Opinions & Observations: Now is the time to finish stitching together the ‘green ribbon’ along North Brooklyn’s waterfront
There is no question that the city’s open space has been critical to the mental and physical health of New Yorkers during the pandemic.
This past year, New Yorkers — resilient as ever — have created new habits engaging with the city’s open space. Whether walking to the waterfront after a long day of working from home, strolling through a park or along an Open Street on the weekend, or riding on the city’s Greenways, our open space has become more important to our health and well-being as individuals and a city.
For nearly two decades as a nonprofit organization Brooklyn Greenway Initiative (BGI) has been working toward a community-driven vision for increased public access and a continuous “green ribbon” along the Brooklyn waterfront – a landscaped multi-use path separated from vehicular traffic and contiguous with parks and open space.
Nearly 20 miles of the 26-mile Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway stretching from Greenpoint to East New York are currently available for use, which experienced record highs in 2020 as Greenway use tripled for cyclists and doubled for pedestrians as compared to 2019; a total of 1.3 million people were counted on the Greenway in South Williamsburg.
BGI has conceptualized or supported the development and stewardship of open spaces and public amenities along the Greenway, including leveraging public and private investment to create the Naval Cemetery Landscape, a 1.7-acre living memorial and native meadow habitat along the Greenway at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Visitation to the Naval Cemetery Landscape jumped 28% in 2020 as compared to 2019 despite a 6-week closure when NY was on PAUSE.
There has never been a greater understanding of the importance of micro-mobility and open space, yet opportunities for new park creation are few and far between, and public funding for construction and ongoing maintenance of open space is in jeopardy. During the pandemic the NYC Parks budget was hit with a 14% cut in funding for 2021, even as use soared.
There is also an urgent need to address climate change and increase resiliency along New York City’s 520 miles of coastline by creating soft edge and living shoreline, increasing public waterfront access, balancing growth and risk through land use policy, and capturing value of parks through funding models that carefully respond to local needs and context, among other solutions.
One way to address these challenges is through public-private partnership for the design, construction, and ongoing maintenance of waterfront access and open space, which we have an opportunity to do at the former Con Edison site in Williamsburg. Like the Domino Sugar site directly to the south and so many others in North Brooklyn, this industrial site has blocked local residents from accessing the water for a century. It is one of the last remaining stitches needed to complete the green ribbon of parks and esplanades along the Waterfront Greenway from the Navy Yard to Newtown Creek.
The River Ring – a waterfront master plan proposed by Two Trees Management – would create a new 3-acre waterfront park and additional 3-acres of protected in-water access. Beaches, shallow waters, and tidal pools would introduce an entirely new waterfront experience rarely seen in Brooklyn, enabling Brooklynites to enjoy not only views of our waterways but also on-water and in-water educational and recreational activities. The new open space will feature a strategically designed “soft edge” resiliency model that will help reduce risk from the effects of climate change for the surrounding community. Importantly, at a time when New York City needs private investment in public infrastructure, River Ring will deliver benefits without public tax dollars for capital or ongoing maintenance.
While we await the forthcoming update to NYC’s Comprehensive Waterfront Plan that lauds public-private partnership for increasing resiliency, we need to protect our vulnerable shorelines from impending sea level rise and future superstorms now. We need NYC waterfronts to be as resilient as New Yorkers. We need to foster greater connections between our open spaces and communities. And we need to leverage the private sector to make bold investments in our public realm.
Let us work with responsible and responsive partners that understand the magnitude and urgency of our current challenges and have the experience to help solve them.
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