PARKING IN DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN and the surrounding brownstone neighborhoods has been an insoluble problem that worsens every year. But in a small corner of the civic center plot where the state Supreme Courthouse was built more than half a century ago, several dozen cars have been taken off the street, freeing up spaces for residents and shoppers who support the local economy. Ironically and illogically, an attack has been launched against the use of these spaces as parking for judges in the adjacent state Supreme Court.
The irony comes from the historical placement of the entire footprint — courthouse and surrounding plaza space — into the city’s Parks Department when the property was acquired following condemnation. The courthouse building at 360 Adams St. was designed with a main entrance through the Montague and Court Street side, via a plaza maintained by the Parks Department. Through the years, the plaza has provided open space for a potentially grand entrance to a sadly nondescript piece of architecture. But it was only when then-Administrative Judge MICHAEL PESCE and Supreme Court Justice ABRAHAM GERGES pushed for improvements some 15 years ago that the plaza became greener — more trees, gardens and statuary.
Now, ironically, Abe Gerges sits as the administrative judge in the same courthouse, being assailed by unreasonable critics who say the small parking lot for judges should be “reclaimed as grass and trees.” But it never was, nor was it intended to be, grass or dirt. (There ARE trees a fine grove of mature trees, in fact.)
Photographs of the site going back more than 50 years show that it was always an appendage of the court. Indeed, when New York State took over full financial responsibility of funding the state Supreme Court in the mid-1970s, part of the agreements between city and state made clear that no existing aspects of the court system and physical plants would be diminished. This agreement leads into another sad irony: If city officials bow to extremist political pressure and take the parking away from the judiciary, there could be a lawsuit on behalf of the state court — a wasteful, expensive exercise. It is illogical not to recognize that the cars used by judiciary and other criminal justice officials (as well as students at Brooklyn Law School, now that they are permitted to use the lot on evenings and weekends) could be trolling local streets, using their legal permits to take public parking spaces. Don’t forget that the administration of justice and its affiliated services are the biggest “industry” and employer in Downtown Brooklyn. Maybe the small and vocal angry citizenry should just relax on this one. Be thankful that huge plot of land making up the courthouse and plaza was not assigned to some other agency, like transit, instead of parks so many years ago. The entire plaza might have been parking.
And by the way, when focusing on the plaza, use a little common sense: take a look at the existing open, grassy, tree-lined spaces. Note the huge, refreshing flower garden between the courthouse and Borough Hall. These natural, green and colorful amenities, interspersed with ample benches for the public, improve the plaza immensely. On quiet days they actually dominate the scene. On busy days, these park amenities even make up for other practical intrusions, like a subway entrance with a huge wheelchair access structure, or the influx of television crews and their trucks when a courthouse case becomes hot news. And don’t forget those outdoor markets, selling, yes, some farm products, but often an assortment of miscellany that ain’t necessarily green.
Let’s be thankful for the balance in this present marriage of government buildings and a public space that has, in recent years, protected and nourished its flower beds and trees — even the trees in that parking corner.