Brooklyn Bridge Park: The DUMBO Park - Brooklyn, New York City
Assessing the former Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park
For my site assessment, I chose the Fulton Ferry area of Brooklyn near the East River and Main Street. The site has been an area of recent redevelopment and has caught my attention a number of times. From general understanding, I knew DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) was not a very populated place and yet, it was the place everyone wanted to move into. After discovering the park, I was very curious as to how the residents would use the Brooklyn Bridge Park and how the park would change because of the use by its residents.
Modern Brooklyn Bridge Park
How old is this Park and the Area?
Background - The Rich History
My research site began in the Empire Fulton Ferry area, a site north of Brooklyn Bridge Park. Situated under the Manhattan bridge. This location has a rich history that dates back to the early 1800s. Fulton Ferry Landing emerged in 1814 when Robert Fulton started a steamboat ferry service between Manhattan and Brooklyn. The famous Robert Fulton began his ferry services between NYC and Brooklyn here, and while that may have been in 1814, it has long known traffic beforehand. The first ferry crossing between Manhattan and Brooklyn occurred in 1642. As industrial business flourished, the pier became a docking area for boats. Accessibility to the warehouses was vital to the success of the shipping companies and as a result industrial warehouses sprouted up along the waterfront. However as New York City grew into a metropolis and became more organized, the shipping companies moved out of the Fulton Ferry Area. The industrial use wore down the area, grass grew, graffiti followed, and gangs came next. It was around this time Michael Buzzy O’Keeffe set out to open a café on the waterfront. The River Café opened in June of 1977 in an abandoned neighborhood by the Brooklyn docks. Against advise from city officials and business executives who considered the move too risky, Mr. O' Keefe opened up a restaurant that became an immediate success. The success of River Café became the catalyst for redevelopment of the Brooklyn waterfront. NY Times records the earliest news of redevelopment in the Fulton Ferry Area in 1981, approximately around the time River Café became a successful business. In 1978, NYC Parks & Recreations bought warehouses in the area from companies such as Con Edison as well as from shipping companies moving out of the area. The Fulton Ferry Landing would come to be known as the Empire Fulton Ferry Park. Most of the buildings in the park were cleared except for two. Part of the problem with these two buildings is that they are historic 19th century buildings, the roofless Tobacco warehouse and Civil war-era Empire Stores. They occupy the front of the park, essentially hiding and isolating the park from the rest of Brooklyn. From the National Parks Services' development plans, these two buildings were intended to be de-mapped from a federally recognized park land status so it could be leased to a DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) arts group. The plan was that by doing this, it could rejuvenate the park and area through community events and live theater. The argument against this case from a judge clearly stated, "National Parks Service acted outside of its legal authority", and followed Mayor Bloomberg administration's push expanding private developers while disregarding the buildings' historic significance. Since these buildings remain part of the landmark, perplexed park designers and officials have been working diligently to turn this historic area into a lively park for DUMBO residents.
In the past with overgrown grass and rolling green lands, the significance and interaction of the park with its users was not considered carefully, until maybe recently. Different magazines and reviewers tried to sell the park as a place for those looking around for something reclusive. Targeting their age groups and audiences, the reviews varied slightly. One such example is the magazine Block Magazine that described the park as something of a getaway for "young professionals and some families and other locals who aren't too afraid to dip their toes into the "beach" [sic]. Clearly, Block Magazine was aiming at their college audience, and the younger crowd looking for some place to mingle. The Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy took it upon themselves to reach out to community for advice and got in touch with Jane Walentas. Jane, the wife of David Walentas, eagerly took the opportunity to donate her money and time to the effort. Jane Walentas donated a historical piece to the park, a restored 1922 carousel that is now attracting new audience groups to the park.
In conclusion to the background, Fulton Ferry Area which includes the Park with said name stretches from north of Pier 1, from Main Street and the Main Street Park. In terms of context, it is near piers and has a number of interactive shops such as the Galapagos Art Space; hosting weddings and varied art exhibits. Additionally one may find large bookstores such as powerHouse Arena- often leaving their guests ‘lost’ to graze through book aisles, and factory warehouses of various sorts open to the public. Additionally there are a good number of open restaurants, cafes and other amenities all connected by cobble-stoned roads. As for size of the park, it is an average or medium sized park, but once the issues with historic buildings are solved, we can expect a larger area. As for park elements and objects associated with the environment, we should first start with Main Street, which hosts a number of business with a small pathways; all generally built upwards, essentially helping to create a larger dimension of the park. The scale is perfect in that the closely knit streets and businesses which often hinder one from seeing the larger picture right away-slowly give way to the park. As you enter there is an interesting change from street cobblestones to beach pebbles and rocks spanning the area with wooden park benches dotting the way. Alongside them are little traces of the wild-mini gardens with varied trees and plant life. Then as you continue walking, one comes upon a raised elevation with steps preceding the way, from there on the terrain stresses concrete with cleaned paved level ground. The attraction of the concrete terrain happens to be Jane's Carousel. To the left of Jane's Carousel follows a large spacious green grass area; inviting book readers, lovers, and the rest.
