Directly underneath the bridge on the Brooklyn side, however, is a massive plot of space that has been used for a variety of industrial purposes, including parking trucks and storing materials.
“It was just sort of a ramshackle ghost town of a place,” said Joseph Vance, a longtime board member of the North Brooklyn Parks Alliance (NBPA).
When the state Department of Transportation (DOT) began designing, planning and building the new Kosciuszko Bridge, they thought about the potential uses for the space underneath, including more open space for north Brooklyn.
According to Vance, state officials decided to work in conjunction with a parks conservancy that could handle programming and maintenance of a new park. In early 2017, they approached NBPA.
“We went and had a meeting with them, and it seemed interesting,” Vance recalled. “We went back and spoke with our board. We decided, let’s see what the community thinks.”
In July 2017, the park alliance organized a community workshop, with roughly 50 attendees. They split participants into tables, each of which was manned by an architect.
They asked for ideas for what the park could be used for, and received a wide range of responses. Some wanted basketball and courts. Others wanted bungee jumping off the bridge, or rock climbing up the piers.
The variety of ideas gave Vance and the rest of the organization the comfort of knowing that community members were interested in activating the space.
“People didn’t seem to be too worried about it being a little bit remote from most of the community,” he said. “They seemed very excited.”
The next step was to create a preliminary design. NBPA applied for, and received, a grant from the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund (GCEF) to hire a firm.
They selected PUBLIC WORK, a Toronto-based urban design and landscape architecture studio that had done a project “exactly like this” in Toronto, Vance said. The Bentway in Toronto is also a linear park under the city’s Gardiner Expressway that became a major cultural attraction.
The alliance also hired HR&A Advisors, a real estate and economic development consulting firm, to work out the financial aspects of the project, including finding funding sources to manage and maintain the park.
Last Tuesday, NBPA, PUBLIC WORK and supporters unveiled the conceptual design of “Under the K” park, a nearly seven-acre public space for recreation, ecology and arts and culture that culminates at the Newtown Creek.
The linear park, which would stitch together several plots of land under the Kosciuszko Bridge, would be broken into four different spaces.
The first area is called “The Arm.” It would be a linear promenade that connects visitors, pedestrians and cyclists coming off the bridge onto a tree-lined and safe path that guides them into the park.
The Arm would be capable of hosting community markets as well, organizers said.
The second space, which PUBLIC WORK named “K-flex 1,” would be the main multifunctional zone geared toward programming, community activities and play.
Next to that is “K-flex 2,” a larger space that could hold large-scale events like concerts, performances and public gatherings. It could be filled with bleachers as well.
The final zone, called “Creekside,” would connect park users to the edge of Newtown Creek, with public outlooks, seating and a restorative landscape of native ecologies.
Under the K park would be defined by the bridge’s concrete beams, which expand from 40-feet-high at the entrance to 120 feet at the waterfront.
Marc Ryan, a principal at PUBLIC WORK, said part of the excitement of designing this project was rediscovering public spaces in places where people haven’t looked before.
“In many ways, our approach was to enhance the qualities that were already inherent in the environment,” he said. “Our process was almost uncovering the spatial experiences, the sense of wonder of the place, and then think about the design as enabling people to experience that flow and progressive spaces.”
Ryan said he was surprised by the sheer size and scale of the space, defined by the concrete beams, as well as the quality of light afforded to the space.
“People think these are tough, dark and dim spaces,” he said. “In fact, when you go there, you discover quite the opposite.”
Adam Nicklin, also a principal at the Toronto-based firm, said the biggest challenge they have to overcome is convincing people that it’s worth investing in the space, and making it part of the open space network.
Their goal as a design firm is to make it an “everyday” kind of place, Nicklin said, while also making it a programmable destination.
Ryan recalled that at the public workshops they hosted, one recurrent theme was the excitement around staging events at the park.
People were also looking forward to a space that could provide a sense of peace and solitude within the context of the busy and noisy New York City.
“Actually, the acoustics here are surprisingly quiet,” Ryan said.
“To have a retreat is pretty wonderful,” Nicklin added, “If it can actually connect to the waterside, that’s even better.”
For Katie Denny Horowitz, the new executive director of North Brooklyn Parks Alliance, Under the K is an opportunity to create new open space in a community that needs more recreation, passive space and cultural programming.
This project gives the alliance the autonomy and “curatorial approach” that they don’t necessarily have in other parks, she said.
Denny Horowitz said their hope is that the industrial workers, who haven’t had much access to a place to eat lunch or use the space on their breaks, would be able to use the park during their workday.
When the alliance activates the space with programming, it will often take place on the nights and weekends, when industry isn’t as active.
“I think they’re not going to be competing with each other,” she said. “Hopefully it will be an asset to the workers there.”
NBPA has already shown the conceptual design to the governor’s chief of state operations, as well as the new state DOT commissioner, Vance said. Both appear to be supportive of the project.
In fact, DOT is expected to pass on the nearly seven acres of space to NBPA for use sometime next spring. Vance said all of the surfaces will be covered with blacktop, and there will be new fence around each lot.
“It’s clean and ready to use, it just hasn’t been embellished with anything yet,” he said. “So in that state, we can actually start doing things there. We can have events there.”
That means by next spring, there could be dance performances, concerts and even art installations at Under the K park.
Vance hopes that by letting the public have access to the space, community excitement will build up about it. Then NBPA can leverage that for more funding, whether from the state, federal government or private sources, to build out the park in phases.
The longtime NBPA board member said he’s hopeful that the vision that was unveiled for the park can be realized within five years.
“But it’s just so exciting because we can start using it right away,” he said. “We don’t have to wait five years for it to be something that the community can have access to.”
To get to this point in the process has been “tremendous” for the organization, Vance said.
“We founded this organization in 2003 for the sole purpose of helping the city maintain the existing parks, but also to create new parks,” he said. “Now, to be able to create almost seven acres of parkland, that’s the thing I’m most excited about.”