Ideas Competition for Brooklyn’s Grandest Plaza

The Grand Army Plaza Coalition (GAPCo) and The Design Trust for Public Space have launched a website for their "Ideas Competition" called Reinventing Grand Army Plaza, which is intended to generate new visions for the plaza’s design. The jury will award three cash prizes to the winners, and along with other top entries will be exhibited in an outdoor exhibition at Grand Army Plaza later this year.

Grand Army Plaza is New York City’s greatest unrealized asset. Home to powerful architecture, the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch, the elegant Bailey Fountain, the entrance to Frederick Law Olmsted’s greatest park, and a transit hub, the sum of these parts is emphatically less than the whole. Currently an underdeveloped public amenity, the redesign of Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza will invigorate surrounding communities, just as the re-conception of Manhattan’s High Line set off an explosion of activity in West Chelsea.

Top submissions will be exhibited outdoors at Grand Army Plaza in the fall of 2008. Submissions will also inform the program for a new schematic plan for the Plaza, to be created in late 2008 in partnership with the New York City Departments of Parks and Recreation and Transportation.

Tell us what you think about Grand Army Plaza – join the online conversation. For questions about the competition, or to be added to the competition mailing list, send an email to: info@reinventingGAP.org.

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Photo: Ethan Kent.

  • Jonathan

    I think the idea of reinventing Grand Army Plaza is a good one, but can we get some perspective?

    (“Grand Army Plaza is New York City’s greatest unrealized asset.”)

    Please. How about a pedestrianized Broadway from 59th Street to Union Square? Or Vision42? Either one of those projects would take Grand Army Plaza’s lunch money and leave it whimpering and cowering in the corner.

    (“and a transit hub”)
    OK. Two buses that take people to manufacturing districts that no longer exist (B69 and B71), plus the B41 Flatbush Ave bus, plus the West Side IRT. Have you ever tried to get from Williamsburg to Grand Army Plaza on public transportation? Block out the whole day for it, especially on the weekend.

  • While there are many worthy projects, this is one asset that is not being used at all. I am working on my redesign.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (“and a transit hub”) OK. Two buses that take people to manufacturing districts that no longer exist (B69 and B71), plus the B41 Flatbush Ave bus, plus the West Side IRT.)

    The key here is to make Prospect Park West two-way, and extend the B68 (which has frequent service) to GAP, where it would meet the B41 which also has frequent service. The other buses are too infrequent and slow to be useful to most people. But people along the B68 route could take that bus to the library.

  • mork

    That’s a cool diorama. I wish there were little model trolleys running in it.

    (Yes I know it’s really one of Ethan’s plane picture.)

    Jonathan–

    Take the L train to Union Square — it’s 4 more stops to 7th Avenue, which is 2 blocks from GAP.

    (Yes I know sometimes the L train is out for construction.)

  • Jonathan

    Mork, once you’re at Union Square, it’s a lot faster to get to the NYPL’s Mid-Manhattan Library. According to the MTA, a trip using the L and V to Mid-Manhattan takes only 20 minutes from Bedford & N 7th. (Of course, it’s a fantastic and easy bike ride to GAP from Williamsburg, for the two-wheeled among us.)

    Larry, the 68 runs parallel and a couple short blocks away from the Brighton Line (B/Q) for most of its route. Your bevy of 68/41 riders would do better taking the B to Prospect Park Station and changing for the 41 there, or just going all the way to DeKalb Ave and walking to Fulton Mall.

  • Josh

    After giving it a little thought, one of the simplest things that could be done to make Grand Army Plaza more livable is to toll the Manhattan Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge. I bet you could eliminate a significant amount of traffic trying to get to and from Flatbush Avenue north of GAP if you didn’t encourage people whose most direct route to Manhattan would be the Battery Tunnel to head for those bridges (the most direct way to which is up Flatbush Avenue) instead.

    If you still have the same amount of traffic coming into GAP along Eastern Parkway, away from GAP along Prospect Park West, and both ways along Flatbush, Union Street, Vanderbilt Avenue and the Park Drives, a lot of these issues go away.

    (I came to this conclusion while trying to think of a way to route traffic such that all traffic goes around GAP on Plaza Street, no traffic goes through the Plaza itself, and the Park Drives are closed to through traffic, and realized that this kind of change would only be possible if there were significantly less traffic.)

  • Grand Army Plaza is New York City’s greatest unrealized asset.

    That is a bit hyperbolic, isn’t it?

  • Josh

    And, if congestion pricing goes through and equalizes the fee among the various lower East River crossings (as I understand to be the case, though I could be wrong), I’d be curious to see what effect it would have on traffic volume in and around GAP.

  • Jeffrey Hyman

    re: hyperbole — it is generally agreed that Prospect Park is better designed than Central Park, but “Frederick Law Olmsted’s greatest park?” Guy designed hundreds of parks all over the country and abroad, not to mention the fact that Vaux was the lead designer for Prospect Park.

    But hey, my mom goes up to Underhill to avoid Grand Army Plaza, so I’m all in favor of making it better. And speaking of mom, yes Jonathan, I have gone from Williamsburg to Grand Army Plaza. Walked to about Steuben before the first B61 passed me, then walked all the way from Flushing without seeing a B69. Maybe it makes sense to re-route some buses–I don’t know–but as Fort Greene has rebounded, it sure might make sense to run the B69 a little more frequently than once a half-hour.