 Cathy Erway, 2011. BLOCK MAGAZINE EAT. DRINK. PLAY. - The Most Romantic Brooklyn Waterfronts, and Other Places You Didn’t Know You Could Fish. BLOCK MAGAZINE. EAT. DRINK. PLAY. Available at: http://www.blockmagazine.com/eat_drink_play.php?title=lstronggromantic_brooklyn_waterfronts_lo&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1 [Accessed September 28, 2011].
Section of the Park from 1975 - Bridge is Brooklyn Bridge
Cobblestone Main St leading to Park Entrance
Modern Park Entrance - Main Street in DUMBO leading to the Entrance
Methods of data collection included primarily video recordings of people, taking photos, annotated diagrams, counting male to female ratio, casually asking people about the history of the area, diagrams of the park and stem and leaf plots of the age groups observed. By using my methods of collection, I was able to collect the data and then later study them. I was able to re-observe any missed behavior through video, though it was obtrusive at times, I tried to stay out of the way and not show any recording apparatus when interviewing people casually. I was constantly looking for the design directions in the placement of certain things, the context in which it was designed, and the by-products of its use. I was on a mission to gather as much physical traces as possible, then subsequently analyze them at home. The process was based on Ziesel's method of observing and inferring. I used a pocket-cam to videotape smoothly and comfortably. I did not use a tripod for the camera as that would have been a hassle and would have drawn the attention of onlookers. The only restriction with the pocket-cam was I was limited to two hours of battery life but that enabled me to make use of my time and film what was not noticed or filmed previously. My most obtrusive activity was taking photos. When the flash activated on the camera, it let others know I was observing something and as a result, may have modified their natural behavior. Organization and compilation was another instrumental part of the process. While it may help find certain conclusions, being one person studying the area, the collected hours of videos and photos was overwhelming. To alleviate the workload I organized the data by date, location, and media type.
Location, Location, Location.
The Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass (DUMBO) area has seen alot of gentrification, which has led to the growth of communities, renovation and higher maintenance and higher quality of life. My study - the Fulton Ferry aArea is located in DUMBO. Keeping this in mind, the reason for the redevelopment came about as housing and real-estate prices went up as realtors raised the stakes for rent by considering various factors such as waterfront location, seclusion from steady stream of cars and the enclosure it provided as a result of less traffic. As wealthier clients moved into DUMBO neighborhood, the desire to renovate unused-overlooked areas became much more urgent. The place image was not quite established and as a result local DUMBO lobby groups took the step to bring about bottom-up collaboration to implement meaningful ideas.
The path leading to the Park begins at Main Street. In Figure 1.1, we see the front of Main Street that begins with a semi-tarred road and progresses into a cobble stone style road. It is sending a message to cars and trucks "you can come to the beginning of the road to offload supplies or people but further in, it's for people". In addition, we see a big business parking garage probably for shipping. Directly opposite the garage there is a Starbucks store, we should note Starbucks just does not open a store anywhere; it opens where it knows it will get business. Starbucks does not do franchises but opens and manages stores directly, so their store location opposite a shipping company would seem strange. As one continues down the street, as seen in the Figure 1.2, towards the end of that street, is where the park entrance is located. Having a park down the street, full of people, may not be something the shipping company may have want but the bit of paved road is a statement that economic values of the shipping company were considered. In Figure 1.2, the tall dark building on the left is 30 Sweeney Building, a massive high-rise for DUMBO’s wealthy tenants. Its presence may explain why Starbucks decided to open one of its stores in the area. The co-existence of various businesses, wealthy high-rise apartments, and a waterfront park came to be because of the revitalization efforts by many civic groups, to establish a healthy triple bottom line (profit, people, and planet) for the neighborhood. Groups like the DUMBO Development Group want the businesses to succeed, the city to pay more attention to the East River waterway and the people to be comfortable with amenities and setting of the waterfront
Further down Main St, it is interesting to note that the concept of Serial Vision. The crammed Main Street gives way to an open waterfront. The field of view is a series of jerks that transitions from the enclosing high-rise buildings to a wider open space with stores, bars, restaurants and the famous Galapagos Art Space. Galapagos Art Space (see Figure 1.4) located just outside Brooklyn Bridge Park, has a "Disney-fication" feel to it or better defined as the commodification of the place with its frontage opened up to the public. The art space draws the artists out to engage with the public. When the artists exhibit their works or take part in a performance, they draw audiences to the area, and when people gather, the Brooklyn Bridge Park serves as a venue. Galapagos Art Space also holds weddings, parties and other gatherings. Unlike a typical venue in the city where the attendees are steered away from the street, here they are encouraged to mingle and take as long as they need to. The cobblestone element in the floorscape increases the functional value that it is more for pedestrians and open space; (indicative of more sunlight, flow of breeze from East River, traffic noise from Water St. - cutting across and direct noise coming in from Manhattan Bridge). The cobblestones may serve to give the relaxing sensation and induce the vibrant feeling of being in a park while still being in the street. The ease at which one may get around the area may be why Walk Score gave this area a score of 98/100. This make sense as Walk Score's algorithm takes into account 13 categories that make an area successful for business, residents and tourists.
Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Towards the end of Main Street, we see the Brooklyn Bridge Park with two main entrances. On the left is an entrance we will call 'Section A' and located oppositely is the other entrance we will call 'Section B' (goes out to the foot of Manhattan Bridge).
 Cohen, E (1988) Authenticity and commoditisation in tourism, Annals of Tourism Research, 15(3), 371–386
Walk Score. "Walk Score of Empire-Fulton Ferry Area." Walk Score Walkability. Front Seat Inc. Available at: <http://www.walkscore.com/score/16-main-st-brooklyn-ny-11201> [Accessed 11/02/2011].
Note the "A" and "B" in the picture
Figure 1.3 - above
(First we will look at Section B which, like Section A, was grill-fenced on the outside but, unlike Section A, had most of its side grill-fenced.) To see an illustrative example of this, see the picture below, next to the term Grilled Fences.
Aerial View from Main Street to Park
Figure 1.4 - above
I found this interesting because there were trees lined up right behind the grills. Right after I entered Section B there was a children's playground right near the entrance of the park. The trees and grills gave a sense of enclosure and protection and served to hide the children's activities from prying eyes in the streets. The grills allowed visual penetration into other parts of the park, like the concrete steps, and encouraged people watching those inside. Upon observation those who were looking in, eventually walked into the park to see and feel the park for themselves. On my way to the foot of the bridge, there were people I saw near the concrete-like steps leading to the edge of the East River. Sunlight was abundant to this area. The people most likely stayed here because they wanted to be warm since it was late fall. The people sitting on benches behind them watched others sitting on the slabs of rock; those on the rocks were reading books or taking photographs. As I continued on my short trip to the base of the bridge, I could hear the soothing rhythmic sound of trains speeding along the rail tracks, on the lower level of the Manhattan Bridge. I saw an elevated jut-out area like a cliff where people congregated to take photos and stand around. As I observed I noted that it was not the younger couples, rather older people and specifically tourists that came again to this one spot. I thought it was an interesting way to mark the tourists. Their enthusiasm mixed with their luxurious cameras and expensive-wear made them distinct from the usual crowd. As I observed I saw people moving beyond the 'cliff' rails and down the rocks to be closer to the water. It was seclusion because being under the cliff no one would notice you until someone physically walked down the cliff. Continuing along near the base of the bridge I noticed people in this area were much more silent, there were couples kissing near the base, people tuned into music, and others lost in their own worlds or people-watching the bikers and walkers on the Manhattan bridge. The people's quiet nature was primarily due to the effect of being almost directly under train tracks on the bridge and sound of waves rushing up against the rocks. The last bit of Section B led to an exit but the path narrower to make room for the dog area and to provide access to the water.
Then I walked back and entered Section A. Which, like B, was also overlooking the waterfront but its floorscape had a distinct identity. The floor was yellow colored with pebbles and small rocks, giving the sense of a beach with its access to water and rocks. It was interesting for one to take note of the changing terrains that varied throughout the park and more specifically in this section. It began with a beach and slowly transitioned to concrete, wood from the boardwalk and back to grass. From my observations, benches lined in the beach were virtually empty over a two-hour period. Below the picture of the gravel-filled beach
The benches were empty not because of the lack of visitors but because there was abundant open space in a small space. In addition, visually there were less varied colors and that could make individuals feel out of place. One could not run on the gravel, as you would be hurting your feet so people had to walk slowly. This might be a reason for not attracting athletes. Additionally it was the only spot using gravel, it was perceived more as a medium to walk through than a place to be. Continuing on, the small concrete steps serve as a transition from the beach to paved concrete.
