Hugging a bend in the Prospect Expressway in South Slope, Brooklyn are a series of zig-zagging pocket parks, mostly hidden behind private row houses and accessed via only a few narrow entrances. They were planned during the construction of the sunken highway in the 1950s, out of condemned land that was too odd-shaped or inaccessible to remain as residential plots.
The parks are a sort of neighborhood secret, sparsely attended on a sunny Saturday
The South Slope pocket parks include a dog run, a basketball court, playground, and a couple community gardens. But mostly they’re paved walkways interspersed with fenced-in flower plots. On a recent sunny Saturday afternoon, they were sparsely attended, except for some dog walkers, a couple of parents playing with their kids and a small troop of homeless men, belongings and recyclables in tow.
Detective Joseph Mayrose Park is the largest of the hidden South Slope pocket parks
Private backyards can be plainly viewed through chain link fencing in most of the parks
Prospect Expressway forms the western terminus of New York State Route 27, a 120-mile long series of highways connecting Brooklyn with Montauk in the east. The 2.1-mile long expressway was first envisioned by Robert Moses in the 1940s as a way to connect Ocean Parkway and South Brooklyn with the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel to Manhattan. Initial plans called for the stretch to be lined with parks. In addition to being chairman of the Triborough Bridge & Tunnel Authority, Moses was, after all, also Commissioner of Parks.
Prospect Expressway was built in the 1950s by planning czar Robert Moses
There are now 15 parks along the expressway’s length, totaling just under seven acres. Most of these are clustered along the eastern and western ends of the expressway, in plain view of drivers and passersby. But the pocket parks around the segment’s middle section are really only noticeable if you look out for them. The sound of traffic whizzing by in the trench below isn’t quite deafening, but it’s certainly noticeable. A chain link fence is usually all that separates the parks from neighboring homes’ backyards, where hanging laundry and elaborate outdoor dining sets can be spied.
Many of the pocket parks are identified by only a small entrance sign
The parks’ neighbors and regulars probably appreciate the inconspicuousness, but something about their uneven, triangular shape and the gaping channel of the expressway beg for something grander. Joining the parks via a deck over the expressway isn’t an entirely unheard-of concept. In Dallas, Klyde Warren Park, a five-acre greenway built over an eight-lane recessed freeway, opened in 2012. A cap park is planned for a portion of the Hollywood Freeway in Los Angeles, with groundbreaking expected within a couple years. Closer to home, Carl Shurz Park on the Upper East Side sits on a deck above FDR Drive (also built by Robert Moses), though in that case the new thoroughfare was dug under the already existing park.
Homeless men make up some of the park’s few visitors
Highway decking is obviously expensive (the Los Angeles plan is estimated to cost upwards of $1 billion) and parks might not be considered the most valuable use of such expensive reclaimed land. But both the Dallas and the Los Angeles plans take advantage of public-private partnerships. In the case of the Hollywood park, a hotel is planned for a portion of the deck to help offset ongoing operating and maintenance costs.
The South Slope Dog Run is one of the small, triangular pocket parks in the chain
Of course Hollywood and downtown Dallas are a far cry from leafy, low-slung South Slope. Surely the locals appreciate their parks small and hidden, even if there is a roaring, belching highway snaking through them.
Most of the park acreage is dedicated to walkways and flower plots
The expressway is a strong presence in the park, both visually and aurally
Next, check out the 10 Smallest Parks in Manhattan.