New FiDi Public Space Is Culmination of More Than a Decade of Advocacy and Planning
Above: A schematic drawing of the new park, highlighting the various design concepts that have been incorporated into different “zones” of the space. Below: Elizabeth H. Berger
A new green space that Lower Manhattan community leaders have been advocating for since 2009 is now open to the public. Elizabeth Berger Plaza is named in honor of the former president of the Dowtown Alliance, who died in 2012, after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
First proposed in 2009 and formally approved in 2012, the park is bounded by Greenwich Street, Edgar Street, and Trinity Place, along with an exit ramp from the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. The new park was formed by combining two existing, smaller plazas, and eliminating a two-lane exit ramp from the Tunnel, which ran between them—thus creating a single, larger public square.
The $6.7-million project has given birth to a 29,000-square-foot park that features a grass lawn, trees, landscaping, seating and paved pathways, and educational markers attesting to the rich history of the surrounding community.
At an August, 2019 groundbreaking ceremony, then-Community Board 1 (CB1) chair Anthony Notaro, said, “Liz Berger’s impact will be here for years, in term of culture, history, and the school now being built behind us.” This was a reference to the new public elementary school now nearing completion on the north side of Edgar Street.
Downtown Alliance president Jessica Lappin: “This wasn’t just what Liz did for a living. She lived and breathed this neighborhood. She was passionate about it, and spent all of her time thinking about how to make it better.
Jessica Lappin, president of the Downtown Alliance, which spearheaded the push for the new park, said when construction work began, “this wasn’t just what Liz did for a living. She lived and breathed this neighborhood. She was passionate about it, and spent all of her time thinking about how to make it better. She would not let any opportunity pass without advocating for something she thought was really important for this neighborhood.”
Ms. Lappin added that, “Liz had so many wonderful ideas. But it often takes a long time to bring good ideas to life. When you have a vision that involves connecting the World Trade Center through Greenwich South to the Battery, that doesn’t happen overnight.”
The exit ramp from the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel that formerly divided two public plazas on Greenwich Street. The elimination of this ramp and combination of both adjacent plazas into a single park has created a new public space more than 29,000 square feet in area.
The Parks Department announced in 2016 that it had completed a design for the new park, featuring a shaded meadow, banks of flowering plants and shrubs, and groves of trees, including conifers, dogwoods, cedars, cypresses, and red oaks. These are surrounded by granite and flagstone surfaces, as well as classical design elements, such as the hooped benches that the Parks Department designed for the 1939 World’s Fair. Construction began in late 2019, and was originally slated for completion last August. But the pandemic coronavirus delayed the project’s finish until this month.
As chief of the Downtown Alliance from 2007 through 2012, Ms. Berger, who was a tireless civic champion of Lower Manhattan, helped lead the Downtown community just as rebuilding from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 kicked into high gear. Beginning in the fall of 2012, she reprised this role by helping shepherd the neighborhood through the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Along the way, she presided over the launch of innovative initiatives like Re:Construction, which turned building sites into large-scale canvases for public art. She also established programs that proved critical to Lower Manhattan businesses, such as the Back to Business grant program, which raised and distributed more than $1.5 million to 100-plus Lower Manhattan businesses affected by Hurricane Sandy. Ms. Berger also worked to enhance quality of life for people who live and work in Lower Manhattan by expanding the Alliance’s free Downtown Connection shuttle bus service, and launching free w-fi service in public spaces throughout Downtown.
Ms. Berger had deep roots and a long history of leadership in the Downtown community. A resident of the area for more than three decades, she served on Community Board 1 from 1999 through 2005. She also served on the board of directors of the Trust for Governors Island and the Municipal Arts Society.
In 2007, Ms. Berger recalled for the Broadsheet standing in front of Tribeca’s P.S. 234 on the morning of September 11, 2001 as planes struck the World Trade Center, and reflected on her position with the Downtown Alliance (where she served on the board for several years before taking over as president): “I’d spent 18 years helping to build this community. This role is an incredible way to continue the rebuilding—beyond bricks and mortar.”
A landscape layout showing the areas for grass, shrubbery, flowers, and groves of trees in the new park.