In this concrete area, you had benches surrounded by trees on the side and small groups of trees which did not draw much of a crowd. Young people came to 'hang out' during the night as the park was relatively empty. Jane's Carousel is established on a platform that is elevated by concrete steps. Jane's Carousel, designed by Pritzker Prize winning French architect Jean Nouvel has a distinct identity from the rest of the park. It is modern in every sense of the word. The carousel's outer frame is an acrylic box, made to shield carousel riders from the elements and admits sunshine, creates a winter-garden effect when it’s cold, allows views of the bridges, Manhattan and the traffic on the water. The horses in the carousel are from a historic 1922 carousel and have been painstakingly refurbished. Speakers inside the carousel play the soft tunes of carnival. The carousel gives visitors the sense of being in a carnival while at a park with the help of carnival music, and in the background the sound of East River waves crashing up against the docks and rocks adds a background soft touch, to calm and soothe the carousel riders. To elevate the level of attention that should be given to the carousel, the developers have used raised concrete steps to differentiate the carousel. Notice in the picture below the gravel transitioning to the concrete-raised carousel.
This helps prevent the carousel from being associated with ‘park furniture'. It is the centerpiece of Section A and gives those sitting from Section B a great view for people watching near the Carousel. Behind the carousel is a boardwalk and past that green grass space. The boardwalk and rest of concrete terrain surround a grassy knoll; it follows the concept of a nuclear square. On the grassy knoll or large lawn, people were sleeping, enjoying the cool breeze and seemed happy. It seemed as if they enjoyed being on the lawn, far from most of the sounds that had spoiled the quiet nature of a park. It was where Section A or the tip of Brooklyn Bridge Park ended. Near the waterfront and along the side of the Carousel Pavilion is the long wide boardwalk to bring coherence to the park as a whole. It connects between the different terrains and provides a great lookout to the city drawing all types of people, unlike the other 'furnitures' within the park, that were at times limited to one group. The boardwalk completes the initial entrance of the beach and serves to complete the carnival theme brought on by the carousel. It allows a wooden floorscape to accompany skateboarders and joggers, and promotes sustainability, as dried wood does not erode away easily as concrete would from water cracking.
Behaviors - extended
I noticed on the concrete steps in Section B, during the lunchtime and afternoons, people came to eat their food. Specifically it was on the third step that they more often sat, as this was the longest step, people may have felt more comfortable with a bit of room to eat their food. Also those who sat on the concrete steps were looking onto the activity at the carousel and enjoying people-watching. They were also looking at the boardwalk and the people looking out to the city. (see the next picture). I also noticed in Section B, the pet owners and their pets were isolated from rest of the park activity since their area was limited to the foot of the bridge. As a result, pet owners came in one area and left without engaging with the rest of the park.
The benches on the gravel near the entrance of Section A were mostly avoided because it lacked enclosure and left those sitting there open to be looked on by others. The age groups on a given visit highlighted 20 year-olds' as the most common age group, followed by 60 year-olds'. With the Galapagos Art Space right outside the park (see Fig. 1.4), young 20 year-olds' would be common to the park and with high-rises like Walentas Apartments, older groups taking their children to the carousel would be common.
The Brooklyn Bridge Park Value
The observed sexes were mostly female, a 3:1 ratio, while there might not be a definitive explanation one could make an inferred conclusion from this data. Since females are more nurturing and caring, they might be in a position to be the stay-at-home mom and as a result very likely to bring their children to the park because of the proximity of many apartments to the park.
