ferry Park, waves splash over a rocky shoreline onto passersby and a sandy beach is revealed at low tide near Jane's Carousel. The beach is part of a cove shared with the 4.8 acre Main Street Park, which was dedicated in 2003. In this park, a series of large stone steps lead visitors down to a rocky beach, where children play at the water's edge. As one of the only publicly accessible beaches on the East River, the cove doubles as a popular and easy-to-reach kayak launch. These two small parks include more waterfront access then the much larger southern sections of Brooklyn Bridge Park.

In its entirety, Brooklyn Bridge Park represents both the best and worst of Mayor Bloomberg's new waterfront parks. Its endless promenades and seemingly random choice of recreation opportunities show the same lack of imagination (and budget) that led to similarly dull parks like Concrete Plant Park in the Bronx and the new sections of Gantry Plaza Park in Queens. The plans for commercial and residential development in the park have raised questions about the role of private development in public spaces, and may result in a failed public-private partnership like Ikea's poorly maintained Erie Basin Park in Red Hook. And unlike these new parks and others, including Riverside Park South, the new sections of Brooklyn Bridge Park include almost no reference to the historic industrial waterfront structures that were obliterated to create its landscapes.

In the park's older sections, however, where public access to the water is encouraged, the design is more akin to the city's few truly unique new waterfront parks, which include the Newtown Creek Nature Walk in Brooklyn and Swindler Cove Park in Manhattan. In a post-hurricane city that is rethinking its relationship to the water surrounding it, Brooklyn Bridge Park should present a new direction for interacting with the waterfront, instead of trying in vain to keep the water away.

The southern section of Brooklyn Bridge Park offers panoramic views of lower Manhattan, along with numerous promenades and benches.

Visitors can look out onto the East River's boat traffic from a concrete pathway far above the water's surface.

The first section of this new park, Pier One, opened to the public in 2010 and includes hills, paths, and meadows.

A dead tree turned into a water pump - part of a Public Art Fund installation by artist Oscar Tuazon - dominates this unnatural, man-made landscape.

South of Pier One, walking paths cut through a rocky marsh built above the water.

Another of Tuazon's dead-tree sculptures provides a commentary on the arbitrary recreation possibilities included in the park.

On the recently opened Pier 5, a soccer field has replaced a shipping warehouse.

Children play on its synthetic surface, far from the water's edge.

Pier 5 is ringed by more promenades and benches, offering passive views out onto the water.

A new picnic area with built in grills and plastic umbrellas was opened on December 13th.

The picnic area includes a randomly placed tether ball court near the water's edge.

A pedestrian bridge from Brooklyn Heights will soon make accessing this southern section of the park easier.

In Empire Fulton Ferry Park, visitors walk near a cove where waves splash onto the paths.

This cove extends to a rocky beach in Main Street Park, one of the only publicly accessible beaches on the East River.


In these sections of the park, children play at the water's edge and interact with nature.
?Nathan Kensinger
· All Brooklyn Bridge Park coverage [Curbed]
· All Camera Obscura essays [Curbed]
· Brooklyn Bridge Park [official]

Brooklyn Bridge Park - Pier 6

Pier 6, Brooklyn, NY 11201

Jane's Carousel

Old Dock Street, Brooklyn, NY