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Lost in the dot matrix: Debate over tiny spots consumes meeting on undeveloped parkland beneath B’Bridge • Brooklyn Paper

Lost in the dot matrix: Debate over tiny spots consumes meeting on undeveloped parkland beneath B’Bridge

Connecting the dots: Members of Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Community Advisory Council fell into a debate about dots during a meeting with Pratt Insitute representatives to discuss the results of a survey about what to do with undeveloped parkland beneath the bridge, which is some of the meadow’s last unused space.
File photo by Ruth Brown

It’s a dot-button issue.

A Tuesday meeting to discuss plans for some of Brooklyn Bridge Park’s last undeveloped land beneath its namesake span quickly devolved into back-and-forth bickering about dots, leading an exasperated member of the green space’s community-advisory group to question why some of her colleagues even bothered to show up.

“I wonder, to make this conversation more productive, is it really the dots we want to talk about?” said Nancy Webster, who holds a seat on the privately run park’s Community Advisory Council, a body that solicits locals’ input on projects within it, and runs the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, its fund-raising and programming arm. “We have a presentation that has content in it, why don’t we talk about that?”

The dot debate broke out while professors and students from Clinton Hill’s Pratt Institute presented findings from a survey they conducted earlier this year about how residents want meadow keepers to use the empty space directly underneath the bridge between Water Street and the East River, which is the only chunk of the 85-acre park that lacks a final plan, now that work to transform the hilly land near Pier 2 into a sloped lawn with seating and a giant water feature is set to kick off this fall.

The university team recommended the space be designed to accommodate events and activities in the spring, fall, and winter — such as small concerts, festivals, and an ice-skating rink — but left open enough to simply serve as a pedestrian hangout in the summer months, when massive crowds pack the area.

It would feature amenities including bathrooms, food vendors, and signage, as well as seasonal elements such as ice sculptures and fire pits in the colder months, according to the Pratt group’s presentation, which also suggested converting the current Luke’s Lobster shack just off Water Street into a visitors’ center, and planting a new garden adjacent to that center, along with a second patch along the East River in honor of Emily Warren Roebling, the woman who shepherded the iconic infrastructure to completion.

The advisory council, whose input guides decisions made by green-space bigwigs at the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, contracted the university team to host its initial workshop on the space in May, after the group passed a resolution last year that called for such a session in order to rethink the bridge-covered parcel’s purpose because some members weren’t sold on park leaders’ plan to turn it into a grand public plaza.

At the May workshop, participants toured the area beneath the span, then broke out into groups to brainstorm ideas for the space, which hosts recorded on a white board that attendees were then asked to mark with dot stickers that indicated what recommendations excited them the most.

But some on the advisory council took issue with the exercise, claiming certain people used all their dots on one item, while others spread theirs out amongst a selection of their favorite pitches.

“A lot of people took their dots and put it on one thing,” group member Katrin Adams said at the recent meeting at Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation’s Furman Street headquarters.

Others members complained that a security guard abruptly ended the previous workshop by forcing attendees to leave at 9 pm — before they got a chance to return to the white board for a second round of dot sticking.

“Everybody got to do their five or six dots, but nobody did their secondary dots, because nobody had time,” said Doreen Gallo.

A Pratt presenter urged the advisory group to focus less on the dots, arguing its real problems were with specific recommendations themselves, such as the ice-skating rink, which drew criticism from some members at the recent session and past meetings about plans for the space.

“If the results mirrored the sentiments of the people in this room, there would be no question about the methodology,” said John Shapiro, the chairman of Pratt Institute’s Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment.

And not all advisory-council members despised the dots. The group’s chairman commended the Pratt team’s novel data-gathering technique, given its limited resources.

“Given the time we had, it was probably as good as any other method,” Peter LaBonte said following the meeting.

Shapiro and his university colleagues — who are set to present a final version of their findings to the advisory council sometime next month — will not actually design any of the parkland beneath the bridge, however, but may simply inform stewards’ plan for the area with their suggestions, according to a meadow spokeswoman.

“We will review it and take all recommendations into account as we transition into the design process,” said Sarah Krauss.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.

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