Building a Better Plaza
The Grand Army Plaza Coalition (GAPCo) is an alliance of stakeholders in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza — community groups, cultural organizations, and advocates who work together to improve the welfare of this vital public space. GAPCo seeks to understand how Grand Army Plaza functions today, envision how the Plaza might function better, and implement solutions that help that vision come true.
GAPCo came into being after the Park Slope Civic Council’s 2006 annual forum, on traffic and transportation. [LINK] At the end of the forum, one of the participants asked, “What about Grand Army Plaza?” A few weeks later, interested citizens gathered at the Montauk Club and created GAPCo. The Civic Council is proud to be a founding member and GAPCo stakeholder.
GAPCo is a notably successful coming together of civic and business groups, local community boards, cultural organizations, and city agencies (e.g., the Department of Parks and Cultural Affairs, and the Department of Transportation).
GAPCo believes that Grand Army Plaza, despite its physical and spiritual centrality to Brooklyn, misses its potential as one of the world’s great urban spaces. Many elements of great spaces — cultural institutions, abundant greenery, efficient transportation, adjacent vibrant neighborhoods — are there but are poorly balanced. Just as important, one crucial element is largely missing: people using the space. Design solutions, improving access to and through the Plaza, and programming solutions can improve the experience of the Plaza, and can create a properly balanced urban space.
For more information about the Grand Army Plaza Coalition, please visit www.grandarmyplaza.net.
Our Six Core Principles
Improved Pedestrian Access
- The Principle: The indispensable element of a successful public space is the presence of people using the space.
- The Progress: The new crosswalks have led to a big increase in the number of people traversing the Plaza on foot. Further improvements are in store at the approaches to the Central Library.
Enhanced Commercial Presence
- The Principle: The Greenmarket is uniformly hailed as the most successful element of the Plaza, but it occupies a small portion of the space and only operates one day a week. The Plaza could host vastly expanded retail operations.
- The Progress: Food trucks have come to the Plaza, and GAPCo and the Prospect Park Alliance are studying additional options.
- The Principle: Akin to the “Broken Windows” Theory is the “Broken Cobble” Theory: poor maintenance of a space’s basic elements like pavement, benches, and plantings sends a bad message. Also, the cultural organizations could advertise themselves in a way that heightens the aesthetics of the space.
- The Progress: The Plaza’s reconfiguration in 2011 opens up exciting new opportunities for programming and other activities.
“Close the GAP”
- The Principle: The Grand Army Plaza Arch was designed to be the grand entrance to Prospect Park. That was before the automobile. Our goal is to explore options that will reunite the Arch with the Park and improve access to both.
- The Progress: The new, wide crosswalk from the Arch to the Greenmarket area goes a long way toward achieving this.
- The Principle: There are dozens of places through Grand Army Plaza that are currently paved over for cars or people, but do not need to be so. Wherever possible, these should be greened.
- The Progress: The 2007 and 2011 reconfigurations have reclaimed large areas that were formerly paved and introduced a variety of landscaping. The Plaza is a far cry from how the Parks Commission of the City of Brooklyn described it in 1887: “No one cares to cross it. It is devoid of all life and is a stony waste.”
Rethink Traffic Flow
- The Principle: Traffic flow — cars, buses, bicycles, pedestrians — should be thought of holistically to ensure that all visitors can travel and reach their destination efficiently and safely.
- The Progress: Grand Army Plaza today is much safer for all its users. It’s now a long way from “the only concrete and asphalt roulette wheel in the world,” as the Brooklyn Daily Eagle [ITAL] described it in 1947.
Top photo: David Herman