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Brooklyn Bridge Park History

What is now an 85‐acre sustainable park stretching 1.3 miles along Brooklyn’s East River waterfront has a rich and storied past.

Waterfront History

The area that is today Brooklyn Bridge Park was once a site of bustling commerce, a transportation terminal, an entry point for immigrants, an artistic and activist center, and finally, a world-class park visited by millions every year.

Beginning in the mid-1600s, boats and small ferries provided transportation along the river and supported a growing trade economy. Launched in 1814, Robert Fulton’s steam powered Fulton Ferry Company revolutionized travel and trade between Brooklyn and Manhattan. Railroad lines were installed at the Fulton Ferry Landing in the 1850s followed by construction of massive brick warehouses, most notably the Empire Stores warehouse. Smaller storage warehouses were built alongside the ferry landings and small “finger piers” jutted out from the land. The opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883 and the Manhattan Bridge in 1909 signaled the end of the ferry trade and a period of neglect of the Brooklyn waterfront. In the 1950s the construction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the replacement of the narrow finger piers with wider piers able to accommodate larger ships and cargo revitalized the area. However, trade technology and transportation advanced quickly, and by the 1970s, much of the Brooklyn waterfront was largely barren, decrepit, and abandoned. In 1984, the Port Authority announced plans to sell the piers for commercial development, which caused a reevaluation of the site’s value as a public resource and sparked a community movement to reclaim the waterfront area for public use.

To learn more about the dynamic history of the Brooklyn waterfront, visit Brooklyn Waterfront History, a joint project between Brooklyn Bridge Park and The Center for Brooklyn History. The site delves into the history, ecology, and sustainability of the waterfront. Visitors can access detailed information on points of interest, explore thematic tours, and examine The Center for Brooklyn History’s collection of related historical documents.

Planning Brooklyn Bridge Park

Brooklyn Bridge Park is the result of extensive planning and community advocacy for many decades.

After the close of its cargo operations in 1984, the Port Authority announced plans to sell the piers for commercial development. This caused a reevaluation of the site’s value as a public resource and generated a decades-long citizens’ movement dedicated to mobilizing public support for a park. Initiated by local community residents and carried forward by the Brooklyn Bridge Park Coalition (now the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy), this grassroots campaign enlisted the endorsement and financial commitment of local, city, and state officials to the park concept.

In 1998 the Downtown Brooklyn Waterfront Local Development Corporation was created to undertake a public planning process for what would become Brooklyn Bridge Park. The result was the September 2000 Illustrative Master Plan, which presented a conceptual framework for the waterfront park.

On May 2, 2002, Governor George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) dedicating State and City funding for park construction and the creation of Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation (BBPDC) to oversee its design and construction. An important mandate of this agreement is that the Park is required to be financially self-sufficient in its ongoing maintenance and operations. The long-term funding is provided by revenue-producing development and is a required component of the Park project. The Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy transformed its mission from advocacy to support and is now the primary public programming partner for the Park.

In 2010, Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation became Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, the non-profit organization that plans, builds, maintains, and operates Brooklyn Bridge Park. The mission of Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation is to provide an exceptional public space that connects people, nature, and the waterfront through inclusive, innovative, and sustainable management, and design.

In 2004, Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation hired the landscape architecture team of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates to lead an intensive planning process and prepared a master plan for Brooklyn Bridge Park. In 2005, the Master Plan was released, the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was completed, and the General Project Plan was approved (and subsequently modified in 2006 and 2010). Ground was broken on the park in February 2008. The first section of parkland opened to the public at Pier 1 in 2010 and spaces have opened incrementally on the following timeline:

2010: Pier 1, Pier 6 playgrounds

2011: Empire Fulton Ferry, Jane’s Carousel

2012: Pier 5, Picnic Peninsula

2013: Squibb Park & Bridge, Pier 4 Beach

2014: Pier 2

2015: Pier 6, John Street, and redesigned Main Street

2017: Pier 5 Uplands

2018: Pier 3

2020: Pier 2 Uplands

2021: Emily Roebling Plaza

Designing Brooklyn Bridge Park

Brooklyn Bridge Park extends 1.3 miles along the East River on a defunct cargo shipping and storage complex. The ambitious park design sought to transform this environmentally hostile site into a thriving civic landscape while preserving the dramatic experience of the industrial waterfront. This site also presented excellent opportunities including its adjacency to two thriving residential communities and its unparalleled viewsheds to the fabled Lower Manhattan skyline.

Brooklyn Bridge Park’s lush lawns, young trees and beautiful flowers have created a robust landscape and brought nature to this former industrial site. Public access to the long, narrow site was enabled by “urban junctions,” neighborhood parks at key entry points that transition between the park and adjacent residential communities. These entry parks host program such as dog runs, civic lawns and playgrounds, which foster community stewardship and the safety that comes with constant occupation.

