The Brooklyn Bridge gets a great present for its 140th birthday: revitalized parks and public spaces in nearby Chinatown

On May 12, 2023, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced a plan to honor the 140th anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge’s opening by revitalizing public spaces in Chinatown, beginning with the opening of “the Arches” next to the site once known as the “Brooklyn Banks” and the “mecca New York skateboarding.”

This revitalized public space at the entryway of one of America’s most historic landmarks improves the quality of life for those who live in, work in, and visit our great city, and demonstrates the city’s commitment to creating and maintaining safe, public spaces for all,” said New York City Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell.

Roughly one acre in size, the Arches will open on May 24, 2023, after being closed to the public for over a decade, and feature space for basketball, pickleball, shuffleboard, and publicly available seating — directly adjacent to the 53 historic arches on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Public space under the Brooklyn Bridge. Wednesday, May 3, 2023.

I am thrilled that these iconic spaces will be reopened and returned to the public after a decade of being closed off,” said New York State Senator Brian Kavanagh.

I am proud to have supported this effort from its inception, and I want to thank Mayor Adams, the New York City Department of Transportation, Brooklyn Bridge Manhattan, and all of the incredibly dedicated advocates who have been working toward this day. This represents a tremendous opportunity to help revitalize the Chinatown and Lower East Side communities and provide much-needed recreation and open space. I look forward to continuing to work with the city, my colleagues in government, and community stakeholders to help transform these spaces and identify the funding that will be needed to realize this project’s full potential,” he explained.

The Adams administration will also kick off public engagement efforts this spring to evaluate other spaces in the neighborhood for potential upgrades.

One hundred forty years ago, we opened the Brooklyn Bridge and connected two islands. This is a landmark 1883 moment for our communities, our public spaces, and our city’s recovery,” said Mayor Adams.

These kinds of public spaces are a critical component of our administration’s strategy for an equitable, inclusive, and prosperous economic recovery for New York City. And we are delivering on that strategy with a $375 million investment and now two new spaces for the Chinatown residents, the skateboarding community, and all New Yorkers to enjoy,” he added.

The reactivation of this and other public spaces under the Brooklyn Bridge and throughout Chinatown delivers on a commitment in Mayor Adams’ “Working People’s Agenda,” outlined in his State of the City address this past January, which included a $375 million investment in vibrant, new public spaces in all five boroughs to improve New Yorkers’ quality of life.

With rehabilitation work completed before schedule, we are incredibly excited to reopen this historic space to New Yorkers, right in time to celebrate the bridge’s anniversary and this beautiful spring weather,” said New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez.

Rehabilitating this space will generate a host of open space benefits for New Yorkers, and I look forward to delivering additional public space upgrades like this across Chinatown in partnership with Mayor Adams, our sister agencies, and members of the community,” he added.

This work also follows a recommendation in “Making New York Work for Everyone,” the action plan of the “New” New York panel convened by Mayor Adams and New York Governor Kathy Hochul. The action plan proposed public realm improvements in all five boroughs, including underneath and around the Brooklyn Bridge in Lower Manhattan, serving as a 21st-century gateway between Chinatown, the Seaport District, and the Financial District.

I am thrilled that the Arches are now open and ready to be enjoyed by New Yorkers and visitors alike,” said Chief Public Realm Officer Ya-Ting Liu.

In an area where public space is limited, the Arches will serve as a crucial venue for residents to enjoy and for visitors to experience the beauty of the Brooklyn Bridge and the surrounding area. This project reflects the Adams administration’s commitment to equity — ensuring that members of the community have access to quality public spaces, which are essential for building strong and vibrant communities,” she continued.

Following an investment from the New York Department of State through its Downtown Revitalizing Initiative, the Adams administration will also work with the community to plan renovations to upgrade and expand public space at Kimlau Square and to evaluate plans for Park Row from Kimlau Square to the Brooklyn Bridge.