But some local leaders are concerned that the Park’s historical markers fail to do justice to both Ms. Berger and local history. Todd Fine and Joseph Svehlak have led preservation efforts in Lower Manhattan for more than a decade, through the Washington Street Advocacy Group and Friends of the Lower West Side, respectively. Last week, they wrote to William Castro, the Manhattan Borough Commissioner for the City’s Department of Parks and Recreation, that a sign displayed in the Park, “makes fundamental errors or contradictions related to: the history and characterization of Edgar Street; the impact of the 1835 fire and its purported aftermath; the timeframe of the surrounding area’s notability as the Syrian Quarter; the characterization of ethnic diversity in the Lower West Side (incorrectly reducing Middle Eastern immigrants to ‘Arabs’ and excluding several key sources of immigration); the ‘decline’ of ‘community’ after World War I; and the move to Brooklyn after the Battery Tunnel’s construction.
“In addition to direct inaccuracies,” Mr. Fine and Mr. Svehlak continued, “the characterization of the neighborhood’s history is haphazard, confusing, and inadequately researched. Even the sections related to Elizabeth Berger are awkwardly written and do not do her justice…. This sign, which may last for decades, needs to do justice to the little-known and sensitive history of this area.”
Additionally, Mr. Fine points out that, “in January, 2017, the City’s Percent for Art program selected French-Moroccan artist Sara Ouhaddou to construct a memorial to honor the literary heritage of the surrounding ‘Little Syria’ neighborhood, which included figures like Kahlil Gibran and Ameen Rihani. This memorial was not incorporated into the initial design of the park, but local advocates plan to ensure its construction at a future date.”
A Pooling of Interests
Would a Swim Facility that Doubles as a Floating Filtration System be a Net Plus?
Community Board 1 (CB1) is continuing a decade of grassroots advocacy by prodding the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio to consider a proposal to create a floating pool in the East River, near the Brooklyn Bridge. To read more…
Webinar. Has there ever been a time when Abraham Lincoln has gone silent? Our immortal conscience on civil rights and individual freedom is speaking to us yet again in the time of COVID and public unrest. Yet Lincoln has managed to become even more relevant as we tackle infrastructure, healthcare, climate change and human rights.
The forthcoming book by John Wasik, Lincolnomics: How President Lincoln Constructed the Great American Economy, puts the 16th President in a powerful new light: He was our foremost architect of economic development, equal treatment and physical and intellectual improvements, from transportation to medical research.
In this presentation, Wasik will show a vastly under-studied side of Lincoln. As the only President to hold a patent, he was an innovator. During his brief time as a surveyor, he was an urban planner. Surprisingly, his longest and most comprehensive speeches were devoted to the culture of invention, “internal improvements” and research and development. Free
In December 1941, Alfred Kantor arrived at the Terezin Ghetto. An 18 year old artist from Prague with one year of study at the Rotter School of Advertising Art under his belt, Kantor began to draw scenes around him. “My commitment to drawing came out of a deep instinct of self-preservation,” he later wrote, “and undoubtedly helped me to deny the unimaginable horrors of that time.” Kantor continued drawing and painting at night after he was deported to Auschwitz and to Schwarzheide, and then again after the war in the Deggendorf Displaced Persons Camp. The hundreds of sketches and watercolors he produced between 1941 and 1947 constitute one of the most prolific artistic records of the Holocaust. This is a celebration of Kantor’s remarkable life and legacy, featuring his daughter Monica Churchill; Zuzana Justman, a filmmaker and writer who interviewed Kantor for her film Terezin Diary; and Dr. Ori Z. Soltes, Professor of the Teaching of Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University and former Director the B’nai B’rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum with a specialty in art and the Holocaust. $10
Skyscraper Museum webinar. Supertall projects have been central to Dennis Poon’s career as a structural engineer. Poon worked on the teams for the Petronas Towers (1998) in Kuala Lumpur and Taipei 101 (2004) in Taiwan, the first skyscrapers outside of the United States to become, in succession, the world’s tallest buildings. Dennis has extensive experience in seismic design, structural investigations, and optimization of structural systems, and he has worked with conservative Chinese authorities to accept design criteria that reflect international standards and thus allow for more efficient structures. Dennis’s talk will focus on the innovative structural system of the Chengdu Greenland Tower. Free
What does a Chinese artist do in a time of chaos and oppression? Flee to the mountains, to the wilderness, of course, to cultivate upright Confucian values, write poetry, paint paintings, and, naturally, drink some tea and lots of wine. And in the paintings, he might hide some delicately rendered political commentary. But Arnold Chang, America’s modern master in Chinese painting whose paintings are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, and many others, is more interested in the art than the politics. In a very special personal and scholarly talk, Chang will share his insights into the meaning and artistry of Chinese painting, from ancient times to today, and then join a conversation with Chinese art expert Jane DeBevoise, Co-Chair of Asia Art Archive. Free
Historically what has made NYC attractive to newcomers in the past has been:
1. Employment opportunities on many levels of wages
2. Commercial opportunities on a vast array of possibilities
After arrival what kept residents from moving out of the city were:
a. Relatively low-cost reliable public transportation
b. Fantastic array of reasonably priced recreational, educational, and cultural opportunities
c.. Affordable housing reasonably adjacent to mass transit
d. Outstanding health, educational and general public institutions
e. The spectacle, diversity, excitement and overall ambiance of the city itself
And tourists arrived (and spent their dollars) for various combinations of the above.
