Brooklyn Bridge Park

A Dying Waterfront Transformed

How pluck and luck, planning and perseverance, created an urban masterpiece

Stretching along a waterfront that faces one of the world’s greatest harbors and storied skylines, Brooklyn Bridge Park is among the largest and most significant public projects to be built in New York in a generation. It has transformed a derelict industrial waterfront into a new public use that is both a reflection and an engine of Brooklyn’s resurgence in the twenty-first century.

Brooklyn Bridge Park answers so many different needs in a borough hat is drawing more attention all the time. It has courts and fields for sports, opportunities for boating, a bouldering wall, dog runs, imaginative playgrounds, grills for cookouts, lawns for sitting or viewing or throwing a Frisbee, art, culture, music and education, a carousel, a beach and food. It allows visitors to get as close to the water as they want without swimming. It draws visitors from the neighborhood, the borough, the city, the country and around the world.

Brooklyn Bridge Park, A Dying Waterfront Transformedwritten by Joanne Witty and Henrik Krogius, goes well beyond a simple history to dig beneath the surface and explore why and how the park came to be.

It began with a changing world where shipping on the Brooklyn waterfront was no longer economic, and new uses were sought. A powerful government agency proposed intense commercial development; a powerful neighborhood organization opposed it and proposed a park instead.

The two sides fought each other to a standstill. It took almost 15 years and a dramatic intervention by local public officials to break that logjam and gain the acceptance of government sponsors, the only parties that could fund and build a park. How that happened is one of the surprises told in this book.

Even then, it took another decade and a half to bring the park close to completion. By then, the Brooklyn Heights Association had turned from a park booster to a plaintiff in several law suits. The local elected officials, whose support was essential to getting the park off the ground, had been replaced by officials who were critical of the park’s arrangement to support itself financially. How the park survived its controversies and how it overcame them, how it survived as well the tricky shoals of politics, the powerful winds of the Great Recession and the actual winds of a great storm, that story is told in this fascinating book.

The very existence of the park is surprising and instructive, but the profound democracy of its program, the excellence of its design, and the high standard of its execution has led to its wild popularity. The park’s success is no accident, and this book describes the role of community planning, of talented park designers, of strong and generous political leaders that have combined to produce a great park.

Drawing on the authors’ personal experiences — one as a journalist, the other as a park leader — Brooklyn Bridge Park, A Dying Waterfront Transformed weaves together contemporaneous reports of events that provide a record of every twist and turn in the story. Interviews with more than 60 people reveal the human dynamics that unfolded in the course of building the park, including attitudes and opinions that arose about class, race, gentrification, commercialization, development, and government. All is documented in almost 500 endnotes to the book as well as a time line and cast of characters.

The book is dedicated to the memory of Assemblywoman Eileen Dugan, without whose early support the idea of a park would never have gotten off the ground, and to Dennis Holt, a long-time reporter at the Brooklyn Heights Press who contributed significantly to the public dialogue surrounding the park project.

The authors’ royalties from the book will be donated to Brooklyn Bridge Park to create the Dennis Holt Internship in Park Operations and Management.  

Joanne Witty, a lawyer and environmentalist, was the President of the Local Development Corporation that conceived and led the extensive community planning process culminating in the Master Plan for Brooklyn Bridge Park. When a state organization was formed to take the plan to the next step Witty was appointed a director of that organization and, later, of the successor entity created by the city. She is now the Vice-Chair of that non-profit, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, which is building and running the park. Witty is also a founding member and co-chair of the Freshkills Park Alliance, supporting the largest reclamation of a former landfill in the world.

Henrik Krogius was for many years a writer, editor and news producer for NBC, including a stint as editor of the Huntley-Brinkley Report. He won an Emmy in the category Best Local News Program for his work as producer of the 11 O’clock News. Krogius later became the editor of the Brooklyn Heights Press, a post he held for twenty-two of Brooklyn’s most transformative years.

Working as a team, the authors brought complimentary skills to the project. Possessing an extensive archive of documentary records, Krogius was instrumental in creating the chronological narrative of a close observer. As a continuous principal participant, Witty provided the inside story, chronicled the recurring themes and teased out the lessons for other projects. Together, they have produced not just the anatomy of Brooklyn Bridge Park but what we can learn from it.

Media + Events

Illustrated Lecture

New York Public Library, Mid-Manhattan Branch (40th St. and 5th Ave.)

Brooklyn Bridge Park: A Dying Waterfront Transformed with Author Joanne Witty

January 25, 2017 6:30 pm

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WABC Channel 7

Interview with Ken Rosato

November 6, 2016 12:00 am

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Interview with George Bodarky

October 23, 2016 6:30 am

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Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Long Path to Development

The New York Times

Bookshelf by Sam Roberts

September 16, 2016 12:00 am

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September 7, 2016 12:00 am

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The New York Times Close Up


Interview with Sam Roberts

September 3, 2016 10:00 am

September 4, 2016 10:00 am

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