A tour of Brooklyn Bridge Park

After work yesterday, I met the GRH Group at the new Pier 1 at Brooklyn Bridge Park (BBP) for a tour entitled “Brooklyn Bridge Park: Storm Resilience Through Design,” part of NYC’s inaugural week-long celebration of design, NYCxDESIGN.

The tour was lead by Regina Myer, President of BBP, and Stephen Noone, project manager for BBP at Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA.) Together they told us about some of the ways that Pier 1 was able to bounce back so well after partial inundation during Super Storm Sandy.

Myer said that the initial theme of the project was not to make it resilient in the face of extreme weather; in fact the BBP is a not-for-profit corporation, which (unlike most NYC Parks) is financially self-sustaining, impetus to build the park to last, making it sustainable on a low maintenance budget.

The BBP’s exposed waterfront location prompted MVVA to raise the existing 7.5ft elevation of the site up, using 45,000 cubic feet of landfill recycled from the MTA’s East Side Access project, to keep all of the park’s plantings above 8ft. Good thing they did, but Sandy still flooded the lower areas of the pier, up to 9.5ft above normal sea level.

Steve Noone pointed out the row of London Plane trees along the path leading up the hill from the pier’s east edge, where we could see the lowest trees visibly stressed, much shorter and with fewer leaves than those flourishing just a few feet uphill. He said London Planes are a hardy tree, traditionally thriving in harsh urban environments, which, combined with quick action from maintenance crews, helped them survive the saltwater inundation.

After Sandy’s surge began to recede, BBP maintenance workers rushed to turn on backup generators, which could only power two sprinkler zones at a time, so irrigation at each zone had to be independently turned on by hand and flushed out with freshwater. The park’s robust flora also includes Kentucky coffee trees, multiple species of oaks, various grasses, and a very salt-tolerant (and colorful!) rose, called rosa rugosa.

On the West side, Pier 1 is lined by salt marsh, which is separated by beds of local plantings from freshwater ponds, which act as overflows for a series of underground retention tanks for irrigation. A valve was closed on the tanks before the storm to prevent saltwater backflow from the ponds.

Reclaimed granite and riprap replaced deteriorating bulkheads around the salt marsh, protecting it from violent waves and allowing water to filter through. In other parts of the park, existing bulkheads will remain, as will the existing pier sheds over Pier 5, where MVVA is designing a huge roofed sports complex.

The theme of reuse continues throughout the park, from the reclaimed wood benches to marble donated by NYC Parks for a beautiful expanse of stepped granite seating on the North side of Pier 1 overlooking South Street Seaport. Myer said it’s a popular spot to get married!


On the upland side of Pier 1, bisected by the amazing Squibb Bridge, are two development sites which, along with One Brooklyn Bridge Park (a warehouse converted to residences,) will finance the park and allow it to expand while staying financially independent.

After the tour, we walked up and over the Squibb Bridge, a bouncy (!!) masterpiece designed by engineer Ted Zoli. As we exercised our sea legs, we discussed how many of these great sustainability tricks would be useful on sites all over NYC – there are so many waterfront sites still waiting to reconcile an industrial past with present residential and public uses.




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