Fort Greene

Controversy over Fort Greene Park’s redesign inspires art installation

“The main thing that was wrong was that people didn’t feel listened to.”

December 9, 2019 Lore Croghan

An artist has stepped up to support activists who are fighting to save trees and historic design features the city plans to tear down in Fort Greene Park.

The artist, Eva Oosterlaken, set up a movable art installation called “Past Present Future Fort Greene Park” in the landmarked 33-acre recreation area on Saturday afternoon. She designed the installation in collaboration with the Friends of Fort Greene Park.

It’s an enormous illustration, inscribed with quotes from local residents about what the park means to them and what they think should and shouldn’t be done to change it.

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“We need repairs. We should preserve the natural beauty of the park,” one inscription says.

“It would be cool if there was a pool. It would make it 10x better,” suggests another.

“I don’t want to lose this park. There’s so much history and memories,” says another.

“The best thing is the views and how they change over the year. I’m from Colombia so it feels like a painting,” a fourth reads.

Pratt Institute student Xin Xie takes photos of Eva Oosterlaken’s art installation in Fort Greene Park. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle
Pratt Institute student Xin Xie takes photos of Eva Oosterlaken’s art installation in Fort Greene Park. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle

Oosterlaken drew the illustration with markers on a clear acrylic sheet mounted on a wood frame with wheels on it, which she rolled it into Fort Greene Park for the one-day-only exhibition.

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The master’s degree candidate at the Royal College of Art in London is just finishing up a semester at Pratt Institute in connection with the British school’s Global Innovation Design Program. She’s required to travel internationally for it. The Fort Greene Park installation is this semester’s project.

Oosterlaken placed the installation in front of mounds made of grass and Belgian blocks that were designed by distinguished landscape architect A.E. Bye in the early 1970s.

The Friends of Fort Greene Park, the Sierra Club, City Club of New York President Michael Gruen and several Fort Greene residents are in the middle of a court battle challenging the city Parks Department’s plan to demolish the mounds, which are a children’s play area, so it can build a plaza with 13,300 square feet of impermeable paving.

The advocates also object to the destruction of 83 mature trees, which is part of Fort Greene Park’s makeover plan, and the Parks Department’s planned changes to design elements that were the work of Frederick Law Olmsted, who’s considered the father of landscape architecture, and Calvert Vaux. The duo’s greatest claim to fame is its design of Central Park.

The city agency’s $10.5 million Fort Greene Park project is part of the De Blasio administration’s Parks Without Borders program, which aims to make city green spaces more accessible for people with limited mobility.

Royal College of Art student Sophie Horrocks snaps photos of Eva Oosterlaken’s Fort Greene Park art installation. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle
Royal College of Art student Sophie Horrocks snaps photos of Eva Oosterlaken’s Fort Greene Park art installation. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle

Oosterlaken told the Brooklyn Eagle the concept for her art installation started with a broad question: Who should be designing public spaces?

While doing random research, she wound up reading about the Parks Without Borders program and the controversy it sparked in Fort Greene. She sought out the Friends of Fort Greene Park to find out more about the issue.

“The main thing that was wrong was that people didn’t feel listened to,” Oosterlaken said she discovered. “I believe there are ways to change the park — but it shouldn’t be done this way.”

In November, she interviewed people who were using the park and based her design for her artwork on what they said.

Her biggest takeaway was “how many well-considered ideas park users have,” she said.

The Parks Department’s lawyer, Assistant Corporation Counsel Robert Martin, said at a September court hearing that the department incorporated suggestions from the public in the plans it drew up for Fort Greene Park’s makeover.

People who attended Saturday’s exhibition wrote their thoughts on cards with printed instructions that said, “Imagine your perfect day enjoying Fort Greene Park.” They clipped the cards onto a string attached to the art installation’s framework.

The Parks Department plans to destroy mounds designed by landscape architect A.E. Bye, seen here in the foreground beneath the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle
The Parks Department plans to destroy mounds designed by landscape architect A.E. Bye, seen here in the foreground beneath the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle

Some of them signed a petition Friends of Fort Greene Park President Ling Hsu showed them that objects to the Parks Department’s paved plaza redesign.

Hsu told the Eagle she’s talking with the board of the Kingsview Homes about showing the art installation at the nearby co-op complex and is also looking for places to exhibit it long-term.

“This artwork has crystallized our voices,” Hsu said.

Oosterlaken “has taken into consideration the feelings of all the parties involved with such sensitivity,” Sophie Horrocks, another student in the Royal College of Art’s international program, told the Eagle. “This is such a delicate way to handle such a complex issue.”

Fort Greene Park opened in 1850 as the result of a two-year campaign by famed poet Walt Whitman while he was the editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He believed working-class families who lived nearby would be healthier if they had a place to breathe fresh air.

The park’s most iconic feature is the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument. Famous architectural firm McKim, Mead and White designed the 149-foot-tall Doric-style granite column, which has a 20-foot-tall bronze urn on top of it.

Beneath the monument, there’s a crypt with the remains of Revolutionary War patriots who died aboard British ships moored in nearby Wallabout Bay, where the Brooklyn Navy Yard was later built.

Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.


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