Review and Comment: To Get There
Brilliant as the idea for Brooklyn Bridge Park may be, getting to the central piers section of the park from the high ground of Brooklyn Heights remains a problem. The parts at the end of Atlantic Avenue and close to Fulton Ferry Landing are more easily reached, but well over a half mile of park separates the two, and the BQE cantilever presents a formidable barrier to entering the park from the Promenade. A partial answer is now being worked on, with construction begun on a footbridge from Columbia Heights, skirting Squibb Playground near Middagh Street. Still, that’s somewhat distant from the center.
It won’t happen tomorrow, but eventually access from near the end of Montague Street will have to be created. When that possibility was first suggested more than a decade and a half ago, it alarmed a number of people in Brooklyn Heights who foresaw a swarm of humanity coursing through the middle of the Heights to get to the park. The Brooklyn Heights Association was persuaded to oppose the idea. However, as the park begins to take shape and the desire of locals for easier access grows, the opposition is surely waning.
But how to get past the BQE barrier? I’m reminded of a somewhat comparable situation in Stockholm, Sweden, where a high bluff separates a western district from the Old City below. As early as 1883 an elevator, the Katarina Elevator, was put in place there to enable people to get up and down the 125-foot height. The old elevator structure was replaced with a new in 1935. It continues to serve largely for people wanting to reach the vantage point from which to look across the Old City and much of Stockholm. Almost directly below is another sight, Slussen (“The Locks”), the first urban cloverleaf traffic interchange, built 1931-35, crossing a watery passage between older and newer city quarters. (Though Sweden had left-hand traffic when Slussen was built, its designer Tage William-Olsson anticipated the change to right-hand traffic that was made several decades later, so that the interchange functioned if anything better after the change.)
From a bridge across the BQE at or near the park’s Montague Street entrance, an elevator could descend into the park, only 50 feet below, not Stockholm’s 125. Perhaps a small fee could be required for using the elevator, as is the case with the Katarina Elevator. Those determined on free access to the park could walk to the earlier access points; others would be happy to pay a small fare for the convenience. What Stockholm could do in 1883 is certainly no great technological challenge for us here in the 21st century. Once lawns and walks and playing fields occupy the now-bare Piers 2, 3 and 5, the desire to reach them more easily will be overwhelming.
Hope Springs Eternal.
In recent editorials here I have sounded pessimistic notes about overpopulation, resource depletion, pollution, climate change and rising waters. So it was interesting to read in Sunday’s Times Book Review about a book called Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler. Diamandis, the chief author, studied molecular biology and engineering at MIT and received an M.D. from Harvard. The thesis appears to be that technological advances will more than make up for the losses being suffered by the Earth: solar energy will become cheaper to deploy, “vertical farms” in skyscrapers will replace the fields being lost to development, and comparable advances – along with more automated medical care – will also go to improve the lives of the world’s poor. Small groups of innovative entrepreneurs are even now at work to bring us such hopeful solutions.
As I turned my calendar (from an environmental organization) to April, I read there the well-known Henry David Thoreau quote: “In wilderness is the preservation of the world.” Well, the flowers may be fewer and the birds and bees getting scarcer, along with the fish, but synthetic biology may make wilderness an obsolete need. Reviewer Jon Gertner found much of Diamandis and Kotler’s book “not quite convincing,” pointing to such problems as “the messy business of changing human behavior” and getting government policies changed, although he felt even the most skeptical reader would come away from Abundance “feeling less gloomy.”
Counting on technology to get us out of the hole we’ve been digging ourselves into, to be more than just wishful thinking, has to be accompanied by greater changes in the way we live and manage our affairs than humanity as yet seems unprepared to make. But let’s hope.
— Henrik Krogius, Editor
Brooklyn Heights Press & Cobble Hill News
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