“The Worst Building in the Gilded City” is in Brooklyn Bridge Park — When Public Space Is Privatized and Forced to Earn Wages

Building in Brooklyn Bridge Park
Building in Brooklyn Bridge Park
Building in Brooklyn Bridge Park

It seems right now we live in a city with an all-or-nothing mentality when it comes to our parks. Either we accept that public space will be privatized and commercialized or we don’t – just don’t expect any discussion around it. There is no middle ground in the eyes of the privatizers. Thus far, the De Blasio Administration Parks Department seems to be accepting this model of operating which was put into play during the Bloomberg/Benepe years, again, without the discussion piece (which I hope they will reconsider).

There was a lot of controversy initially around the idea of putting housing in Brooklyn Bridge Park. (In fact, as New York senator, Hillary Clinton spoke out against condos in the park – then quickly flip flopped!) Once parts of the park opened (over the last couple of years) with all its glitz, the question around whether this was such a good idea seemed to fade.

This recent article at Gawker does a good job of bringing us up to speed on the latest at Brooklyn Bridge Park and deigns to question the accepted arrangement (brokered by New York State).

Writer Hamilton Nolan pointedly states: “Many people, including those with a direct interest in this project, will tell you that the Pierhouse project provides a public benefit by generating tax revenues that will pay for the rest of the park. Can’t argue with that. Those who espouse this view should look forward to the day when the city of New York sells off half of Central Park to developers. To fund the other half. After all, there is no sin greater than leaving money on the table.”

The article is classified under the tag “class war.”

Via Gawker, The Worst Building in the Gilded City:

Like the rest of New York, Brooklyn is unaffordable. Yet millions of people still live here, many of them by utilizing the financial technique of “paying too damn much.” Despite its many drawbacks, New York City still has great public parks. We all pack into apartments that are too small and too expensive, but we know that we are able to go outside and enjoy these wonderful parks. Park space helps to keep New Yorkers sane and somewhat less prone to violence.

Like the rest of America, New York City exhibits the effects of three decades of widening economic inequality. The skyline sprouts soaring towers full of multimillion-dollar second homes for the very rich; the non-rich majority crowds into apartments that are increasingly expensive and inconveniently located. But hey—it’s the greatest city in the world, and we still have our parks!

In Brooklyn, there is a nice park under the Brooklyn Bridge. Brooklyn Bridge Park. Nice fun place. If you stand on the promenade, a public walkway in Brooklyn Heights, you look out over the park. You see the nice park. You see Manhattan. You see the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s nice. A nice, free, democratic public view for everyone to enjoy.

Except: there is a now a condo being built in Brooklyn Bridge Park. (Technically, it is “adjacent” to the park, due to the fact that there cannot be a park where a condo stands.) The city approved this condo, called Pierhouse, with the idea that the taxes on it would help fund the park. Pierhouse (which will also feature a hotel) has proven to be so popular that, in its first ten weeks on the market last year, the developer, Toll Brothers, raised prices six times. Pierhouse is selling for $1,800 per square foot, the highest price in all of Brooklyn. This project, built on what used to be public land, has been great for private interests: “The developer, which is investing nearly $39 million in the project, is projecting revenues of at least $250 million from the development.” It’s easy to see why the ultrawealthy rushed in to snap up the multimillion-dollar condos. It’s not just the 18-foot ceilings and wood floors from 600-year-old heartwood pine and Ruscello Fosso Picollo marble tile bathroom floors and locally sourced 18-bottle undercounter wine storage; it’s the view. The view is spectacular. As you would expect, since the building is located in a waterfront park.

If you walk through Brooklyn Bridge Park now, you will see the hulking concrete shell of Pierhouse rising up. If you stand at the end of the promenade now, in order to gaze out at the beautiful view of the Brooklyn Bridge, you will see that that view is now partially blocked by the Pierhouse condo. No longer does the promenade offer a view of a park, an iconic skyline, and the Brooklyn Bridge; it now offers a view of a park, an iconic skyline, and part of a bridge obscured by an enormous glass fortress full of people far richer than those forced to stand outside in order to enjoy the view. In a very real way, the public’s park, the public’s air, and the public’s view have been packaged and sold off to millionaires. The public can no longer even stroll through a public park without being confronted by a gleaming glass Gorgon of multimillion-dollar apartments.

Many people, including those with a direct interest in this project, will tell you that the Pierhouse project provides a public benefit by generating tax revenues that will pay for the rest of the park. Can’t argue with that. Those who espouse this view should look forward to the day when the city of New York sells off half of Central Park to developers. To fund the other half. After all, there is no sin greater than leaving money on the table.

Reading the comments at the Gawker piece, I learned that the Brooklyn Bridge Corporation (the private entity “in charge of” Brooklyn Bridge Park) neglected to inform the community that the height of the building was going to be taller than what was initially approved. (This is the type of thing that happens when public space gets privatized. Without fail.) You can learn more and sign a petition at Save The View Now.

In 2010, there were at least two public meetings of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Committee on Alternatives to Housing. I wrote about this here at the time with added information and some of the history of the park. How murky and how much has been forgotten.

More on Brooklyn Bridge Park:

The Battle of Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York Times, August 1, 2014

From Project for Public Spaces, Hall of Shame: Brooklyn Bridge Park

There was a group fighting this, the Brooklyn Bridge Defense Fund. Unfortunately they let their site lapse and so all that history is lost. Update: here is a web archive of some of the original site. Thanks to commenter Kevin A.! You can view it here including the original “13 guiding principles.”