May 19, 2013

A Walk from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade to Brooklyn Bridge Park: The City Past to the City Future

(Note: May 2015. Squibb Bridge is closed until further notice.)

A morning walk along the Brooklyn Heights Promenade most always seems like a good way to start a day in New York, offering sweeping views of the skyline of Lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge. So romantic! The promenade, high above the East River, would make it on my personal top 10 list for visitors to the city, especially in the context of walking through the handsome neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights. An evening walk here turns the city into a dramatic spectacle of lights.

View from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade
The walk described here begins south at Montague Street and continues north toward the Brooklyn Bridge.


Or, so it would seem, especially for the morning. These days, due to the feverish building of the Brooklyn Bridge Park below, a lofty walk along the venerable promenade feels more at times like a visit to a construction site than a romantic stroll. It's also loud. But if you have a thing for the sights and sounds of tractors moving great mounds of earth, this is a spot for you. Some of these very same tractors are in the process of fashioning manmade hills along the park, ones designed to soften the sounds of the BQE (Brooklyn-Queens Expressway) from both the park and the promenade. Wait a year or two, and things should look prettier.


View of Lower Manhattan from the promenade and a sign noting the Brooklyn Bridge Park below

Brooklyn Bridge Park under construction.

Arriving at Pier 1, one of the park's three completed piers, the largest, and the only one built on landfill, it's time to step into the unfolding future of the re-conceptualized Brooklyn waterfront. The repurposing of great swaths of the riverfront, away from the manufacturing and shipping uses of the past and toward the recreational purposes of our post-industrial economy, constitutes a momentous shift in the city's modern history.


skyline of Lower Manhattan and view of Pier 1 from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade



Back in the day, Brooklyn Heights itself was home to sea captains who could gaze down upon their ships docked below. Now, many of our workers are not bound by the physical locality of their work. They just want a decent wi-fi connection, one they will need to share with millions of tourists, and access to pleasant outdoor recreational facilities. Hence, this new park. And, yes, Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 1 and 6 have wi-fi.

The new Squibb Bridge makes for a seamless transition from the promenade to the park.


The Squibb Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge

For many months, walking from the promenade to the park below proved something of a hassle, involving a steep hill. Thanks to the new Squibb Bridge (pictured above), a walkway engineered to bounce and give along its zigzag path, the transition is now seamless. Symbolically, the bridge serves as a transition from the venerable old promenade, built in New York's post-war period of the 1950s, to the post-industrial landscape of contemporary New York. The descent into the park also feels also like a transition from middle age to adolescence, a reverse aging process that is further reinforced upon arrival in the park. (I'm glad I didn't wear heels.) This is not inherently a good thing.

Pier 1, built on landfill, features scenic views and a landscaped park


With its manmade hills and young green trees, a gurgling stream, and pristine pathways, Pier 1 comes off a wee bit like an amusement park. At least it did for me, as I instantly experienced a childhood flashback to "La Salle's River Adventure," a long-defunct ride at Six Flags over Texas that featured whirlpools, caves full of treasure, and fake Indian attacks along with other imagined trappings of France's New World imperial aspirations. (A link, if you care. I was already primed for nostalgic turns after stopping earlier in front of 8 Remsen Street in Brooklyn Heights, the fictional home of the Patty Duke Show's Lane family.)

Yes, this is the Brooklyn waterfront. You may recognize the bridge.

One of Pier 1's best features is the wide walkway directly next to the river. Long benches and colorful moveable chairs encourage visitors to stay and enjoy the views of Governors Island, Liberty Island, and Skyscraper Island (the island known as Manhattan). For those who grew up strolling the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, experiencing this low waterfront view of Manhattan for the first time may be a little jolting.

View of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty from Pier 1, Brooklyn Bridge Park

View of Skyscraper Island (Manhattan). Have a seat. 


To continue the adventure, consider lining up at the East River Ferry's Dumbo landing, directly next to Pier 1, and exploring additional stops along the river via boat.


View of the South Street Seaport and Lower Manhattan from the East River Ferry 

Weee!

View of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade from the ferry, with the BQE just below, and the Brooklyn Bridge Park on the waterfront. A triple decker. 


We’re on a boat again. (No whirlpools.)

View of the East River, the harbor,  and Lower Manhattan

The next stop downriver is Pier 11. Beyond lies Wall Street, another walk, if not a speculative ride.

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Note on directions: Brooklyn Heights makes a quick trip from Lower Manhattan via subway. For example, take the R train from Prince Street and get off at the Court Street stop in Brooklyn, and you'll be in Brooklyn Heights in 20 minutes or so. From there, walk down Montague Street toward the river and the promenade. There are lots of places to pick up food for breakfast or picnic. Traveling from Brooklyn Bridge Park to Manhattan via ferry, or vice versa, is highly recommended.



View The Brooklyn Heights Promenade to Brooklyn Bridge Park: A Walk from the City Past to the City Future in a larger map


Related elsewhere:

• Official website: Brooklyn Bridge Park

• More on the Squibb Bridge - New York Times story: "A Zigzag Offers a More Direct Route to a Park," Lisa W. Foderaro. March 21, 2013.

Related on this website:

• This walk updates a post from March 11, 2010 - A Walk in  Willowtown to the Future Brooklyn Bridge Park.

• New York's New Adolescence and the Play Impulse in Contemporary Public Art, July 1, 2010.

The Advantages of a New Perspective: A Literary Walk in Brooklyn Heights (October 12, 2010)

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from Saturday, May 18, 2013.