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Jeers for ‘private’ parks

Judi Francis thinks that the residents of downtown Brooklyn have been cheated out of a park.

In her lecture, “Should Public Parks be Privatized?” at St. Francis College (180 Remsen Street), presented Tuesday to students and community residents in Brooklyn Heights, Francis, president of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund, discussed a waterfront harbor park that has been in the planning stages for more than 20 years.

The site in question extends 1.3 miles from the John Street Con Edison lot, a brownfield north of the Manhattan Bridge down to the edge of Pier 6 on Atlantic Avenue, below the promenade and the cantilevered section of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. Currently, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), a state agency, has been developing the plan, which Francis and members of several resident associations oppose.

The park has been a source of controversy because the most recent iteration of the plan incorporates private housing development into several lots on the park while eliminating year-round recreational activity.

“We’ve been working with a park plan for four years that has been going nowhere,” Francis said. “It’s been going nowhere fast because the state ESDC [Empire State Development Corporation] took out all the revenue generators. It’s a precedent. There’s never been private housing built ever in a city or state park.”

Francis and other community members remain concerned that none of the different revenue generators proposed, such as food and drink concessions, parking, hotel and banquet spaces, and private philanthropy, were included in the state’s plan. Instead, the state would rely on the taxes generated by the private condominium developments built in the park.

“If we believe that parks should be privatized, then we need to have rules of engagement,” said Francis. “We have to have rules that protect the public at the same time we award the private. Right now it’s out of balance. The public is getting the short end of the stick while the private is getting it all.”

Only one neighborhood association, the Brooklyn Heights Association, is for the plan, while the neighborhood associations in Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Vinegar Hill, DUMBO and Fort Greene are opposed to it. Francis believes that parks issues will loom large over City Council races in Brooklyn Heights and Carroll Gardens.

For Francis, the elimination of year-round recreation is the most troubling aspect of the plan. There will be no restaurant on the pier, pools, ice-skating rink, year-round field house, or baseball fields in the current design. Instead, the design includes a perched wetlands and a duned landscape near Pier 6, where two towers, 20 and 30 stories high, are slated to exist.

“It’s unimaginative, it is effete and it is unproductive,” said Francis. “It will not attract the maximum number of people. How are you going to measure the success of a park? Is it because it is pretty and wins awards or is it because it is well used?”

Francis recognizes that the needs of the immediate neighbors of the park must be met and that excessive noise, traffic, and lights must be contained. Although the current plan is still far in the planning stages and may be scaled back due to the recent upheavals in the housing markets, Francis believes that a park with recreational services is necessary for residents near the Brooklyn harbor.

“The bottom line is that the people who need parks most, people who don’t have houses to go outside the city in the summer time, are getting screwed. They’re the people who use our parks most,” she said.

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