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Lower Manhattan’s Local News
Local Leaders Get Irredentist to Reclaim Park Space Dispossessed for a Decade
The park known as Brooklyn Bridge Banks has been closed to the public for more than a decade, to facilitate maintenance work on the span above.
Community Board 1 (CB1) wants the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio to give back park space beneath the Brooklyn Bridge that was “temporarily” closed more than a decade ago. The area, informally known as “Brooklyn Banks,” is an iconic destination for skateboarders, because the streetscape provides an undulating terrain of ramps, rails, ledges, and jumps. Long before any of these 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 path of Lower Manhattan into useable public space. But the red brick that he chose to cover the ground (and for 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.”
Before its closure, the space had become a gathering point for both skateboarders and stunt cyclists.
But the Brooklyn Bridge, which straddles the site, turned 100 years old in 1983, and began to cry out for the kind of frequent maintenance that a centenarian structure requires. Through the 1980s and 90s, the park was periodically closed to facilitate preservation and upkeep on the span above. This narrative was reprised in the 2000s, with the result that the park has been off-limits to boarders (and all other public users) for more than a decade. In 2020, an online petition demanding that the facility be reopened garnered more than 45,000 signatures.
Last November, CB1 hosted a meeting devoted to these concerns, 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 the mid-2000s, Brooklyn Bridge Banks was a legendary venue that drew boarders from around the world.
More recently, on March 1, 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 since December… 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.”
“We look forward to working together to be able to start returning the space under the Brooklyn Bridge back for public use,” Ms. Meltzer concluded.