Locals come together at Borough Hall to help shape redesign of Columbus Park

NY: Community Input Meeting – Columbus Park
Columbus Park in Downtown Brooklyn is heavily underutilized, officials said during a community workshop surrounding its redesign on Feb. 26.
Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

It was a lesson of democracy in action at Brooklyn Borough Hall on Monday, Feb. 26, when more than 100 locals attended a community input meeting to give their feedback on the redesign of Columbus Park.

Months ago, Brooklyn Borough President and area Council Member Lincoln Restler say they had a vision: turn Columbus Park into a recreational park for the Downtown Brooklyn and Brooklyn Heights communities and Brooklyn as a whole. With that in mind, they looked to create a park for the people, by the people — and invited locals to the planning process.

“We said, ‘I feel like we can do better,'” Reynoso said, adding that it was important for him to involve the community. “We wanted to make sure that the space was inclusive. Also, with projects that are this large, you got to be very careful. If we dictate the outcome, we’re gonna make a lot of people unhappy.”

Brooklynites got a say in what a redesigned Columbus Park should look like.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Reynoso and Restler believe the area has the potential to become a neighborhood park and community hub, complete with a playground, skate park, dog run, public restrooms, lawn areas and more.

The eight-acre park — also known as Brooklyn Borough Hall Park — stretches from Joralemon Street, past Borough Hall, the controversial Christopher Columbus Memorial and the New York State Supreme Court, down to the Henry Ward Beecher monument at Johnson Street. It includes the fountain in front of Borough Hall, a broad, paved-over pedestrian walkway flanked by benches, fences, and some green space, and a parking lot for judges at the intersection of Joralemon and Adams streets. 

However, except for the Borough Hall Greenmarket on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the yearly Brooklyn Book Festival, and skateboarders who hit tricks in front of Borough Hall on any given day, the vast space is heavily underutilized. 

Restler told Brooklyn Paper that the workshop‘s goal was to solicit broad community input on what the redesigned park should look like. Restler also said he was “eager” to get the park renamed and redesigned and turn it into a hub for Brooklyn Heights, Downtown Brooklyn, and all of Brooklyn. 

“This is a highly underutilized, mostly paved-over park space that should be for the people,” Restler said. “Instead, we have a parking lot for judges and a space that very few Brooklynites can enjoy. We should have places for young people to play, for workers to eat lunch, for people to gather in the heart of Brooklyn Civic Center.” 

Brooklyn Borough President Reynoso and Council Member Restler have a vision for Columbus Park — and it starts with community input.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Working with the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, the two Kings County legislators hired WXY Studio and created the Columbus Park Task Force — comprised of civic, cultural and educational leaders who came up with an array of suggestions for the redesigned space.

The designs also suggest razing the judges’ parking lot, expanding sidewalks, and adding a protected bike lane on Adams Street. Johnson Street would turn into a shared or fully pedestrianized street, and Joralemon Street would only be accessible for busses and pedestrians. 

Community members had the chance to create their vision of what the park could look like during a breakout session. The wish list included public bathrooms, more shaded areas, playgrounds, a playground, a kiosk, water features, ample seating, and removing the judges’ parking lot.

The steps outside Borough Hall are a popular spot for skateboarders.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Some discussed whether there should be a dedicated skate park or if the city should just allow skateboarders to keep using the open space in front of Brooklyn Borough Hall. 

While skater Tamanda Msosa appreciated the chance to participate in the community input, he said he doesn’t want skaters to be “relegated” to a specific park section. 

“What I was trying to tell [my group is] Europe’s doing it, Japan’s doing it. We’re actually integrating our architecture with skateboarding, not just putting them in a park, and everything looks the same,” Msosa said. “We like that architecture, we like being outside, and we also are part of the community. In 2020, nobody was outside Borough Hall except for the skateboarders.’ 

Msosa also said he wished that more young people had known about the event. 

“You can give information on social media, nine times out of 10, [young people] will show up,” Msosa said. “[Borough Hall] means a lot to us. Those steps made a lot of friendships. That little curb has a lot of memories.”

Council Member Lincoln Restler listens to design suggestions. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Brooklyn Heights resident Jeffrey Smith shared his grievance about the lack of transparency regarding renaming Columbus Park and removing the statue. Smith wants the statue and the name to remain. 

“The reason why is because it’s a slap in the face of the Italian-American community,” Jeffrey Smith. “That’s going to create a lot more division. How many of these people are here without disclosing the fact that they’re patently hostile to the statue and the name of the park, which they’re not telling you?”