Today marks the 134th year since the Brooklyn Bridge officially opened on May 24, 1883. In honor of this special occasion, we spoke with Joanne Witty, attorney, environmentalist and co-author of the book, Brooklyn Bridge Park: A Dying Waterfront Transformed, who played an instrumental role in the creation of the surrounding green space.
As the former president of the Local Development Corporation that developed the park’s master plan, Witty witnessed the transformation of the waterfront site from a desolate area to a thriving attraction that serves both the community and visiting tourists alike. The process, as she reveals in an interview, has not “been easy.” The 85-acre waterfront park “reflects the multitude of hands and minds that were applied to the creation. It is not precisely the park that any one person would have made, nor could it be,” she writes in her book, co-authored with Henrik Krogius.
Here, she shares unforeseen challenges, insider details and surprising secrets about the process of creating what is now regarded as one of the largest and most significant public projects to be built in New York City.
Also make sure to join us for our Secrets of the Brooklyn Bridge Walking Tour, which will delve into the epic origin behind this iconic New York City span. We’ll discover Brooklyn Bridge’s many secrets, including its old Cold War fall out shelter, its love locks, the Russian fur vaults and the bridge jumper survivor’s support group.
1. The Piers at Brooklyn Bridge Park Could Have Been Disposed
Although the Brooklyn waterfront once thrived as a port and trading post, maritime activity declined as the twentieth century progressed. By the mid-1980s, the ships were gone and the piers, which the Port Authority had acquired from the New York Dock Company, were under utilized.
In response to the waning activity, the Port Authority decided to sell its land to private developers, which would be set aside for commercial and real estate projects like high-rise housing and parking lots: “…the piers were a liability, an added cost, without prospect of significant continuing revenue,” writes Witty.
However, public out cry arose against these plans, leading to the establishment of not-for-profit organization Friends of Fulton Ferry Landing (now Brooklyn Bridge Park Coalition), which advocated for the creation of a park. Although it would take years of negotiation, the Port of Authority finally agreed to allow its property to be developed as self-sustaining public parkland in 2000.