Brooklyn Bridge Park is an 85-acre (34 ha) park on the Brooklyn side of the East River in New York City. Designed by landscape architecture firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, the park has revitalized 1.3-mile (2.1 km) of Brooklyn’s post-industrial waterfront from Atlantic Avenue in the south, under the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and past the Brooklyn Bridge, to Jay Street north of the Manhattan Bridge. The site includes Brooklyn Piers 1–6, the historic Fulton Ferry Landing, and the preexisting Empire–Fulton Ferry and Main Street Parks. Two Civil War-era structures, Empire Stores and the Tobacco Warehouse, will also be integrated into the park. After the city and state signed a joint agreement in 2002, site planning and project funding proceeded, with construction started in 2008 using land reclaimed using soil from the new World Trade Center site.
Brooklyn Bridge Park is overseen by Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, a not-for-profit entity responsible for the planning, construction, maintenance, and operation of the park. The Corporation’s mission is to “create and maintain a world class park that is a recreational, environmental and cultural destination enjoyed by residents of, and visitors to, New York City.”
The Brooklyn Bridge is a hybrid cable-stayed/suspension bridge in New York City and is one of the oldest roadway bridges in the United States. Started in 1869 and completed fourteen years later in 1883, it connects the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn, spanning the East River. It has a main span of 1,595.5 feet (486.3 m) and was the first steel-wire suspension bridge constructed. It was originally called the New York and Brooklyn Bridge and the East River Bridge, but it was later dubbed the Brooklyn Bridge, a name coming from an earlier January 25, 1867, letter to the editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and formally so named by the city government in 1915. Since opening, it has become an icon of New York City and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1972.
In 1642 the first ferry landing opened on the land that is now Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Empire Fulton Ferry section. Soon after a thriving trading economy developed into a small town called “het Veer,” meaning “the Ferry”. As het Veer grew throughout the 17th century, it became known as the “Road to the Ferry”.
On August 29, 1776, het Veer served as a crucial strategic location for George Washington and the Continental Army in the American Revolution’s Battle of Long Island. In the middle of the night, George Washington and his men evaded the British Army, who were quickly gaining upon the Continental Army, by escaping across the East River to Manhattan.
As the 18th century came to a close, additional ferry services were added to this waterfront community, including docking points for the “Catherine Street Ferry” and the first steamboat ferry landing that was created by Robert Fulton, which eventually became known as the Fulton Ferry Landing. The community continued to grow into the 19th century as Brooklyn Heights developed into a residential neighborhood. By the 1850s, Brooklyn City Railroad rail lines were installed at the Fulton Ferry Landing. During this boom period, brick warehouse development proliferated along the waterfront. In fact, the area soon became known as “the walled city”. In addition to the warehouses, the Empire Stores were constructed between 1870 and 1885.
In 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was opened after being constructed for 13 years. While the Brooklyn Bridge formed a needed link between Manhattan and Brooklyn, it also disrupted ferry traffic. The Manhattan Bridge, developed in 1909, further disrupted trade to this section of the East River. The addition of these two crucial bridges resulted in the demise of this waterfront and the closing of the Fulton Ferry Landing in 1924. The construction of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in 1950 and 1954, respectively, separated Brooklyn Heights from the waterfront.
Throughout the 1950s, over 130 warehouses and 25 smaller “finger piers” were demolished along Brooklyn’s waterfront. In order to accommodate larger ships and cargo, the New York Dock Company built 13 new piers between 1956 and 1964—this development includes Piers 1–3 and 5–6 of what is currently Brooklyn Bridge Park. Pier 2 was not developed until 1958. However, as trade technology advanced, so did trade routes. By the 1970 much of the Brooklyn waterfront developments were largely barren and decrepit, causing the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to end cargo ship operations in 1983. Many of these warehouses were demolished by the end of the 20th century. However, the warehouses on the piers comprising Brooklyn Bridge Park were not demolished until the park began its construction in 2008.
Brooklyn Bridge Park spans 85 acres of the East River waterfront in the Brooklyn Heights and Dumbo neighborhoods of Brooklyn. The park is divided into eleven sections: Piers 1 through 6; Fulton Ferry Landing; Brooklyn Bridge Plaza; Empire Fulton Ferry; Main Street; and John Street. Each of these sections features unique topographies, plantings, amenities, and cultural artifacts and installations. All of the sections are currently open to the public; the Brooklyn–Queens Greenway, spanning the park, is also open. According to landscape architects Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., the park’s design is “guided by the concept of ‘post-industrial nature…[and] uses unabashedly man-made landscapes to kick-start new site ecologies that can thrive and evolve in a heavy-use urban setting.” Above all, the park is meant to serve as a vital threshold connecting the city and the East River. “We realized this park wasn’t about scenery,” Van Valkenburgh said, “The nature of this park is the river.
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