13 Lessons from Brooklyn Bridge Park

 A full house takes in "Lessons from Brooklyn Bridge Park: Creating a Vibrant Waterfront."

A full house takes in “Lessons from Brooklyn Bridge Park: Creating a Vibrant Waterfront.”


2015 rendering of Brooklyn Bridge Park by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, courtesy of MVVA

2015 rendering of Brooklyn Bridge Park by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, courtesy of MVVA

Yesterday, Joanne Witty and Matt Urbanksi, two major figures in the creation of the Brooklyn Bridge Park (BBP), took park in the forum “ Lessons From Brooklyn Bridge Park” at The Saturn Club. The forum, presented by the Outer Harbor Park, was supported through the generosity of the Community Foundation of Buffalo.

Urbanksi and Witty were part of the group that galvanized the resurrection of over 1.3 miles of shoreline dotted with industrial relics into a highly successful park. Today, over 1 million people a year visit the park which offers a range of recreational possibilities from Pilates and yoga, to kayaking, canoeing, and stand up paddleboard’ing, to movies and concerts to a glass of white wine, the borough drink of record according to the duo.

As Witty noted in her presentation, 13 principles guided the concept and construction of the BBP. We didn’t have these prepared as a hand out, but wanted to disseminate them to any who were interested.

  1. Comprehensive planning—encompassing the entire waterfront area between the Manhattan Bridge and Atlantic Avenue in a public planning process.
  2. Full public participation and full public review throughout the planning, development and management process.
  3.  Retain and enhance scenic views—preserving street-end view corridors and taking advantage of the sites’ broad vistas.
  4. Public ownership to plan, develop, operate and manage the site.
  5.  Maximize dedicated park land and open space for year-round public recreation, both active and passive.
  6. Foster public access and uses from Brooklyn and throughout the region while respecting and protecting the character of, and minimizing impacts on, adjacent communities.
  7. Developing and providing for enforcement of design and construction guidelines.
  8. Developing a fiscally prudent plan—encourage certain uses to produce revenues committed to the operation and maintenance of dedicated park and open space areas and contribute to capital development costs. Specialized commercial uses shall be encouraged and residential and office uses shall be discouraged.
  9. Foster job development.
  10. Foster water-related development.
  11. Require a scale and built form that relates closely to the surrounding neighborhoods.
  12. Foster the relationship between the site and Downtown Brooklyn, including increased transportation opportunities.
  13. Minimize noise and air pollution.
Park Vision

Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates conceptual renderings for an Outer Harbor Park

Thomas Dee, of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC) presented a deck on the Inner Harbor revitalization Wednesday night at the Black Capital Network’s “Have You Heard About Buffalo” event. In the deck, he had a slide of people drinking wine in Canalside’s colorful Adirondack chairs. His comment; “Well, that’s kind of illegal, but, um, it’s ok too.” Enjoyment of libation was not the only similarity to BBP. The ECHDC had constructed guiding principles to the development of the park that heavily borrow from the highly successful BBP’s guidelines. Like those Witty cited, the ECHDC’s generally focused on economic self-sustainability, site accessibility and connectivity/inclusion. They are:

  1. Accessibility
    • Activate water edges-for public use
    • Maintain scenic views
    • Promote year-round public use and access
    • Offer a welcoming and safe environment
    • Facilitate multiple modes of access (e.g., pedestrian, bike, water taxi, trolley, public transport)
    • Ensure handicap accessibility
  2. Diverse Use
    • Offer multiple things to see and do (e.g., Green space, public places, historical sites, etc.
      recreational activities, public art activities, etc.)
    • Design a destination that attracts out–of-town, regional visitors as well as residents
    • Emphasize a mix of land uses
    • Promote a wide variety of land and water activities that complement each other
  3. Planning and Design
    • Lead a comprehensive and collaborative planning process with opportunities for public
    • Create a remarkable and regionally significantly waterfront
    • Design for all season
    • Ensure green/ sustainable building and site development practices
    • Consider investments that improve lake quality, reduce stormwater overflows, save energy and improve traffic flow and safety
    • Pursue a phased development strategy
  4. Financial Payback
    • Pursue long-term economic self-sufficiency
    • Attract follow-on private investment
    • Focus investment to optimize economic, social and environmental benefits
    • Create jobs for local residents
    • Pursue economic benefits from tourism
    • Ensure Equal Employment Opportunity
    • Prioritize development that is complimentary to and not in competition with existing participation and review
      improve traffic flow and safety downtown development; in line with smart growth principles

With the new opportunity available from the Gracious Home deal disintegrating, let’s hope that the ECHDC continues to apply these principals to the benefit of the whole region, for generations to come.




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