Fort Greene

Key NYC vote Tuesday on controversial Fort Greene Park redesign

Preservationists want to stop the clock on Landmarks decision

November 20, 2017 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Left: The pathway to the revered Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument as it is now shows one of the grassy mounds designed by landmark artist A.E. Bye. Right: This rendering shows the proposed hardscape plaza leading to the monument. The A.E. Bye mounds would be removed. Images courtesy of the Friends of Fort Greene Park
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A plan to redesign some of Fort Greene Park’s entrances and edges has run into a wall of opposition from preservationists and architectural groups.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) is meeting to vote on the redesign around noon on Tuesday, but opponents want to stop the clock until changes can be made.

The Parks Without Borders redesign plan, announced with great fanfare in May 2016, is meant to open up entrances, increase safety and make more welcoming the northern edges of the park around the corner of Myrtle Avenue and St. Edwards Street.

The city Park’s Department and supporters of the redesign say the park is sparsely used on its northern side due to inaccessibility.

But opponents say the changes will remove more than 40 mature trees and two historic grassy mounds designed by landmark artist A.E. Bye. The redesign will replace the tree-shaded mounds with a 43-foor-wide hardscape plaza leading to the revered Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument.

The Parks Department originally presented the plan to the LPC on Sept 19, when preservationists testified against it, calling it “overly monumental and cold.”

“Creating a huge procession of open spaces starting at the street and leading up to the monument produces a grandiose vista oddly reminiscent of Mussolini’s Rome,” testified Cristabel Gough for the Society for the Architecture of the City.

Groups including the NYC Sierra Club and the Historic District Council are also against the redesign, saying the money should be spent instead on long-deferred park maintenance and ADA compliance.

The LPC Commissioners asked Parks to reconsider problematic elements and delayed their vote until Tuesday.

Opponents, however, want to put the vote on pause until the problems are addressed.

Landmarks expert Michael Gruen, who helped draft the 1973 amendments to the New York City Landmarks Law, told the Brooklyn Eagle on Monday, “I expect that we will file a motion with the Landmarks Commission tomorrow to terminate all of its proceedings until there is compliance with SEQRA [State Environmental Quality Review Act]. We understand from correspondence with the Park Department that no environmental assessment has been done.”

The Friends of Fort Greene Park say they plan to submit an alternate plan that will preserve and restore trees and the A.E. Bye mounds, along with other needed repairs, such as upgrading stairs and other areas for ADA compliance and improving playground equipment, restrooms and dilapidated infrastructure.

The Eagle has reached out to the Parks Department for comment. Check back for updates.

Eight NYC parks chosen for Parks without Borders approach

Fort Greene Park was one of eight New York City parks to be chosen for redesign using Parks Without Borders principals. (Prospect Park is the only other park in Brooklyn that was chosen.) Mayor Bill de Blasio dedicated $50 million to the program from the now-terminated OneNYC campaign.

“This innovative approach to integrating our parks more seamlessly into the fabric of the city will help New Yorkers feel even more at home in their neighborhood parks – or as we like to call them, NYC’s backyard,” de Blasio said in a statement.

The parks were chosen after online surveys and conferences at Community Board meetings, NYC Parks Computer Resource Centers and public libraries, according to the Parks Department. Parks says it received more than 6,000 nominations for 691 parks. Fort Green Park received 194 votes.

Making the park safer — for vendors?

Opponents say the changes won’t benefit the parks bucolic spaces — but will make it easier for rent-paying vendors to set up in the park.

“It is counterintuitive to remove old trees from a park for paving. Removing the mounds is also problematic, as residents and their children use and enjoy these beloved features,” Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council said in testimony submitted to Community Board 2.

He added, “Creating a plaza, we fear, is an invitation for revenue-producing vendors within the park. It is an increasing and disappointing trend that New Yorkers cannot enjoy a park without some aspect of private market intrusion.”

A grand history

Originally the site of Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 forts, the land was designated as Brooklyn’s first park in 1847 at the urging of Walt Whitman. Twenty years later, famed landscape architects Olmsted and Vaux began designing its layout. The design received a partial revamp in the early 1900s by McKim, Mead & White, which emphasized more formal elements, according to Architects Newspaper. In the early 1970s, A.E. Bye designed the series of mounds that lead up to the steps of the monument.

In a draft of Gruen’s presentation to Landmarks, he writes that the proposal aims at restoring  just one phase of a complex design history.

“What the Department’s proposal fails to recognize is that the MMW [McKim, Mead & White] super-monumentality was too antiseptic,” Gruen writes, “It needed softening of additional trees, of A.E. Bye’s mounds, and, the consequent stages of mystery as the visitor enters the park then proceeds along its paths, seeing only hints of the stair and monument until the visitor reaches the end of the mounds.”

More than 11,500 men and women who died in the Revolutionary War are buried in the crypt underneath the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument, a 149-foot Doric column crowned with a 20-foot bronze urn.


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