Big-time guy Kurt Andersen wants to turn Carroll Park into a piazza

Big-time guy Kurt Andersen wants to turn Carroll Park into a piazza
Photo by Bess Adler

A nationally known radio host and novelist wants to pen the next chapter in the history of Carroll Park by having a hand in its transformation into an Italian-style piazza.

Second Place resident Kurt Andersen, the Peabody Award-winning host of the National Public Radio show “Studio 360” and the author of the acclaimed novel, “Turn of the Century,” wants the city to do a 180 on how it envisions the space, located between Smith, Court, Carroll and President streets.

He told this newspaper that his notion is to annex the “underused” western portion of the park near Court Street for the piazza, setting up tables, chairs and awnings — a cosmopolitan space where area cafés could serve drinks and food.

“When you see in Italy and Argentina plazas and piazzas really being used by all the people of a neighborhood, it’s a wonderful part of urban life,” Andersen said.

“It seems that rather than being a mostly empty spot in the heart of Carroll Gardens, this is the kind of amenity in the neighborhood that a lot of people would enjoy,” he added.

To realize his emergent vision, Andersen recently reached out to Councilman Brad Lander (D–Park Slope), who set up a Feb. 10 meeting with the advocacy group Friends of Carroll Park.

“I’m interested in hearing about it and discussing it,” said Glenn Kelly, founder of the group. “It’s a compelling idea.”

The next step will be to meet with the Parks Department to determine if the green scheme is even feasible.

But already, the city says it is willing to hear the plan out.

“Several agencies and planners would have to review it, but Parks is always happy to consider and review good ideas from the community,” said Borough Commissioner Kevin Jeffrey.

Andersen, the former architecture and design critic for Time magazine and a co-founder of Spy magazine, conceded that basketball players could be displaced by his plan, but ballers would have a readily available option nearby, as PS 58 at Smith and First Place has outdoor courts.

Some longtime residents were skeptical.

“It’s somewhat contrived,” said Michael Pesce, an appellate court judge and former assemblyman, who was among the residents who lobbied to have part of Court Street co-named to honor an Italian town that sent dozens of residents to Brooklyn.

But those days are long gone, Pesce said.

“Still, it’s a good idea so long as people understand that the character and make-up of the community is not what it used to be,” he said. “Is this for tourists? Or is this to have people come back to their old neighborhood?”

Both, says Andersen, a Nebraska-native who has spent the last 21 years in Carroll Gardens.

“Certainly, this connects to the ethnic heritage of the neighborhood of the last century,” he said. “But to me, this is for everyone in the neighborhood,” he said.

The park started out as a community garden, and was acquired by the City of Brooklyn in 1852, making it our third oldest green space. It is named after Charles Carroll, a Maryland planter who was the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence. The park was last redesigned in 1993.

Paying for the new plan could be tricky, but some residents already have ideas.

“It needs a fountain for people to throw coins in,” suggested Maria Pagano, the president of the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association.

Author Kurt Andersen wants to make Carroll Park more Italian.
Thomas Hart Shelby