It is of course possible that an argument could easily be made that any item a/e should be moved up into the 1-2 attraction list.
The point being is that what attracted folks to come and live in the City has not disappeared, and with civic planning and hard work that attractiveness can be expanded upon in the future.
City Preservation Agency Okays Plan for New Structure on East River Waterfront
The City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission has approved a proposal by the Howard Hughes Corporation, the real estate firm that is redeveloping the South Street Seaport, and the City’s Parks Department, to create a new outdoor restaurant underneath the FDR Drive.
At a Tuesday hearing, the LPC praised the modifications to a 2019 proposal that would have placed a much larger structure (also beneath the FDR Drive) at the intersection of South and John Streets, blocking the view corridor of the East River, and eclipsing the historic tall ships docked on the waterfront. Community Board 1 (CB1) strongly opposed that version of the plan, and the LPC was guided by the Board’s judgment.
HRPT Moves Ahead with Plans to Recast Former Tow Pound as Waterfront Park
Lower Manhattan residents who use the Hudson River Greenway to traverse the waterfront will soon have another open space to savor. The Hudson River Park Trust has begun demolition and reconstruction work on Pier 76 (located at 12th Avenue in the West 30s, across from the Javits Convention Center), which will be transformed into an interim park by June. To read more…
Eyes to the Sky
April 19 – May 2, 2021
Wildly twinkling stars
At nightfall on April 6, on a visit to the countryside, I was drawn outdoors by an exceptionally clear, deep dark and starry sky. In every direction the stars were twinkling. From the southwest, flashing Sirius, the brightest of all stars seen from Earth, to pulsing Arcturus in the east, something out of the ordinary was happening. Sirius took hold of me, inspired me to concentrate my gaze to discern its white light fracturing into prismacolors. The star flickered, throwing off fragments of green, blue and red dazzle. It was like gazing at sunlight on snow or on jiggling dewdrops or a finely faceted diamond in daylight. To read more…
A chorus of New York naysayers are telling us that the City will never be the same after this pandemic. They are right—but not in the way they think. New York City is on the cusp of another “Roaring 20’s,” and I, for one, can’t wait.
One hundred years ago we were recovering from a pandemic (the Spanish Flu) and a Great War that spread fear and death. New York is facing a similar trauma. Loved ones lost are never coming back. Some of us have lost jobs, homes, or even just our favorite restaurants. A century ago, when it was all over, people were ready to let loose—and let loose they did. I believe that a similar spirit is about to start a recovery that will reshape the city in exciting ways, creating new opportunities for many.
Nadler Proposes to Expand Historic African Cemetery with Museum and Education Center
Congressman Jerry Nadler is sponsoring to expand the African Burial Ground National Monument, the Lower Manhattan site that holds the remains of an estimated 15,000 African-Americans from the Colonial Era (both free and enslaved), with a new museum and education center.
On April 2, Mr. Nadler reintroduced legislation that would establish an African Burial Ground Advisory Council, which would manage the proposed museum, in partnership with the National Park Service (the agency that oversees the current National Monument). The new museum would additionally serve as a sister institution to Washington, D.C.’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. To read more…
9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Report
More Survivors than Responders Now are Submitting Claims
The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) has released its annual report for 2020, which documents some significant developments.
Over the course of its ten years of operation thus far, the VCF has awarded $7.76 billion to more than 34,400 individuals who have suffered death or personal injury as a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath. The vast majority of these injuries take the form of illness caused by exposure to toxic materials that were released by the destruction of the World Trade Center.