Brooklyn Bridge Park introduces variety to a previously monofunctional industrial waterfront. Unlike other waterfront parks, where visitors remain perched above the water, Brooklyn Bridge Park encourages close interaction with the water. The park’s diverse edge types reveal the dynamic nature of New York Harbor. Salt marshes, boat ramps, beaches, and waterfront promenades provide visitors with a unique opportunity to interact with the water.

Sustainability at Brooklyn Bridge Park is driven by the concept of “structural economy”—the careful coordination of program and existing structural conditions. A stormwater recycling system can satisfy 70 percent of the Park’s irrigation needs, and the Park makes extensive use of salvaged wood, reclaimed granite from the Willis Avenue and Roosevelt Island Bridges, and fill salvaged from the MTA’s East Side Access project. The structural “skeleton” of some pier sheds were left intact to define play areas, provide shelter, and support lighting and sport nets.

10 Years of Brooklyn Bridge Park

Future Park

Pier 1 Entrance Renovation, Spring 2023 – Summer 2024

After 10 years of Park use, the entrance to Brooklyn Bridge Park at Pier 1 does not serve the millions of summer visitors with the grandeur it deserves. After engaging with consultants and the Park’s original designers, a plan to renovate the Pier 1 entrance has begun. The building that currently exists at the Pier 1 Entrance will be redesigned and modified to include public restrooms.

Below are conceptual drawings only. After an architect is contracted, actual building renderings will be released.

A conceptual drawing of the concession and public restroom building at the Pier 1 Entrance


The proposed redesign of the Pier 1 Entrance

Squibb Park Pool: 

Brooklyn Bridge Park Announces Plans to Build a Permanent Pool. Press Release, June 1, 2018. 

Community Design Workshop: Pool Talks. September 2018


Park Awards

  • Park Awards

      NYCxDESIGN Award for Outdoor Projects, MVVA, Inc. for Brooklyn Bridge Park
      AIANY Architecture Honor Award, Marvel Architects for St. Ann’s Warehouse
      ULI New York Global Awards for Excellence, Excellence in Institutional Development, Marvel Architects for St. Ann’s Warehouse
      MASterworks Award for Best Adaptive Reuse, Marvel Architects for St. Ann’s Warehouse

      American Institute of Architects New York Chapter, Merit Award for Pier 2, Maryann Thompson Architects
      City Parks Alliance, Frontline Park for January 2015
      The Architect’s Newspaper, Best of Design Awards, Marvel Architects for St. Ann’s Warehouse
      Pixel Awards, Best Responsive Website for by Kettle

      Municipal Art Society’s MASterworks Award for Best Urban Landscape, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., Brooklyn Bridge Park
      American Planning Association’s National Planning Excellence Award for Urban Design
      American Society of Landscape Architects New York Chapter Design Award, Merit Award for Pier 5, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.
      Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation’s Built by Women NYC Competition
      Awwwards, Honorable Mention for Best Website for by Kettle

      Building Brooklyn Award, Landscape and Open Space Award for Pier 5
      International Downtown Association’s Merit Award for Public Space
      American Society of Landscape Architects, New York Chapter, President’s Dinner Honoree,Regina Myer, President of Brooklyn Bridge Park
      International Furnishings and Design Association’s Big Apple Award, Regina Myer, President of Brooklyn Bridge Park
      Waterfront Center’s Honor Award for Park/Recreation Project
      New York Magazine’s Best Park – Pier 5

      New York Observer’s Designer Dozen: New York’s Best New Architecture
      Public Design Commission Award for Excellence in Design, Squibb Park Bridge
      Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize – New York City, Brooklyn Bridge Park demonstration project
      Travel + Leisure’s Design Awards, Best Public Space – Jane’s Carousel Pavilion

      American Institute of Architects New York State Community Development Award
      American Planning Association New York Metro Chapter William H. White Award
      Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence Silver Medal
      Travel + Leisure’s World’s Coolest New Tourist Attractions
      New York Magazine’s Best of New York, Best Riverfront Run
      American Institute of Architects New York Chapter Urban Design Honor Award – Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.

      Municipal Art Society’s Brendan Gill Prize, Michel Van Valkenburgh, Brooklyn Bridge Park
      Engineering News-Record’s Best of the Best Award for Landscaping/Urban Planning
      The Wall Street Journal’s The Best of Architecture, Julie V. Iovine
      New Yorker Magazine’s First Among Paul Goldberger’s Top Ten Architecture Events
      New York Observer’s #3 of New York’s Most Eye-Popping Buildings of the Year
      Village Voice Best of Awards, Best New Waterfront Park with Echoes of the Past
      New York Construction Magazine’s (McGraw-Hill Construction) Landscaping/Urban Planning Project of the Year – Skanska USA Building, Inc.
      National Park Service’s Designing the Parks Honor Award for Master Plan –Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.
      Municipal Art Society’s Annual Honor Award
      New York Magazine’s Best of 19 Top Playgrounds – Pier 6

      Waterfront Center’s Honor Award for Comprehensive Waterfront Plans
      American Society of Landscape Architects Honor Award for Analysis & Planning
      New York Magazine’s Best Playground – Main Street

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