By the 1970s, the Brooklyn piers had become a wasteland on the New York City waterfront. Today, they have been transformed into a stunning park that is enjoyed by countless Brooklynites and visitors from across New York City and around the world. A History of Brooklyn Bridge Park recounts the grassroots, multivoiced, and contentious effort, beginning in the 1980s, to transform Brooklyn's defunct piers into a beautiful, urban oasis. The movement to resist commercial development on the piers reveals how concerned citizens came together to shape the future of their community.
After winning a number of battles, park advocates, stakeholders, and government officials collaborated to create a thoroughly unique city park that takes advantage of the water and the 'Manhattan skyline, combining an innovative design with vibrant cultural programming. From start to finish, this history emphasizes the contributions, collaborations, and spirited disagreements that made the planning and construction of Brooklyn Bridge Park a model of natural urban development and public–private partnership. A History of Brooklyn Bridge Park includes interviews with Brooklyn residents, politicians, activists, urban planners, landscape architects, and other key participants in the fight for the park. The story of Brooklyn Bridge Park also speaks to larger issues confronting all cities, including the development of postindustrial spaces and the ways to balance public and private interests without sacrificing creative vision or sustainable goals.
"Almost any leisurely walk in New York will produce the question: What was this place once? A History of Brooklyn Bridge Park tells the amazing story of the people who also asked about such a place: What could it be someday? The answer changed the New York City waterfront forever."
– John Hockenberry, host of the public radio program The Takeaway
"A fascinating story of how local activists, politicians, designers, and developers argued, protested, and slowly worked together to create one of New York City's most innovative, thriving, and controversial parks. For three decades, Brooklyn residents engaged in a rich debate about their waterfront. What makes a park a successful public space? Who should decide? Nancy Webster and David Shirley's engaging book shows us just how complex these questions are."
– Suleiman Osman, author of The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar New York
"Here is a masterful compilation of the voices whose struggles and persistence over time realized a vision to turn a closed-off industrial waterfront into a vibrant, twenty-first-century park, open to all."
– Ann L. Buttenwieser, the "Floating Pool Lady"
"Over the past few decades, cities across the United States have undertaken numerous, large-scale efforts to make themselves livable and sustainable. These projects do not suddenly appear, and what is important for urban scholars, activists, and policy makers is what has to be done to make them happen. In A History of Brooklyn Bridge Park, Webster and Shirley provide a highly informative and fascinating history of the governmental, organizational, community, and interpersonal politics without which New York City's newest grand public space would not have come to be."
– Robert Beauregard, professor of urban planning, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Columbia University
"Webster and Shirley take you through every contentious step of the park's evolution from the 1980s until today [...] Along the way, Brooklyn Bridge Park paints a fascinating portrait."
– The Bowery Boys
Introduction: The Evolution of the Waterfront
1. What Shall We Do with the Piers?
2. Fighting Back
3. The Coalition
4. The "13 Guiding Principles"
5. Banging Their Cups on the High Chair
6. Changing of the Guard
7. Tearing Down the Barbed Wire
8. The Perfect Is the Enemy of the Good
9. A Park at Last
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Nancy Webster is the executive director of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy. David Shirley is a journalist whose work has appeared in Oxford American, the Brooklyn Rail, Chicago Review, Spin, Rolling Stone, and USA Today.