  • This is a great idea. Ever since I moved to Brooklyn, I’ve wondered why there was a fountain in the middle of Grand Army Plaza if it was almost impossible to get to it.

    There should be an event to kickoff the re-birth of Grand Army Plaza as a walking and running destination. The most recent Brooklyn Marathon was 1909. Why not have the 100th year anniversary marathon start and end at Grand Army Plaza. It would be so cool to see thousands of people starting and finishing through the famous arch.

    This is what Germany does for the Berlin marathon as runners pass through Brandenburg Gate.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Reviving the Brooklyn Marathon is a good idea. Thanks to the new New York Times free archive, though, I discovered that there was a Brooklyn-to-Seagate Marathon run in 1920 (won by “Frank Zuna, lithe, strong-legged, lusty-lunged son of Bohemia”).

    You might want to clear the spam out of your Yahoo Group, though.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (One of the simplest things that could be done to make Grand Army Plaza more livable is to toll the Manhattan Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge.)

    Agreed, but if the Fidlers and Brodsky’s of the world do not agree, how about extending the sidewalks on Flatubush, allowing parking in both directions on Atlantic, Flatbush and Ocean 24/7, making the bus lane barrier separated, and taking away traffic lanes on those streets? And when traffic backs up, rake in the bucks with ruthless enforcement of blocking the box.

  • Josh

    I’m all for dedicated bus lanes, but with just one bus route running along Flatbush near and along the Park, I’m not sure how much it makes in this particular case.

    I do like the ideas of wider sidewalks, fewer traffic lanes and stricter gridlock enforcement though.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (I’m all for dedicated bus lanes, but with just one bus route running along Flatbush near and along the Park, I’m not sure how much it makes in this particular case.)

    That’s the first or second most heavily traveled and frequent bus route in Brooklyn. The parking issue pits driver against driver, which is why I like it. Atlantic Avenue merchants have long complained about parking not being allowed during rush hours on one side of the street. They say it hurts their business.

  • Josh

    Even though the B41 is a frequent bus route, I don’t think it merits a dedicated lane.

    Now, if they were to add more routes (providing access to more of Councilman Fidler’s district, which I believe is currently the end of the B41, or to other areas that are currently underserved by existing transit options) and extend service into Manhattan (via a dedicated bus lane on the Manhattan Bridge, even), then we’re talking.

    To me, the lack of existing transit options in some areas is one of the more genuine arguments against congestion pricing (as opposed to the false populism of Assemblyman Brodsky) and frequent, direct, fast-moving bus service via an existing corridor (as opposed to rail, which requires substantially more investment) is a good counter to that argument.

  • Of course an auto-free Flatbush Avenue with a restored streetcar line (O.K. we’ll call it “light rail”) could be the centerpiece of a GAP design.

    The B41 bus that operates on Flatbush Avenue from Downtown Brooklyn to Kings Plaza is Brooklyn’s third busiest bus route, falling just behind the Nostrand and Urica bus routes. Most of Brooklyn’s major bus routes were streetcar lines, and toward the end, used modern PCC streamlined streetcars. They were trashed, by Mayor LaGuardia and Robert Moses to make space for cars, producing the nightmare we have today.

    What’s needed is a comprehensive borough-wide plan for improving public transit and reducing car use. Working through Community Consulting, a Brooklyn-based not-for-profit we made a healthy start in this direction a few years agao. It’s time to pick up on this plan.

    ad hoc street improvements, hither and yon, as helfpul as they might be, need a broader planning context, which of course should include very high cordon tolls and free (yes free!) buses and subways.

    Lets fill that gap while we fix the GAP!

  • Michael1

    I’m against having free mass transit. Firstly, if the subways and buses were free, they would be swelling with people, beyond capacity to function well. Right now I only see a few subway lines (4, 5, E for example) having overcrowding problems, but that localized condition could be more widespread if mass transit were free. So I would hold off on that.

    Secondly, vehicular lane reconfiguration of Grand Army Plaza should be a priority. A number of travel lanes can be eliminated altogether, for example a travel lane feeding in Eastern Parkway or lanes feeding into Prospect Park. Grand Army Plaza should be reconfigured firstly to reflect prohibited vehicular access into Prospect Park and to a reduced width of roadway for Eastern Parkway. The southernmost lane of Eastern Parkway, traveling eastbound, is way too close to the sidewalk and that should be addressed.

    Thirdly, Connection between the bike lanes of Prospect Park and Eastern Parkway upon entering Grand Army Plaza should be focused on too. Pedestrian islands on the roadways should be taken advantage of and should be bigger to extend onto the crosswalks. All safety zones (the areas striped off in white) should be pedestrian space, reinforced with steel bollards. Trolleys should not be the main focus in redoing GAP (since a trolley involves revamping the entire Eastern Pkwy or Flatbush Avenue) but it should not be opted out and alternate plans to reflect potential light rail use should be brought upon.

    Tree blitz. Greenery should be planted anywhere possible and the DPR should seriously consider a new policy regarding the community members and greenspace maintenance.

    Signage. A big problem I always have in approaching Grand Army Plaza from the north is trying to figure out the proper lane to be in for either Eastern or Flatbush and better signs, along with stronger pavement markings or roadway bollards, should be implemented.

    That’s all I can think of for now, as you may tell, I’m reluctant to pay $30.

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