A Grand (Army) Celebration

The many improvements recently completed at Grand Army Plaza have reshaped this great public space, and are worthy of a great celebration. Such a ceremony took place on Wed., Nov. 9, as elected officials, community leaders, and others got together for a “ribbon cutting” to mark a milestone in the plaza’s transformation into a much more accessible space and a link between neighborhoods and Prospect Park.

Among those joining in the celebration on a a picture-perfect fall day were State Senator Eric Adams, State Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries, City Councilmembers Letitia James and Steve Levin; Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, current and past Prospect Park Administrators Emily Lloyd and Tupper Thomas, Grand Army Plaza Coalition (GAPCo) Coordinator Rob Witherwax, Park Slope Civic Council President Michael Cairl, staff from the city’s Parks and Transportation departments, members of Brooklyn Community Boards 6 and 8, and members of GAPCo and the general public.

The Civic Council is a cofounder and stakeholder member of GAPCo. As many of the speakers at the ribbon-cutting noted, this project has been an outstanding example of elected officials, city agencies, and the community all pulling together in what Councilmember James called typical Brooklyn fashion. All the speakers at the event noted how much safer, more accessible, and more beautiful the plaza had become, helping to realize designer Frederick Law Olmsted’s vision of this monumental gateway to Prospect Park.

Previous expanses of unused asphalt have been turned into raised, planted areas. New crosswalks have been installed, with the happy result that more pedestrians are going through the center of Grand Army Plaza, and more people are navigating safely around it, than ever before. The area between the Arch and the center oval, as well as the area used by the Greenmarket, have been resurfaced to give them a distinctive appearance. (Take a look at the WNYC news blog for some excellent before-and-after photographs of the plaza.)

In 2012, the Prospect Park Alliance will move the Abraham Lincoln statue — once a resident of Grand Army Plaza, and now in the Concert Grove — to the newly enlarged area at the intersection of Flatbush and Vanderbilt Avenues, and will make other improvements to that area. Meanwhile, the reconstruction of Eastern Parkway between Grand Army Plaza and Washington Avenue is ongoing, and improvements to the crossing of Flatbush Avenue at the Central Library are proposed for 2012.

Asked by Streetsblog correspondent Ben Fried what was next for GAPCo, Civic Council President Cairl said, “a lot.” The reclaimed areas of the plaza allow for both programmed and organic activities that were not feasible before, and GAPCo will look to its stakeholder members Prospect Park Alliance and Heart of Brooklyn — A Cultural Partnership for ideas.

There is much capital work still to do. The large paved areas at the southern end of the eastern and western berms cry out for grading, resurfacing, and improved drainage. These spots, the area where the Lincoln statue will be moved, and other locations have the potential of becoming “mini-plazas” for seating and small events.

Grand Army Plaza is no longer the forbidding place it was, and it is now ready for its full potential to be a welcoming, useful, and safe public space.

— Michael Cairl

Photo by David Herman

from the November 2011 Civic News