“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills and we shall never surrender” – Winston Churchill.
Is it time for Brooklyn Heights to threaten financial repercussions to Brooklyn Bridge Park for refusing to support an alternate plan on the BQE re-route?
Since the turn of the new century, as Downtown Brooklyn has been transformed, historic Brooklyn Heights has been under attack. Added to the invasion of the curb-snatchers (filming companies) came suffocating heavy through- traffic, relentless renovation that follows higher property values, and finally, a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’– an over-scaled development attaching itself to a park. It’s a totally unique and world-famous park; it’s a huge treasure to New York and the world. But the aggressive funding structure tied to real estate and perils of over-development that follow have had a negative impact on their largely-supportive neighbors up the hill. Those projects and the minions who manage them for the city have neither the inclination nor the accountability to pay homage to a lofty, historic neighborhood which gave birth to the concept of a park and laid the groundwork to make it happen.
The charming 19th-century landmark scale of Brooklyn Heights, also totally unique, does truly create a collective persona of concerned, protective viewpoints. For those readers unaware, what is now Brooklyn Bridge Park would be a cluster of Port Authority high-rise developments if Brooklyn Heights watchdogs had not interceded.
That persona, organized under the aegis of the Brooklyn Heights association in other eras, made priceless contributions:
- Successfully fought the ‘Hicks Street trench’ from decimating historic blocks of Brooklyn Heights, thus creating the cantilevered BQE and Promenade along the Heights’ western bluff;
- Created the first landmark district;
- Fought in the 1970s to protect Fulton Ferry Landing and prevent Empire Stores from becoming the ‘meat market to the city ‘…thus creating the options later to build a DUMBO, to create a Brooklyn Bridge Park, and to save a waterfront. The people who accomplished such huge civic legacies were firmly “of Brooklyn Heights.” Their sensibilities and motivations were guided by the peer pressure, good will and support of neighbors who felt protective of their ‘hometown sense of place.’
That sense of place is being threatened today. Very real health issues, diminution of property values, and outright ugly, thoughtless destruction of an urban treasure would be forced on this same Brooklyn Heights unless the neighbors work together and remember those words from Winston Churchill.
Those words were part of a speech Churchill delivered in the United Kingdom to Parliament in June 1940, when Hitler was knocking on Britain’s door.
As a reminder: about the same period those words were delivered by Churchill across the Atlantic, here in Brooklyn, Robert Moses was being discouraged from building a bridge with his name on it from Red Hook to the Battery of lower Manhattan. The US government feared it would be a bombing target that would close New York Harbor if hit.
Also, being discussed in that period of history was a sunken highway along Hicks Street. Moses was prepared to condemn and destroy a swath of Brooklyn Heights for direct access to the Brooklyn Bridge.
Heights interests fought for and won an alternate route: the cantilevered highway along the western bluff of the Heights and placated Moses somewhat with this creative compromise: a public Esplanade which, though truncating many private Heights backyards, would provide one of the world’s most celebrated public vistas.
Again, this was collective sensibilities and resolve of the Brooklyn Heights persona, fighting for hometown sense of place. The neighborhood has not taken its Promenade for granted. Volunteers and contributions have maintained the Promenade Gardens for many years. Hundreds of thousands of tourists and visitors come each year and return home with photos and memories of a special place.
And note well: the man-made construction of the Promenade, the man-made landmark laws that try to protect it are but latter-day homage to an ancient gift from God: that rare bluff on the western edge of Brooklyn Heights, overlooking New York harbor. It was formed during the ice age. City employees, from the Mayor down to his Brooklyn Bridge Park minions, should be reminded not to be so dismissive of our monument to that bluff.
Now, again, comes the unthinkable modest proposal, in the form of a question:
Is it time for Brooklyn Heights to threaten financial repercussions on Brooklyn Bridge Park for refusing to support an alternate plan on the BQE re-route?
Many in Brooklyn Heights have fears about an unresolved conflict between preservationists who want to protect the unique historic landmark aspects of Brooklyn Heights and the corporation running Brooklyn Bridge Park. These critics note that the Park Corporation, which has been responsible for supporting the Mayor’s contributors who were allowed to violate height and bulk restrictions at both ends of the park, is different from the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, which runs programs in the park.
The Conservancy counts on the support and goodwill of Brooklyn Heights residents for contributions to support park programming. But the Park Corporation and the Mayor do not need Brooklyn Heights and appear to wish it would go away.
Therefore, it follows that Heights critics of the Park Corporation are suspicious of the new construction projects along the edge of Furman Street that proceed apace, despite promises by the Department of Transportation that alternative routes will be considered. It appears the Park Corp. will not recognize publicly the existence of an alternate route that could involve park property west of Furman Street.
If such is the case, critics wonder if the Mayor’s office has already assured the Park Corp. that DOT, while it may give lip service to an alternate plan, will, in the end, go back to the original Highway in the Sky, which destroys the Promenade, the Promenade Gardens, and even some Heights buildings along the route. After all, considerable money had been spent to make that conclusive animated video shown to public meetings, when the plan first emerged to create shock and awe in Brooklyn Heights.
As Brooklyn Heights groups prepare to fight the Highway In the Sky, some of the most determined opponents of the original DOT plan have remained neutral or even supportive of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy—the programming arm that works so hard to serve a constituency much broader than the neighbors up the hill in Brooklyn Heights. But a more aggressive stance is being taken by some opponents who recognize that to take a stand against the Park Corp., which is seen as a bully that is brazenly negligent of proper respect for the unique historical character of Brooklyn Heights, the tax-paying citizens of the Heights, and particularly property owners, should withhold support of the Conservancy until the Park Corp. comes round to give Brooklyn Heights proper respect. They recognize that the Park Corp., guided by the Mayor, has been a bully, brazenly negligent of the unique historical value of Brooklyn Heights. And while no savvy voter in Brooklyn Heights expects the Mayor to care, Heights opponents of the original DOT plan should realize they must fight back by withholding support of the Park Conservancy, if necessary, hoping that it might possibly register with the administration and the Mayor’s minions who run the Park Corp.
Still, distinguished leadership in Brooklyn Heights, such as the Brooklyn Heights Association, would never advocate such a strategy—that is, to withhold support of Brooklyn Bridge Park until the Park’s official stance is in line with an alternative plan. But they would be wrong. The Park Corp. and the Mayor have a history of being unreasonably cruel to Brooklyn Heights.
That rare Promenade, one of the most glorious vantage points in all of New York, is in real danger of being destroyed and will likely never have an adequate replacement. Churchill, again, provides the final thought:
“We shall fight in the meeting halls, we shall fight in the courtrooms, we shall fight with our checkbooks…. We shall never surrender.”