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Reclaiming Grand Army Plaza

Anyone who lives near Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza knows it is a nightmare to navigate if you are a pedestrian or cyclist. And with its proximity to Prospect Park it's also an area with vast potential for becoming one of the most popular public spaces in Brooklyn.

The Grand Army Plaza Coalition formed in the Spring of 2006 to help improve the area. Community driven, it is a prime example of how the public planning process should work and how the Department of Transportation should support such efforts from citizens to improve their quality of life. After all: no one knows a neighborhood better than the people who live there.

GAPCO groupGAPCO Charette 2GAPCO people3

Recently, fifty members of the community met to brainstorm ideas of how to make the plaza safer, more accessible, greener, and people-oriented. The workshop was facilitated by Project for Public Spaces, which specializes in community Placemaking activities.

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Robert Witherwax: [00:32] GAPCo came about because a group of people got together and decided that something was wrong with Grand Army Plaza and they wanted to fix it. These are people from all walks of life, all parts of this community, professionals, amateurs, city people, you know, non city people. Well after the Park Slope Civic Traffic Forum last year, just about a year ago, we met in a room at the Montar Club, we just put everything down on paper, what we liked, what we didn’t like, what we loved, what we hated about Grand Army Plaza. And from there we went and we did a walk through and we saw on site what needed to be addressed and what worked, what didn’t work. We made some suggestions to DOT. They’ve responded. We’re in a great dialogue with the DOT and with Parks, and this was the next step. You know, that was sort of short term fix focused. Now we’re in the long term vision focus. We’ve started to take ownership of the Plaza and that’s very important. I mean we live here, we can’t just sit around and whine and moan about it, you got to get out there and you got to do the fixes yourself, what we can do. So we’ve been in the centre arch area, we’ve been in the Berms picking up garbage, pulling up invasive plants, taking ownership. And as for Jan Gehl, I mean that was incredible to have a man of his vision and his experience to come and present some wild, whacky, out of the box ideas for what Grand Army Plaza could be.

Jan Gehl: [01:45] So I do think that the traffic and for sure is the major problem, and I would like to see a solution which will invite fewer cars to shoot through this particular area on the way from somewhere to somewhere else, because this area is a very bad road.

Kathleen Ziegenfuss: [02:02] Well behind us we have about 50 people that have come from around the neighbourhood, different cultural organisations, residents groups, people who have a vested interest in what’s happening right outside in Grand Army Plaza, because it’s important to them as somebody who lives or works or plays in this community. So people have come here on a Saturday to help create a vision as to what this place can become in the future and kind of guide this GAPCo group forward, to spend the morning looking at Grand Army Plaza, and imagining what it could be in the future.


Speaker: [02:36] It’s very dangerous to cross the street, and there has to be a way to get people to the Plaza area, to the fountain area, but there really isn’t. It’s a problem because it’s a beautiful area but it’s become a dead area.


Speaker: [02:52] There’s a problem of feeling security cos the cars are spinning around in a circle. That’s why people don’t walk here.

Letitia James: [02:59] We have six lanes and to me it represents six degrees of separation, separation for our friends in Park Slope, our friends in Crown Heights, and we’re isolated, we’re on all different islands and we don’t talk to one another. And the city has done a really poor job of planning. And rarely do they talk about the community.


Ethan Kent: [03:27] If you have a couple first impressions with… you know, what you went out there, how you evaluated it quickly, what you saw that you thought was great about this place, you didn’t realise what some of the particular issues were or perhaps you didn’t first notice.

Speaker: [03:38] So if you could just build planters or some kind of planting out there to make it more attractive.

Speaker: [03:42] You know there is a bike lane here and that’s good, but people drive on the bike lanes, so that’s not a good thing.

Aaron Naparstek: [03:51] You know you have to wait for a long time for the lights and you have to walk a really long way to cross and it’s just such a key crossing, there’s tons of people using it from Union… between Union and the Park.

Speaker: [04:00] Having signage say from the subway station guiding people to the Plaza, to the library, to the museum. You know there are all these great things in the neighbourhood, but there’s no sense whatever when you get out of the subway where they are.


Kathleen Ziegenfuss: [04:17] We’re Projects for Public Spaces, we work with communities around the nation and internationally as well to help through visioning processes such as this.

Robert Witherwax: [04:26] And what happened today was we had 50 brains in the room, 50 different brains, different backgrounds, different perspectives, great ideas, great common themes. We’re already seeing a lot of the themes that are running through what we’ve gotten today. It’s amazing.

Speaker: [04:38] This is so refreshing and exciting for the first time in three years to be able to work on something where the community is planning something that’s really positive.

Speaker: [04:49] I thought it was great. It’s a great process and, you know, I’m happy to participate in something like this.

Kathleen Ziegenfuss: [04:55] It’s an important process because it really puts the ideas of what people want to do in the foreground and let’s that speak as the highest voice going forward.

Letitia James: [05:04] It was just refreshing to be in a room with likeminded people for a change, and so it’s a good day and, you know, this is our community, this is our background, and so I’m proud to be associated with GAPCo and I’m proud to be here this morning.


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