Brooklyn Boro

Grand Army Plaza: A do over?

November 25, 2022 William A. Gralnick
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To me, as a small boy, Grand Army Plaza was really grand. My favorite aunt and uncle lived in a spacious, shall we say grand, apartment across from the arch. Another aunt, the sister of my favorite one, lived a few blocks down Eastern Parkway at the Abraham Lincoln Apartments. If memory serves, 16 Eastern Parkway. There were parks, fountains, statues, the also grand Brooklyn Public Library and the always-interesting Brooklyn Museum.
That piece of Brooklyn was near Prospect Park and near Ebbets Field. 

The Plaza area had a personal impact on my older brother and me. I attended religious school at Union Temple, which was located at 17 Eastern Parkway. I’d leave PS 217, walk to Newkirk Plaza, hop on the BMT, and take the express to 7th avenue. I went to the only Jewish religious school that I knew of that had a swimming pool, alas, not included in the religious studies program.

For my brother, it was a different story, a real story. He had just begun what was to be a stellar career in television journalism. Seventh Avenue, off the Plaza, was the scene of his first real story. An Electra Jet crashed there. Strewn with bodies and baggage, the area looked like a war zone. It was not something he’d soon forget.

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This is the prelude to my lauding the redevelopment of Fredrick Law Olmstead’s magnum opus. One of my memories is of the traffic. The redevelopment would eliminate that—completely. Ever been to a city that has no traffic in street areas? One of my favorites is downtown Tampa. Most of the major cities in Europe have them. There’s a whole section of Paris from which cars are prohibited. It takes some getting used to. I still look both ways before I cross like I don’t believe there’s really no traffic. Upon arrival, I have to check if the picture in my mind is correct. I saw a street full of people; only some were on the sidewalks. The street itself is full of people. It’s a cool experience.

Many small American cities have car-free zones or are totally car-free, like Fire Island, NY. lists Halibut Cover, Alaska; Mackinac Island, Michigan; Monhegan, Maine; Catalina Island, California. Atlanta has car-free options and areas from the city to the suburbs. The Beltline is a perfect example of this in the city; where motor vehicles are illegal. The parks and trails make for some great scenery on a nice walk in the fall or a bike ride in the spring. This from

Europe is way ahead of us. In Travel Outlook I learned that Berlin is planning a traffic-free area the size of Manhattan.

Here are places around the globe that are fencing out cars:

  • Ghent, Belgium
  • Lamu, Kenya
  • Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  • Giethoorn, The Netherlands
  • Oslo, Norway
  • La Cumbrecita, Argentina

How much Grander could Grand Army Plaza be if it had no traffic, no noise from traffic, and air one could safely breathe?

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