The park promotes Social value as it is inviting to all age groups with its different features, and gives them the opportunity to interact by placing the many features very close to each other. Those with pets have the dog area. Children and parents are welcome in the playground. Couples can have their weddings by the waterfront, and have room inside the Galapagos Art Space for other functions. The carousel is inviting to children of younger age groups, the tobacco warehouse allows events and exhibits, and summer movie nights in the park bring together many of the residents in the DUMBO neighborhood. We see an emphasis on economic value, with local restaurants opposite the Galapagos Art Space, such as Bubby's Brooklyn; an expensive and easily crowded restaurant. Bookstores and Starbucks are also located right outside the park. We can see the use value with the natural elements of nature that are used as furniture. People sit on the slabs of rocks along the shores and they are photogenic objects for photography and film. The carousel in the park is designed so that it shields riders from the elements and admits sunshine. The carousel’s casing creates a bright-lit area when it is cold, allows views of the bridges, Manhattan and the traffic on the water. Two main lawns of the park are kept dog free, irrigated and maintained by the park; this allows people to read books, exercise and other activities without worrying about the cleanliness of the lawn. Another fine example of the use value is the tobacco warehouse, the historic building within the park that has been preserved and maintained for holding public exhibits and performances. Different floorscapes (Cobblestone, Gravel, Asphalt, Grass, Rocks) – allow different activities to take place. Cobblestone – allows Main St. to be used all year around because of high durability, Gravel – great for walking and biking, Grass – to lie on/play on, Rocks – as “natural chairs”. The final value seen in the park would be the environmental value. Numerous trashcans specifically for paper, glasses, cans and other materials keep the environment free of pollutants. Also there are many bird nests in the park because of the two bridges around the park which provide nesting grounds for the birds. The park management understands their significance and role in the habitat and works to educate the public through its print material (brochure, website etc.) about the different species of birds in the DUMBO area and their protection. The Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy Group has also imported rocks onto the waterfront to prevent erosion of the land and used gravel in Section A to help the local habitat. Local habitat such as clams and crabs are able to strive in the gravel because it helps them hide from their natural predators. The choice to use cobblestone on Main Street (see Figure 1.4) also prevents erosion of land to the East River and prevents the street from getting muddy in wet weather or dusty in dry weather. They also do not crack under pressure because they have movable pavings. The park's maintenance of green space and trees in the area help these trees grow and reproduce successfully with local species and create new variants of trees in the area.
Brooklyn Bridge Park is distinct from many other parks because of its identity as a waterfront destination. The park is a great getaway from the city, it is relaxing and quiet, and yet allows one to soak in the beauty of the city, right across the East River. The park's location puts it at a disadvantage for much design, as it is constrained by neighboring plots and properties that are constantly growing upwards. Brooklyn Bridge Park needs to reinvent its identity over time to stay relevant with the local residents so that neighboring developments will not overshadow the park’s open-air atmosphere. The different features of the park cater to many different groups, that even "Section A" and "Section B" can functionally serve two different purposes. Thus, it is important that the Brooklyn Bridge Conservancy Group does not plan to add more furniture just to attract visitors but do so with a vision for a theme.
While the process of giving the park a facelift may not be the best thing to do, adding certain features may help increase the usability. By adding food vendors at strategic locations (near Jane's Carousel, Granite steps in Section B, Children's Playground), it will help increase the time spent by each individual, by making them more comfortable. There needs to be more porta-potties. Currently there is only one porta-potty, which is insufficient for a park that serves the whole DUMBO neighborhood. Maintenance of certain overlooked areas in the park is very important (as seen in the two pictures below).
Several elements of the park like the benches on the beach and certain underdeveloped areas of the park need to change. Just outside Jane's Carousel, this once full-beautiful pond of water now has become swampy and dirty. As the season progresses, it diminishes the aesthetic beauty and does not fit in with the concrete and gravel of the area. In its place should be concrete terrain, to create a place where benches could be, right outside the carousel for comfort. Near the dog-area in Section B, there is a lot of underdeveloped area that can potentially serve as locations for vendors (as seen in the photo to the left). In the wintertime, if the park added an ice rink it would also increase the number of residents who would come. For the summer, a Floating +Pool would allow for more interaction with the park. This type of pool is embeddable within the East River and can purify itself with three layers of membranes. It can make the park more attractive, useable and increase the overall visitor traffic. Other minor improvements include adding binoculars on the boardwalk to see into the city, and keeping the carousel open for longer hours.
Coxworth, Ben. "Floating Pool Would Let New Yorkers Swim in the River." Gizmag | New and Emerging Technology News. Gizmag, 23 June 2011. Web. 16 Dec. 2011. <http://www.gizmag.com/plus-floating-swimming-pool-in-nyc-river/19010/>.
This is a story of New York's next great park: Brooklyn Bridge Park.
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Soman, Stanley. "Brooklyn Bridge Park."ExpertsColumn on HubPages. HubPages, 22 Dec. 2011. Web. 28 Dec. 2012(Replace this date with your date of access). <http://expertscolumn.hubpages.com/hub/Brooklyn-Bridge-Park>.
Soman, S. (2011, December 22). Brooklyn bridge park. ExpertsColumn on HubPages. Retrieved December 28, 2012(Replace this date with your date of access), from http://expertscolumn.hubpages.com/hub/Brooklyn-Bridge-Park