Return Brooklyn Bridge Spaces Back to the Community, CB1 Says

An area beside the Brooklyn Bridge that Community Board 1 says should be considered for conversion to public open space for recreation and other activities. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Dec. 04, 2020

Brooklyn Banks, the four-acre former skateboarding haven beside the Brooklyn Bridge east of Park Row, is at the center of a push by Community Board 1 to open up more recreation space for youth on the district’s east side.

Closed by the city in 2010 as a staging area for bridge repair, the brick plaza is world-renowned to skateboarders and trick bike riders for its rolling embankment and challenging hardscape. If reopened, the Brooklyn Banks as well as a fenced off space farther east are seen by CB1 as a solution to the need for multi-purpose play space for local kids who have outgrown playgrounds. Both are controlled by the city’s Department of Transportation.

In 2017, Axle Cruysberghs shows how the area called the "big banks" is skated. Video by Steve Rodriguez

“We’re always trying to rack our brains to come up with spaces that might work,” said Paul Goldstein, chair of CB1’s Waterfront, Parks and Cultural Committee, which took up the issue at its November meeting. In a resolution, the board called on city agencies to work with it to help create community space near the bridge.

Leading the effort is CB1 member Rosa Chang, who reached out to allies in the skateboarding community. Their online petition of more than 46,000 signatures calls for preserving the space and reopening it to the public. 

“There is so much potential here and we just don’t have space in our neighborhood for kids to go out and play ball or soccer or bike or skate,” Chang said, adding, “That spaghetti-ness of on-ramps and off-ramps provides rain cover and snow shelter. I see so many possibilities there for our neighborhood.”

The DOT declined an invitation to attend the remote meeting, Goldstein said. In a letter to CB1, Ed Pincar, the agencys Manhattan Borough Commissioner, said the area is projected to be closed for “construction and security purposes” until 2033.  The space, he wrote, provides access and staging for work on DOT’s Brooklyn Bridge rehabilitation contracts…which seek to keep the bridge in a state of good repair. He called the dugout, located along Robert F. Wagner Place, near Water Street, “an essential off-street facility that houses several operational divisions.”

“Needless to say, he’s trying to shut the door as hard as humanly possible,” Goldstein said, after reading the statement at the meeting. “With a response like that, I for one am unwilling to accept what he says.” Goldstein, who lives in the area, said he “rarely” sees vehicles at the dugout other than some trailers that he believes could be moved elsewhere. And Chang insisted that parts of the Brooklyn Banks are mostly used as parking for personal vehicles.

While Pincar’s statement noted that the Brooklyn Banks is closed partially for “security purposes,” a 5th Precinct officer in the meeting said that it hasn’t been evaluated for security because it is closed to the public. “When it comes time to reopen the park the NYPD will do a security assessment of the area,” Officer Rodney Rosada said. “Right now the NYPD doesn’t have to go in there because it’s all fenced off so we don’t know what the vulnerabilities are going to be.” 

One after another, skateboarders who were regulars at the Brooklyn Banks, some as far back as the early 1980s, testified to the site’s venerated ranking among skating sites worldwide, and to the positive impact that skating there had on their lives. But Chang insisted that a reopened Brooklyn Banks could become a flexible space for a variety of activities, well beyond skateboarding. 

“It’s so special but it’s just a dump right now, a parking lot dump,” she said. “It could be so magical. I think it could be absolutely everything.”