The current state of affairs in Brooklyn Bridge Park is, as usual, contentious. This past Sunday’s New York Times story on the situation comes at an interesting moment in City life, one week after last week’s scandale—the poor door in a building on Manhattan’s Riverside Drive.
Let us begin with the refusal New York City to adequately fund its public spaces, including its parks. Despite the Parks Department acquisition of substantial new acreage in recent years, parks’ share of the City budget has declined to less than 1%, not nearly enough to properly manage our parks and playgrounds.
Decades of Disinvestment
The first result of decades of disinvestment in parks has been the Rise of the Conservancies, in which parks in or near wealthy neighborhoods flourish with infusions of private funds, while smaller parks in less well-off neighborhoods decline without such investment. It is true that some legislators, such as State Senator Dan Squadron, have proposed tithing the rich conservancies to support parks that are less well off, but that will happen on the day the sun rises in the west. And it still would not solve the inequality problem.
The second result of our lack of dedicated park funding is the emergence of the notion that, unlike the police or the schools or other city services, our parks have to pay for themselves, an idea strongly endorsed by former Mayor Mike and former Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe.
Brooklyn Bridge Park
Enter Brooklyn Bridge Park, more than 20 years in the making. The 13 guiding principles, by which the park was conceived, required that it be self-sustaining, but discouraged housing and certain commercial uses. Mayor Giuliani, for example, wanted a “big box” store there, but subsequent study made clear that housing provided the greatest source of sustainable funding.
From the beginning, most — but definitely not all – of the City’s park advocates strongly objected to the placement of private housing in the plans for this lovely new park on the Brooklyn waterfront. They lost, and the luxury condos at One Brooklyn Bridge Park were developed. The second round of housing, planned for the uplands of Pier 6, proposes to provide “affordable housing,” a term to which some people who live in luxury condos seem to have a distinct aversion.
Opposition to Housing Proposal
In Brooklyn Bridge Park, the opposition to the revised housing proposal includes two factions. The first comprises the original “no private development in a public park” contingent which most parkies endorse. The second comprises people living in One Brooklyn Bridge Park who now object to housing in a park and specifically to affordable housing that obstructs their view of the waterfront although they definitely, absolutely, totally support the concept of affordable housing somewhere else. (Surprise: The land on which affordable housing units are to be built is not parkland.)
In the end, the one thing on which all sides can agree is this: If we funded our parks adequately, instead of reading this you would be outside in a completely city-funded and maintained Brooklyn Bridge Park or Central Park or Flushing Meadows Corona Park eating ice cream.
*Carol Rinzler, Carol Greitzer, Carol Schachter, Patricia Dolan, Gary Papush, & Jo Anne Simon founded the 1000+ Friends of NYC Parks in 2006 . The 1000+ Friends have no officers, no dues, and no meetings, just the shared belief that New York owes its citizens adequate support of the green spaces that give the City breath. This piece has been reviewed and edited by all members.