Redesign Proposed for a BPC Park, and Brookfield Is Asked to Rethink It

Details of visuals from the presentation to CB1 showing current condition and proposed redesign of the oval park. The plan calls for a layer of native perennials and an evergreen hedge around the park, with two openings onto the lawn rather than the current access all around. New light-colored paving would allow water to drain and help reduce erosion and the gradual sinking of the path. Credit: Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, via The Tribeca Trib

Jun. 09, 2019

Facing community pushback, Brookfield Properties is rethinking newly announced redesign plans for a small but beloved park in Battery Park City.

The real estate giant and operator of Brookfield Place is looking to make changes to Pumphouse Park, the two adjacent public green spaces it operates and maintains in Brookfield Place. One is the enclosed oval lawn with an entrance near the end of Liberty Street; the other is Birch Grove, the shady, tree-and-shrub-filled seating area to the north, also known as the Maze.

On Wednesday, June 5, Molly Bourne of Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects showed Community Board 1’s Battery Park City Committee a proposed solution to what she said were the park’s two big problems: poor drainage leading to erosion and the way people circulate through the two spaces.

At the oval, erosion around the asphalt path is made worse, she said, by people walking across the lawn from all sides. The solution includes encircling the oval with plants and shrubs and a curb, with only four entry points onto the grass. The lawn would also be raised slightly towards the center and the paths pavement would be replaced with light-colored pavers that allow for drainage.

“The planting will prevent people from cutting all the way through,” Bourne said. “They’ll be going around.” It would also catch water and help with drainage, she noted.

But committee members and other residents at the meeting roundly opposed the idea, saying that the plan doesn’t recognize the way that locals use the park.

“Unfettered access is what the community has enjoyed,” said committee chair Tammy Meltzer.

“That’s not what the use of the park has ever been,” committee member Justine Cuccia agreed. “It’s always been an open space.”

“It makes me sad to think of flowers as an obstruction,” said Robert Schneck, another member of the committee. “But it really is an obstruction.”

Although Bourne could not say how much of the lawn would be taken up by the new plantings, residents at the meeting concluded that it would be too much, and one came up with an estimate of her own.

“I look out at the space from my window every day for the past 30 years,” said Gateway Plaza resident Kathy Gupta. “To lose what looks like 20 percent of the park is almost heartbreaking.”

Bourne would redesign the squarish spaces of Birch Grove with circular paths for “more intuitive” circulation. The fixed tables and connected seating would be replaced with moveable chairs and tables that allow for small gatherings.

Again, the committee complained that the proposed design would change the way residents use the park.

“One of the things that happens in the current configuration is that you’ll see families sitting and having lunch under the trees,” said committee member Robin Forst. “People squeezed into the little [proposed] cafe tables are not for families. Those are for people having a coffee at Hudson Eats and wanting to go outside and sit in the shade.”

“It eliminates the semi-private niches that are a dominant feature in the Maze [Birch Grove],” Meltzer said.

Brookfield representatives said work is expected to begin in October and be completed by late spring of next year. But a spokesman for the company later told the Trib in an email that “in July or soon afterward” Brookfield will be returning to the community board “to present how we propose to revise the enhancement plan, incorporating much of the good community feedback.”

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