Nearly 200 years ago, New York and Brooklyn, then separate cities and the greatest shipping centers on the East Coast, saw the land along the rivers—Hudson and East—begin to fill with docks, piers, warehouses and freight traffic.
Today, surprisingly to some of us who grew up never seeing the water but knowing the names of dozens of ships and their shipping lines, parks and walkways are replacing all that in several parts of the city. The growth of air freight, and the change of ocean cargo to huge containers handled in other parts of the harbor have made that possible—but it has taken many years for the derelict remains to come to new life.
Brooklyn Bridge Park, running for a mile and a third along the East River opposite Manhattan is not the first, but is the largest and most ambitious of the new parks. It’s not finished yet by any means, but it already includes hiking and jogging paths, bicycle trails, a vast picnic area, a huge area of sports fields, a boat ramp and more—even a classic carousel…mostly built on the huge platforms that used to support cargo sheds and on the former streets in front of them, but extending a few blocks to include areas between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. The transformation is amazing!
These pictures are from my Saturday walk through the park-in-the-making, and the Brooklyn Heights Promenade on the hill above it. I started here at the Brooklyn Bridge, with the River Cafe in the background, and walked south; there's more of the park to the north as well. That will wait until I return in a few months…not only because it’s a great place to spend a summer day along the water, but to see what else has happened!
Near the Brooklyn Bridge, this former fireboat house sits where the Fulton Ferry used to connect the two Fulton Streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan. Today, it's a summer ice-cream magnet for visitors. Another local ice-cream favorite is opening at the other end of the park soon. Also at the bridge and at the edge of the park is BargeMusic, a summer concert venue on an old barge; like the River Cafe and the fireboat station, they were already here to welcome the park.
Today's version of the Fulton Ferry is this East River Ferry connecting a dozen points on both sides of the river, from Lower Manhattan to Greenpoint. The park is one of the stops, but most of the travelers are morning and evening commuters. The East River is still a working river, though the freight piers are gone. You'll see quite a few boats as you walk along the park's waterfront.
It's a park with many aspects; look one way, and you'll imagine open country around you; turn a little and you'll know you're by the water. Further along, the terrain varies even more, and so do the activities.
Of course, there is plenty of opportunity to have a look at the growing skyline of Lower Manhattan (the tall one is the new 1 World Trade Center; the interesting one is an apartment tower designed by Frank Gehry). And, of course, there's the famous Staten Island Ferry, leaving from South Ferry.
Continuing along, we come to a choice of paths, a nice set of stairs (joggers seem to use them as a StairMaster!) and in the right corner of the upper picture, a hint of what's yet to see.
Following the path from the top of the stairs, we get a peek at distant skylines, and another view of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Entering the construction zone! No hard-hat needed, but paths shift and piles of material are still around. The park has been partly open since 2010, with new features opening as they are completed and money is available. Altogether, when finished, the cost will be around $300 million! A large number of new areas will open this year.
The boat ramp opened recently, near this forest of pilings from bygone piers; the pilings themselves make an interesting picture—and an occasional flightpad for gulls and pigeons.
Here's my view of "trouble in paradise!" After a long fight, the city and developers won the right to put these $2-million condos on the edge of the park—on land that should BE park—on the claim that the park needs a funding stream of its own. No other city park has had to put up with that!
Here's more construction underway at Pier 2. Too bad they'll finish it, and the crowd of kids who stopped to watch the crane at work will have to find a new construction site! The forest below might ring a bell with those who remember their Hamlet—this is a temporary forest of trees, wrapped in dirt, waiting to be transplanted.
Here's a quadruple-decker you only get to see from the park: When Robert Moses wanted to build the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway through affluent Brooklyn Heights, residents were able to force the highway to the edge, resulting in a stacked highway with the famed Brooklyn Heights Promenade built on top to stop noise and fumes. Below the Promenade, the northbound BQE, southbound BQE and Furman St.
Growing a beach...but only for sunbathers and kayakers; no swimming in the East River yet. Sand at left will join sand at right before the beach is ready.
A familiar figure in the distance...
Continuing down to where the park passes buildings that are staying, it narrows down to the Picnic Peninsula, with nearly 100 picnic tables, and built-in grills. Note the solid construction of the tables and benches...these were built for heavy use and low maintenance.
Multiple sports fields occupy the concrete slab that once housed the sheds of Pier 6. The size of it can be seen in the picture below of the slightly-smaller empty slab to its north. Soccer was the main activity this week, but there were others as well. In the Picnic Peninsula, there were dozens of young women with lacrosse equipment, waiting their turn.
This remnant of a railroad pier (rail cars used to cross the river on barges) is being saved as a comfort station for migrating birds (Look! Up in the air! It's a bird...it's a plane...it's...SPLAT!)
Young trees need support until they're ready to be part of the anchor for this immense berm that runs along part of the park's eastern edge.
And, the park's own bridge, which leads up over Furman Street and the highway to a small park just below the top. From there, a ramp leads to the street only a block away from the Promenade...but that's for another blog!
As usual, there are a few extra pictures in the slideshow area below. For more specific information on the park's openings and events, http://brooklynbridgepark.org
Click HERE for more Gumbo blogs and pictures from Brooklyn parks and NYC