Michael Porto is one of those people whose involvement with the park is somewhat limitless. He’s so dedicated to the work we do and the community at large, and has been for years, that the list goes on and on! But we’ll let him tell you all about that below.
What do you do when you’re not in the park?
I am an urban planner and recently joined the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance as Director of Outreach and Planning, responsible for developing and executing MWA’s outreach strategy, and also manage MWA’s Waterfront Edge Design Guidelines project. Prior to MWA, I was a project manager at Sam Schwartz Engineering in the planning and design department.
Please describe what you do for the park
I am a card-carrying member of the Currents, a group of passionate volunteers formed to raise awareness of the park among young professionals. I am proud to mention I was part of its genesis a few years ago and its really great that its evolved into another successful initiative led by the Conservancy. Also, I recently became a member of the park’s Community Advisory Council, as the representative for the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative.
How did you become interested in partnering with the Conservancy?
My original interaction with the park was through my previous position at Sam Schwartz Engineering. The firm worked on a few different projects related to the park and I would attend various events led by the Conservancy. I became friendly with the staff and wanted to assist in creating an energy and awareness among our peers who had similar civic-minded interests. The park began its construction around the same time I moved to Brooklyn and like many other engaged citizens, there was an excitement around its phased openings. I remember the amazing public reaction to the Pier 1 temporary pop-up space and knew that the final build-out would be special after seeing the crowds of people checking out this newly created view and experience.
What’s the most exciting or weird discovery you’ve made in or around the park?
I am sure there are many amazing “factoids” about the park but I was always intrigued with the re-use of materials and resources from other projects around the region such as utilizing salvaged stone from the rehabilitation of the Roosevelt Island Bridge for the “Granite Prospect” or the use of fill from the MTA’s East Side Access mega-project for Pier 1. Recycling materials for construction of the park is part of its effort to be a more sustainable park.
What’s an interesting fact you’ve learned about Brooklyn or the park since you started collaborating with us?
The park has begun to pilot new structures to increase the nearshore ecology and habitat with the use of man-made “tidal pools” along the edge of the waterfront. A recent “Winter Talk,” which I attended, covered this and other innovative methods to preserve and enhance marine life in urban waterfronts.
What do you like about the park?
I love the park because it engages its visitors in so many different ways without feeling overwhelming. The design of the park and its use of retrofitted piers allows for a multi-functional experience that can serve both active and passive recreation. You can use the park as means to launch a kayak but in another experience you might find yourself laying down on a grassy knoll watching the ships pass by (which I can be seen doing in the summer). There is a sense when you are in the park that the design and programming was thought about very carefully—but the ability to discover something new around a corner is always present.
What motivates you to volunteer with the park?
I think the park has a certain excitement that combines the old and the new, from its status now as an award-winning 21st century park design, to the sense of history and importance you experience gazing at the harbor and the skyline, with the Brooklyn Bridge and Governors Island in the distance. As an urban planner interested in how cities can be more livable, it makes me want to be a part of it in some way— and I get to do that in different ways by serving on the CAC, running or biking through it, or by attending a fun Currents event.
Why is the Brooklyn Greenway initiative important for the community?
The BGI has been a great example of a community-driven project that can really transform New Yorkers experience with the built environment. After many years of advocacy and citizen participation, the Greenway will be a 14-mile landscaped route along the waterfront from Greenpoint to Bay Ridge, and part of it is already constructed in the Park. In addition to it providing an off-street pathway for pedestrians and bikers, it will connect various waterfront parks and open spaces including Brooklyn Bridge Park. As a board member of BGI I am extremely proud to be a part of a growing network of projects such as the Greenway that promotes a more livable city and can provide better sustainable choices for all of us.
Anything else you’d like to share about your experiences in the park or the people you’ve met here?
The programming in the park is fantastic, there really is something for everyone. My only complaint is the summer movies program is actually too popular (I can never get out of work earlier to get a good spot)!