Green Light, No!

NYC Parks Department required to rethink controversial redesign of Fort Greene Park

A lawsuit against the NYC Parks Department will require it to conduct further environmental review on a proposal to redesign Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn. (Courtesy NYC Parks)

Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park will live to see another day in its current state. 

After over three years of controversy, the New York Supreme Court has decided that the 30-acre landscape would not be subject to a redesign or the removal of 83 mature trees until a proper environmental impact review is conducted. The lawsuit was brought against the N.Y.C. Parks Department last April, in which the Sierra Club, the City Club of New York, and Friends of Fort Greene Park (FFGP) demanded the court pause the $10.5 million renovation of the park’s northside entrance, which would have effectively destroyed a 1970’s brutalist plaza by landscape architect A. E. Bye, Jr. 

Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in 1868, Fort Greene Park has been renovated three times in its history. The plan put forth by the Parks Department would revamp the northwestern corner on Myrtle Avenue, an area heavily utilized by local residents in a nearby housing development, and knock out Bye’s pathway—a series of mounds reminiscent of graves as AN previously noted—that leads visitors already inside the park to the 150-foot-tall Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument. The leveling of this iconic intervention, according to stakeholders, and the addition of the proposed concrete plaza would replace an existing 13,000-square-feet of green space. 

Cobblestone mounds in a park

Pictured here: Arthur Edwin (A.E.) Bye’s stone-and-grass mounds in July 2017. The mounds have served as gathering spaces, shaded picnic areas, and interactive climbing features since their installation. (Audrey Wachs/AN)

The decision to update the park is part of the Park Department’s Parks Without Borders program, an initiative started in 2015 to upgrade eight city parks with enhanced accessibility and better connectivity to the neighborhoods that surround them, free of fencing. The Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the redesign in late 2017. 

Based on the recent hearing, the Parks Department is now required to conduct a full environmental review before moving forward with the project. A previously released assessment was denounced by Friends of Fort Greene Park, which found out via a Freedom of Information Act request that the initial statement was heavily redacted and excluded comments from a city-hired landscape architect who recommended all trees be kept on-site, except those that were weak or weren’t in keeping with the park’s historic nature. 

“The Parks Department fell short in its responsibilities to be transparent and accountable throughout its Parks Without Borders design process,” said Ling Hsu, president of FFGP, who agrees the northside of the park needs enhancements, but specifically, maintenance repairs and accessibility updates. 

“This park isn’t broken,” she said, “so ‘fixing’ it only means giving it some long-delayed maintenance attention, not the significant redesign the Parks Department has planned.” 

Nick Paolucci, a spokesperson for the city’s law department, told AN in an email that it will continue to work together with Parks to pursue the proposal in full: “The court has delayed important park enhancements such as improved accessibility and other benefits that were supported by the community,” wrote Paolucci. “We disagree with this ruling—the city followed the law and the approvals needed for this type of project. An environmental review was not required. We are reviewing the city’s legal options to continue this important initiative.”

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