By Borough President Eric L. Adams and Rick Russo, the Acting President of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.
In a borough with so much activity and congestion — the most populous of New York City — we must ask ourselves how Brooklyn can create more green recreational spaces in order to raise healthy families. As a community, we can do so much better to build a borough that works for all of us — not only in terms of making it easier to get from place to place, but to ensure we have created a thriving space.
That’s why it is time to reimagine arteries like the Brooklyn Queens Expressway (BQE) as a linear park. Originally designed by renowned urban planner Robert Moses to help transport New Yorkers, the BQE has become a corridor of pollution and high asthma rates. In neighborhoods around the BQE, such as Greenpoint and Williamsburg, levels of PM2.5, the most harmful air pollutant, are 10.1 micrograms per cubic meter making this district the eighth most polluted in the city according to a 2013 Community Air Survey conducted by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The design of the elevated roadway and the working class neighborhoods through which it cuts, particularly in South Williamsburg, has been locked in decades of environmental degradation, air and noise pollution, and socioeconomic inequality. The land use value has also been severely limited by the BQE as it uproots many residents, cutting the neighborhood in half and creating an unnatural border. As outlined in the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce’s 100-year plan for the borough, sites along Brooklyn’s Innovation Coast have been isolated from the borough by the BQE’s physical footprint. A new open space network under and over the highway will connect the waterfront and provide linkages to adjacent neighborhoods.
Just as Governor Cuomo reimagined the Sheridan Expressway in the Bronx by unveiling a long-awaited $1.8 billion plan to convert that highway into a boulevard that is pedestrian- and cycling-friendly, we can also rethink the way we see the BQE as an integral part of north Brooklyn. The Friends of BQGreen, a nonprofit that supports the development of the new park, has a proposal that would create an elevated green space above the BQE between Marcy Avenue and Rodney Street, and between Borinquen Street and Broadway. Plans include basketball courts, a community center, field turf, garden, passive areas, playgrounds, and a public pool. With four New York City Housing Authority developments within a 0.5 mile radius, including Williams Plaza three blocks away from the proposed site, public housing residents would greatly benefit from such an environmental improvement.
The Office of the Brooklyn Borough President and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce support this proposal including an allocation of $4 million from Brooklyn Borough Hall. A stronger and healthier neighborhood means more investment and greater business opportunities. This kind of imagination is happening in cities across the country from Klyde Warren Park in Dallas to the 606 in Chicago. Our Manhattan neighbors have been successful with the benefits from the High Line. We can reap similar rewards from a linear park in Brooklyn.
Our parks and recreational spaces are our greatest equalizers. They bring together people from all kinds of backgrounds and do not discriminate based on race or household income. That is the true power of creating a linear park in the midst of a thriving, diverse, yet divided community in north Brooklyn along the BQE. We can once again make our streets places where people can come together, enjoy the great outdoors, and unite as One Brooklyn.
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