Drawing a Line


Nelson Byrd Woltz’s Naval Cemetery Landscape in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Courtesy NBWLA

The Brooklyn Greenway Initiative (BGI), a non-profit working to unify Brooklyn’s waterfront with a continuous 14-mile greenway, continues to make strides. The organization’s co-founders, Milton Puryear, Meg Fellerath, and Bian McCormick, are busy cutting ribbons from Bayview to Greenpoint. Soon a new section of the greenway will be unveiled on Van Brunt Street in the Columbia Waterfront Neighborhood, the Naval Cemetery Landscape in the Navy Yard is nearing site preparation, and concepts for large nodal parks are being shopped around.

The BGI is a 21st century model for how to develop flood-prone zones of cities under unified guiding principles. With the aid of DOT and consultation from the Regional Plan Association, BGI is able to approach the disjointed, irregular edge from a planning perspective, setting up the framework for park development and a network of open spaces. As the Greenway continues to weave its way along coastal Brooklyn, so too will opportunities for park development, storm surge protection, and green infrastructure.


Just south of Newtown Creek, West Street starts to unfold. Past the intertwined Ailanthus trees and rusty chain-link fences there is an ominous desolation in the canyon of empty factory warehouses. DOT recently secured $10 million for a capital project on West Street in order to address stormwater issues. The cross section of West Street reveals the design’s ability to retain initial stormwater and infiltrate runoff prior to its surface route to the East River, preventing it from entering the combined sewer system.

“We are in the midst of creating stormwater design guidelines for 14 of the 23 greenway capital projects,” said Milton Puryear of BGI. These will include surge and flood protection in some areas as well as green and gray infrastructure. “Our goal is to remove sub-watersheds along the greenway from the combined sewer system.”

A section of the greenway along Columbia Street.
Courtesy BGI

Kent Avenue reveals the potential of an effective greenway; where parked cars delineate motor traffic from greenway traffic, cyclist and pedestrians are prevalent and buildings are increasingly occupied. However, as you round Wallabout Channel to the east of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, you once again feel trapped in Brooklyn’s post-industrial margin between the expressway and weedy lots. BGI officials know this and they have a capital project in the works to ameliorate the issue. The eastern portion of the Navy Yard will soon be under construction to develop a passive recreation zone.

One of BGI’s capital projects, the Naval Cemetery Landscape, has secured $1 million in funding from the TKF Foundation, a non-profit devoted to the development of sacred urban spaces, and $800,000 from the City Council. Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects are creating a landscape that will shift in plant form with time, just as the program of the site has shifted from farm to hospital to cemetery. As site preparation and contract documentation begin on that project, BGI is on to the next: Williamsburg Bridge Park and Columbia Park.

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