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A Walk in Willowtown to the Future Brooklyn Bridge Park

UPDATE: Read the latest post from May 19, 2013 - The Brooklyn Heights Promenade to the Brooklyn Bridge Park: A Walk from the City Past to the City Future

Brooklyn Bridge Park, an 85-acre park now under construction, stretches along the East River from north of the Manhattan Bridge to Atlantic Avenue. A significant addition to the waterfront, the park will transform six piers into open green lawns, beaches, and playgrounds, all with a variety of recreational opportunities. The park promises the become a major new feature of the genteel Brooklyn Heights neighborhood, and while walking the neighborhood's famous high promenade above, the famous view of the lower Manhattan skyline will be layered with an additional view of the green parks spaces below. As the name of the park implies, there would also be a nice view of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Financing the ambitious stretch of public space has run into several problems that were mostly resolved this week. The Mayor announced a deal between the city and the state of New York in which the city would kick in additional funding of $55 million, money previously earmarked for the rebuilding of the Javits Center. This would add to the 139 million the city has already committed to the park. The State Public Authorities Control Board will still have to approve the deal. Sections of the park that were previously scheduled to open this Spring have been delayed, but there's potential now to move forward. Seasonal attractions such as a pool and an ice rink plus new housing near the park could provide the city sources of revenue. See NY1's story here.

The park also brings the potential of new development to nearby neighborhoods in Brooklyn Heights. For those interested in seeing the park under construction, I recommend a visit to Willowtown, the name for the Heights neighborhood that sits at the southern end. A peaceful neighborhood of intriguing eclectic architecture, Willowtown is bounded on the north side by Joralemon Street and on the south by Atlantic Avenue. Its eastern edge is Hicks Street, and the west side runs under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway along Furman Street. Just on the other side of Furman, the residents of Willowtown will have easy access to the park via Atlantic Avenue and Joralemon Street. To begin a walk here, find one of the subway stations near Brooklyn's Borough Hall and walk toward the East River.



View Willowtown, Brooklyn Heights in a larger map
The AIA Guide to New York City by White and Willensky cites several structures of note in Willowtown, including a Shingle Style terrace from 1887 and a 1903 Engine Company on Hicks Street, both near Joralemon, a Greek Revival subway ventilator at 58 Joralemon, a set of four small houses with front porches on Columbia Place, a charming ex-chapel on Willow Place, and a Greek revival colonnade joining four houses. Particularly beautiful are the Riverside Apartments from 1890 and remodeled in 1988, originally all of one piece until the construction of the BQE forced the demolition of the units on the riverfront side.
The neighborhood also features the curiously named Palmetto Playground*, a space that the neighbors share for a dog run, a community garden, and play equipment for children. According to the NYC Parks & Rec site, former NYC Park commissioner Henry J. Stern gave the playground this name because the street names - Columbia Place and State Street, as well as nearby Atlantic Avenue - inspired an association with Columbia, South Carolina and the state tree of South Carolina, the Cabbage Palmetto. (Read more at the Parks site.)

While visiting Willowtown or checking out the progress on Brooklyn Bridge Park, stop in for coffee or lunch at the Iris Cafe at 20 Columbia Place. Just opened for a couple of months now, the comfortable neighborhood cafe features a nice tin ceiling, brick walls, a friendly staff, and importantly, tasty food of fresh ingredients. The cafe is perhaps just a taste of what is to come for a quiet neighborhood on the threshold of a big waterfront park.

Images from Walking Off the Big Apple. A personal note: I was in Columbia, South Carolina last weekend to give a lecture for the Columbia Design League on the topic of public art and pedestrian culture. As a way to connect developments in New York with their own urban plans and initiatives, I began the slide show with images of this walk, leading in dramatic fashion to a slide of the Palmetto Playground. It greatly surprised them, as it did me, to learn of this unexpected connection between their city and a tucked-away playground in Brooklyn Heights.

Related posts:
The Advantages of a New Perspective: A Literary Walk in Brooklyn Heights (October 2010, includes pictures of the completed section of Brooklyn Bridge Park.)
Literary DUMBO: An Afternoon Walk Under the Bridges in Search of Books

* Note: In May 2013, the park was renamed Adam Yauch Park, after the member of the Beastie Boys who played there as a child. Yauch died of cancer in 2012 at the age of 47. (WNYC story)

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