Brooklyn in Bloom


The Gothic towers and pedestrian walkway of the Brooklyn Bridge long have lured Manhattanites and tourists into the fabled outer borough, but until recently few found reason to wander south along the East River into a landscape of broken pilings, creosote, and industrial rubble. That will change in a few years when New York brings to completion Brooklyn’s first major park in 135 years.

In March, the city finished six grassy acres that overlook what remains of the historic waterfront. It’s the first phase of Brooklyn Bridge Park, a $350 million, 1.3-mile, 85-acre riverside project, which planners hope to complete by 2013.

These are lean times for building anything, and so landscape architects Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates and their collaborators attempted to save money and beef up the park’s green credentials by reusing as many local materials as possible. The benches, for example, come from wood reclaimed from a derelict cold storage facility on the site. It’s not just any old timber, but rare southern yellow pine, cut from now-extinct forests as irreplaceable as the schooners that once plied the river. The foundations of two abandoned city bridges yielded enough stone to construct the park’s sea walls and offered granite to cap staircases. Forty thousand cubic yards of clean fill dirt arrived from the Long Island Railroad’s new tunnel project.

New Yorkers will no doubt appreciate a new place to jog, walk dogs, and launch kayaks, but as contractors lay down the rest of the park, visitors will have another opportunity— to touch a vanishing piece of New York’s commercial past from a time when Americans still grew rich on wood, and stone, and steel.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Will Yandik is an environmentalist and writer in Hudson, N.Y.


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