Long-divided DUMBO was reunited on Monday when the city finally reopened a walkway under the Manhattan Bridge overpass to pedestrian traffic.
The Manhattan Bridge archway, which is actually a portion of Water Street between Adams Street and Anchorage Place, will now serve the public as a plaza and walkway between East DUMBO and West DUMBO — which, as The Brooklyn Paper reported, have developed different cultures and customs over the years, despite their proximity.
By next fall, in time for the bridge’s 100th birthday in October 2009, it will expand to a full-fledged venue with $500,000 in benches, elaborate lighting, and landscaping.
“It’s like the reunification of Berlin,” said Councilman David Yassky (D-Brooklyn Heights), referring to the fall of the Berlin Wall and, leter, evoking the historic moment when Allied forces met their Soviet counterparts at the Elbe River in 1945. “The reality is that [the wall] has been a needless division of two points of the neighborhood. … It’s a magnificent public space that is totally in keeping with the DUMBO ‘industrial chic’ ethic.”
If Yassky’s comment sounds over the top, you don’t know DUMBO. Around about the time that President Reagan was in Berlin telling Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” the city was doing the opposite for its once unified DUMBO residents, sealing off the 7,000-square-foot archway that once connected the eastern and western part of Water Street.
Yet even as the Berlin Wall fell, the Cold War ended, the Soviet Union collapsed and Reagan got an airport named after him, the Department of Transportation continued to use the picturesque spot to store equipment.
For several years, the DUMBO Improvement District has pushed for the archway to be turned into a walkway so that West DUMBO residents, eager to sit in the Pearl Street Triangle or access the furniture shops along Jay Street, or East DUMBO residents hoping to visit a gallery or get a Jacques Torres cookie, would no longer be forced to circumnavigate the bridge or go out of their way by using Front Street.
Now, between 8 am and 4 pm, intra-DUMBO pedestrians can stay on Water Street. The throughway will be fully open for 24-hours a day next fall.
Improvement District Executive Director Kate Kerrigan said she hopes to include art exhibits by local artist groups and events in the space, starting in the fall once the preliminary restoration work is finished.
“It’s something that the whole community’s been looking to achieve, and it’s really about the connectivity, recapturing of open space,” said Kerrigan.
The well-received opening of this public space comes just weeks after the Department of Transportation gave itself a black eye by seizing another neighborhood open space, the just-cleared area under the Brooklyn Bridge where the 1920s-era Purchase Building had stood. That building was knocked down by the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation to build a grand public piazza that was set to open next fall — until the city took it back for at least another five years.
“They got this one right at least,” said one Brooklyn Bridge Park insider.