We couldn’t be more excited to join the mayor in this historic announcement for reopening the Brooklyn Banks,” said New York City Councilmember Christopher Marte. “This was one of our top priorities upon taking office, and after decades of broken promises, we are now able to deliver. This open space will serve the diverse communities of Lower Manhattan — restoring a historic skate park, while providing space for children to play and seniors to enjoy the outdoors. It’s also an essential part of the plan to reconnect Chinatown, the Lower East Side, the Seaport, the Financial District, and the foot traffic off the Brooklyn Bridge, to bring economic revitalization back to Lower Manhattan. As the first elected official to call for this reopening, I am proud to have the opportunity to bring this public space back to life.

The administration will also consider additional medium- and long-term improvements to the former Brooklyn Banks site directly under the bridge. This engagement effort will include a virtual public workshop this spring with DOT, NYC Parks, and the NYPD.

The Arches will open as DOT finishes a major project to rehabilitate the Brooklyn Bridge. The space underneath the bridge’s vehicle ramps has been largely closed to the public since 2010, when DOT began its largest-ever rehabilitation of the historic bridge structure with three projects totaling $800 million.

Building transformative things is hard — it takes vision, determination, and an open heart. We are fortunate in New York City to have inspired leaders like Mayor Eric Adams, Deputy Mayor Meera Joshi, Chief Public Realm Officer Ya-Ting Liu, James Archer, Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez, and the NYPD — who are deeply committed to doing the hard work required to deliver transformative public space for all New Yorkers. And not in years, but in months,” said Rosa Chang, cofounder and president, Brooklyn Bridge Manhattan.

This is desperately needed public space in a BIPOC and environmental justice area with over 47,000 residents living within a half-mile radius. For too many years, the derelict land beneath the Manhattan Anchorage of the Brooklyn Bridge has divided our diverse communities. Mayor Adams’ vision and commitment will transform the same space into a vibrant, safe, and inclusive place for us all to come together, play, and build a resilient community. Furthermore, it is a bold first step to creating sustained economic revitalization in communities deeply damaged by the pandemic. Thank you for listening, thank you for acting, thank you for ‘Getting Stuff Done,’ — really quickly. Finally, the iconic Brooklyn Bridge will have a landing in Manhattan worthy of our historic landmark,” she concluded.

The current rehabilitation of the bridge has included extensive and meticulous cleaning of the bridge’s granite stones for the first time since its original construction, transforming them from a brown color — with more than a century’s worth of dust, soot, and pollution — to their original 19th-century bright gray.

The Brooklyn Banks is an iconic spot and such a meaningful, important piece of skateboarding history. To see it come back to life and participate in its restoration is an absolute honor for the Skatepark Project,” said Benjamin Anderson Bashein, executive director, the Skatepark Project.

We at TSP and the skate community at large are so grateful to Mayor Eric Adams and to all the partners who are making this happen. Accessible outdoor recreation and green space are powerful tools for growth, meditation, and community-building. We know this place will go beyond what it ever was before and become a destination not only for skaters, but for all New Yorkers and those who visit,” he added.

While cleaning the granite, skilled bricklayers also replaced mortar between individual stones, a painstaking process that used cement sourced from the same upstate New York quarries used by members of the Roebling family, who designed the bridge, for its initial construction.

Reactivating the public areas around the Brooklyn Bridge arches in Chinatown is a great way to celebrate this venerable New York City landmark’s 140th birthday,” said Eric McClure, executive director, StreetsPAC.

Chinatown lacks sufficient space for recreation, and these renovated areas will vastly improve the neighborhood’s public realm. We’re excited as well to see the planning process for reopening Park Row to the community move ahead and look forward to seeing plans in the very near future,” he concluded.

Bricklayers are currently completing the recreation of the original red-brick archway designs by hand, and the project is expected to finish later this year.

Featured photo of runners of the Brooklyn Bridge is via PixaBay. Other photos are courtesy of Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.

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