How Would You Reinvent Grand Army Plaza?

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This morning officials announced the winners of the "Reinventing Grand Army Plaza" competition, a contest that drew 200+ proposals for transforming the gateway to Prospect Park into a public space worthy of its landmark status. A jury composed mainly of designers, planners and community advocates selected four designs to receive cash prizes, while winnowing the entrants to a field of 30, to be displayed on-site through October 13. Members of the public will be able to vote for their favorites via text message, with results announced on October 8.

After the exhibit, the Design Trust for Public Space and the Grand Army Plaza Coalition, along with NYC DOT and the Parks Department, will participate in a series of public workshops based on the top 30 designs, with the ultimate goal of composing a new plaza master plan.

Prize-winning designs are "Canopy" and "Please Wake Me Up!" (pictured) in a tie for first, "Urban Stripes" was awarded second place, and Brooklyn’s Garrison Architects took third with "A Center for Brooklyn." Unfortunately, not every finalist made a serious attempt to address GAP’s complex traffic issues, which will be essential to creating a lively and inviting public space. On the other hand, the guidelines do indicate that entries "did not have to be realistic."

Have a look at the options for people’s choice and tell us what you think.

  • I like “Please Wake Me Up!” It’s one of the few finalists that actually connects Prospect Park and Grand Army Plaza with a car-free promenade. It also doesn’t simply “hide” the high-speed traffic in the Plaza, but actually calms traffic.

  • Geck

    Prospect on Structure is my pick as a practical and financially viable way to deal with the traffic. Though I would close the park entrance to motor vehicles, or shift it to the East near Eastern Parkway to really keep the entire Western part of the Plaza connected to the Park and car free.

  • Geck

    Oh, and kill the connector to PPW (drivers can use Plaza Street).

  • Sam L

    I liked Urban Stripes the best of the finalists. It was the only one that seemed to handle the Flatbush Avenue traffic realistically while still using the full space. An underground tunnel like Canopy has (I think) would be pretty cool, but is unlikely to happen. Many of the designs simply push all the traffic including Flatbush to the outsides, which seems dangerous, impossible, and would really cut off the space from the surrounding city considering the volume of traffic that would be going around. Please Wake Me Up handles the traffic, but sacrifices all of that outsides space in the process.

    Ideally we want something that can handle the traffic going through the area without creating a dangerous situation, while still integrating all of that space with the park by making walking through it easy, and integrating that space with the surrounding city by placing attractions (like greenmarket) that will draw people in.

    Looks to me like Urban Stripes did that really well.

  • Going over the list of finalists, I’m struck by how unaware I was that there are fourteen lanes of traffic going through that “plaza.” I lived near there for two years, and all I had was this vague sense that the plaza, the library, the museum and Prospect Heights in general were off limits. I had a one-year membership at the Eastern Athletic Club that I used maybe four times. I could never understand why I never went; now it makes more sense.

    As Chris pointed out, it’s kind of funny – and kind of discouraging – how so many of the submissions treat it as a given that the plaza has to have fourteen lanes of traffic. For most of them, the only alternative to the current design that enshrines the traffic is to bury it.

  • i agree with angus.
    obvious question perhaps, but why does there need to be so much traffic accommodation here? Just because this is the ‘hub’ of Brooklyn traffic doesn’t mean it always needs to be, wouldn’t just 2 lanes around the plaza (and no traffic approaching or zooming past the soldiers and sailors arch) be sufficient?
    In truth i doubt there are very many drivers out there who would prefer to go to to see the arch via automobile, especially if there was a safe way to enjoy it via walking or biking.
    I mean think about it, here you have the intersection of some of the most important streets in Brooklyn and some of its most important cultural institutions, any plan should be focused on getting people out of their cars and ‘into the mix’.
    Sure initially it would cause delays but eventually drivers would figure out that this isn’t the quickest way and reroute or reevaluate their trips right?

  • What Gapco and the design trust is doing is great, but I checked out all 30 and what a dissapointment. Few addressed the issue of the traffic (most just decked over or tunneled to solve the problem). Many of the entries did not connect the Arch with the park. Finally, it seemed to me that the redesigns were along the lines of recreation that is great for midtown and downtown areas, but not a huge traffic circle surrounded by residential buildings and a cultural instiutions. Call me simple, but I really wanted to see the dog run, play ground, skate park, safe bike and walking paths. Really connectioning the outer ring with the inner, which few designs really did.

  • I think you can throw out any of the designs that don’t first attempt to solve the traffic problem.

    Personally, I discount any proposal that doesn’t eliminate the circle and replace it with an intersection near the northeast edge of the arch (where Vanderbilt meets Flatbush). You’d still have room for three lanes in either direction running along the northeast side of the arch. The arch should be connected to the park to form a peninsula freely accessible by pedestrians and cyclists without the fear of vehicle traffic. Prospect Park West should be converted to two-way flow.

  • gecko

    Architect James Wine gave a talk some time back about his peers designing monuments for themselves rather that the people they are supposed to serve.

    That’s what a lot of design competitions are about: high concept stuff that will never see the light of day. High concept stuff is great. It expands the possibilities; can provide focus; speaks on a different plane, on a certain elevated level straight to what it is to be human.

    The humdrum chores have to be done too: dealing with the destructiveness of cars in this city and protecting lives. Obviously, life and death is also important with certain practical priorities.

  • A lot of the Grand Army Plaza work is really visionary and transformative, and it all will help people to think about how things can be different.

    The idea of “tunneling up” rather than down, the latter of which would be hugely expensive and maybe impossible given the subway lines, is really interesting.

  • paulb

    I lean toward any plan that joins the plaza to the park. Several did that. I liked Canopy, but are the covered roadways technically and financially practical? Some of the proposals seemed to try to cram too many different little environments into the space. Subdividing and subdividing. I didn’t go for that.

    So I also like Please Wake Me Up, with its big central mall, and the wider green areas outside the roadway, and if it’s not practical to depress/cover the roadway, then squaring it off to slow down the thru traffic seems to me a solution I could live with.

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