City Hall Gets Behind Push to Reopen Park Beneath Brooklyn Bridge
In a plan released as part of his January 26 State of the City address, Mayor Eric Adams is committing to “unlocking two spaces under the Brooklyn Bridge in Manhattan for public use with a working group to evaluate medium- and long-term concepts for these spaces and others nearby.”
This refers to Brooklyn Banks, park space beneath the Brooklyn Bridge that was “temporarily” closed in 2010 for use as a staging area to facilitate maintenance work on the Brooklyn Bridge, and never reopened. In 2020, an online petition demanding that the facility once again be made available for public use garnered more than 45,000 signatures, and Community Board 1 (CB1) has passed numerous resolutions demanding that the space be reopened.
Rosa Chang, a CB1 member who is also a leader of Brooklyn Bridge Manhattan, a not-for-profit founded in 2021, with the goal of reopening Brooklyn Banks, said, “parks are part of our civic infrastructure, equally as important as bridges and sewers and electricity. They are where we, as a society, come together—where we learn from each other, where we share and grow.”
Brooklyn Banks is an iconic destination for skateboarders, because the streetscape in the park provides an undulating terrain of ramps, rails, ledges, and jumps. Long before any skateboarding stunts were legal in New York, boarders from around the United States would come to the City to compete there, and connect with one another.
In the years after its debut in the early 1970s, the site evolved into an unofficial cultural and historical landmark, in large measure due to its design by the renowned landscape architect, M. Paul Friedberg. Ironically, Mr. Friedberg never intended to create a mecca for the subculture of skateboarding, which was then just beginning to coalesce. He simply wanted to transform a barren patch of Lower Manhattan into useable public space. But the red brick that he chose to cover the ground (and from which “Red Brick Park” took its original name) turned out to be a material much prized by boarders, who regard it a second only to marble in the quality of ride it affords. And the sloping topography of the site provided the rest of the magic that skateboard enthusiasts crave, by unleashing the power of gravity. The sidewalk surfers who were drawn to the site christened it with the name that has stuck ever since: “The Banks.”
In November 2020, CB1 hosted a meeting devoted to concerns related to Brooklyn Banks, which attracted dozens of speakers. Afterward, the Board passed a resolution noting that “CB1 recognizes both the global and local significance of the Brooklyn Banks Skate park … as an iconic cultural and athletic institution that benefits many cross-sections of the community, including its merit for spectators.” The same measure urged the City’s Department of Transportation (DOT)—which has commandeered the space for vehicle parking and as a staging area for work on the Bridge—the Parks Department, “and our elected officials [to] work together with the community towards the common goal of returning and converting this space under the Brooklyn Bridge back to the public.”
The DOT responded to this resolution by saying that it will need to occupy the park space well into the 2030s, for ongoing Brooklyn Bridge maintenance projects.
In March 2020, CB1 chair Tammy Meltzer wrote to the DOT’s Manhattan Borough Commissioner, Edward Pincar, saying, “CB1 has unsuccessfully attempted to formally engage DOT numerous times… to continue publicly discussing this important issue,” while also raising questions about that agency’s need for so much space, and for so long. She argued that “this community has already lost use of this important public space for over a decade and is not prepared to be without it for additional years. DOT needs to work with CB1 on a plan to return portions of these areas not under construction as soon as possible. DOT has not demonstrated that the entirety of the area needs to remain closed until all bridge-related work is complete.”
Responding to the Mayor’s newly announced initiative, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine noted, “an incredible grassroots coalition has come together to organize around bringing back the Banks and creating a grand new park under the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge.”
This coalition includes a team of student leaders from the Urban Assembly Maker Academy, a public school located nearby in Lower Manhattan. In a 2022 presentation to the Waterfront, Parks, and Cultural Committee of CB1, they outlined a plan for reopening the Brooklyn Banks. School principal Amy Piller began by noting, “most of our students go out to eat at lunchtime. Particularly now, in light of the pandemic, there are really limited places where they can go.”
The formal presentation was led by Maker Academy students Marcela Rivera, Phebe Kwarteng, Mehdi Rahmani, and Liam Rice. Mr. Rahmani started off by explaining, “we reinforce the student’s voices to help improve our community. Our Maker Academy core values curiosity, risk-taking, self-awareness and resilience.”
Mr. Rice observed that, “we, as a team, thought that this was a very beneficial thing. The first thing that we all thought about was our lunch time and how, in an urban environment, it’s very difficult to find space to be ourselves. Having this open space would be really beneficial for the mental and physical health of students, by giving us a place to relax and unwind.”
City Hall has yet to release a budget, a timeline, or the membership of the working group that will formulate recommendations about next steps for Brooklyn Banks.