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Brooklyn Bridge Park: Pier 1 & Pier 3-4 Uplands

Landscape Performance Benefits


  • Reduces annual stormwater runoff by 80% on Pier 1. Pier 1 retains more than twice as much of the local average rainfall than a traditional waterfront park landscape reference site.
  • Provides annual functional benefits approximately 4 times greater in value per sf in the “managed succession” planting areas on Pier 1 compared to a “traditional” planting typology. The “managed succession” planting areas provide annual benefits valued at $2,055, including 4,370 lbs of gross carbon sequestration, 2,246 cu ft of annual avoided runoff, and 966 lbs of pollutant removal.
  • Provides habitat for 119 species of birds observed on-site. Of these, 11 species were observed to nest on site and 74 use it as a migratory stopover point, including one New York Species of Special Concern.
  • Increases ecological quality as demonstrated by an increase in Floristic Quality Index (FQI) in “managed succession” areas from 0.0 to 23.1 relative to existing site conditions and to an equivalent “traditional” waterfront park landscape.
  • Increased Biomass Density Index from 0.15 to an estimated 2.43 relative to existing site conditions. This BDI is nearly three times greater than that of a nearby traditionally designed waterfront park (0.84).
  • Diverted over 90,000 cu yds of material from landfills by using salvaged fill material for the creation of the Pier 1 and sound berm topography. This represented a cost savings of roughly $2.88 million in comparison to provision of traditional sources of fill material.


  • Attracts an average of 127,307 weekend and 25,789 weekday visitors during summer months. 18.84% of 2015 users were from adjacent neighborhoods, and 63.54% were from other parts of New York City.
  • Hosts over 664 programs and events annually.
  • Reduces noise levels by 10.4 dB, with sound levels from Brooklyn-Queens Expressway traffic averaging 64.1dB behind the sound berm as compared to an average of 74.9dB where no sound berm is present. A 10 dB reduction reduces perceived sound levels by half.


  • Generates revenues to cover 100% of costs for park maintenance and operations. Revenues come from concessions, parking, permits and events, and development of parcels within the park site.

At a Glance

  • Designer

    Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

  • Project Type

    Park/Open space
    Waterfront redevelopment

  • Former Land Use


  • Location

    Brooklyn Bridge Park, 2 Old Fulton St
    Brooklyn, New York 11201
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  • Climate Zone

    Humid subtropical

  • Size

    13.6 acres

  • Budget

    $62.6 million

  • Completion Date


Stretching for 1.3 miles along the East River, Brooklyn Bridge Park is a former inoperative cargo shipping and storage facility transformed into an 85-acre civic landscape. The park forges new connections between the adjacent Brooklyn neighborhoods and the East River, overcoming the longstanding separation that resulted from the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, steep grade separation, and former industrial land use. It provides a broad range of passive and active outdoor recreation opportunities and space for community and civic events. Brooklyn Bridge Park incorporates elements of its industrial past through the strategic and extensive reuse of existing structures and salvaged materials. The park introduces a range of aquatic and terrestrial plant communities and habitats to the formerly desolate site and incorporates stormwater management techniques that capture runoff for irrigation. Ongoing park maintenance and upkeep is self-financed and funded through revenue generated from vendors, donations, and development parcels located within the park boundaries. 


The post-industrial site presented numerous challenges. One major design challenge was the scale of the site. As a 1.3-mile strip along the waterfront, the design needed to make the most of its linear form while also incorporating the extensive expanse of the adjacent New York Harbor into the park experience. Additionally, the elevated Brooklyn-Queens Expressway creates a barrier between the adjacent neighborhoods and the park site, limiting the number of possible access points and generating significant noise levels due to continual fast-moving traffic. Furthermore, the existing marine infrastructure upon which the park is built was in varying states of decay. Finally, the park had a mandate to be financially self-sustaining, as set out in the 2005 General Park Plan from the New York State Urban Development Corporation, meaning that all funding for operation, maintenance, and upkeep needed to be generated within the park footprint from commercial activities and residential projects located within the park.


The design incorporates a number of grand, sweeping spatial gestures and a mix of elements that create a hierarchy of scales on the linear site. For example, the design uses very tall light poles, but the vegetation structure helps bring it down to a more intimate and human scale. Vegetation and topography are used to frame views of the harbor and Manhattan skyline. To improve access, a proposed bridge will span from existing Squibb Park over the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and into Brooklyn Bridge Park to provide an additional access point. Since the number of park access points is somewhat limited, these points were designed to be “urban junctions” with high-use programs and vendors clustered at these gateways to amplify social activity and attract people to the park site. A new sound berm adjacent to the expressway reduces noise levels within the park while avoiding the deflection of noise back towards the neighborhood on the other side of the expressway. Marine structures that were in significant states of disrepair and that would be extremely costly to repair were removed. The existing sheet pile walls at Pier 1 were repaired and reinforced to hold additional fill for Pier 1’s dramatic topography. A stone revetment was placed underwater along the reinforced sheet pile wall to prevent scour damage from river currents. Responding to the self-financing mandate, future maintenance costs were projected and correlated to financial models of potential revenue generation. Based on these models, 10% of the park’s footprint was set aside as development parcels to provide the bulk of financing for ongoing maintenance costs. 

  • The new park will encompass 1.3 miles of shoreline, as well as 4 piers that jet out into the East River. Phase 1 included just three piers: 1, 3, and 4. 
  • Where possible, materials were salvaged from the existing site or diverted waste streams from other New York City sites and incorporated into the park. Additionally, the design was adapted during construction to incorporate found materials, objects, and additional material salvage opportunities.
  • 90,000 cu yds of fill material was salvaged from the Long Island Rail Road East Side Access Project to create the topography for the Pier 1 and Pier 3-4 Uplands.
  • 300 blocks of granite salvaged from the Roosevelt Island Bridge and 400 blocks salvaged from the Willis Avenue Bridge was reused to create a dramatic stepped area at the Pier 1 granite prospect and used elsewhere as paving, curbs, and retaining walls.
  • Longleaf yellow pine beams and columns from an existing on-site building were salvaged and reused for site furnishings such as benches and picnic tables throughout the park, as well as incorporated into cladding on the facades of park kiosks and buildings.
  • 8 major planting typologies, including open hedgerows, dense hedgerows, connective groves, very small trees, 2 different meadow community typologies, barren heaths and coastal shrubland, as well as freshwater wetlands and salt marshes, provide a highly varied range of human experience, microclimates, vegetative structure, plant communities and habitat conditions.
  • 9 different soil types are used on Pier 1. Varied, highly detailed soil types and profiles are designed to parallel naturally-occurring soil structures. These soils vary in composition and depth and are designed specifically for each plant community and use.
  • A tiered wetland system combined with underground storage tanks on Pier 1 catches and retains stormwater from 65% of the surface area, preventing direct flow into the East River. 
  • A 71,000-sf sound berm spanning the entire southern half of the park reduces on-site noise pollution from the adjacent Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
  • Geofibers and geogrids are used to stabilize steep slopes on Pier 1 and the sound berm.
  • Park lights are mounted on 45-ft poles to enable more even “moonlighting” techniques that minimize glare, and are dimmable to enable adjustment over the course of the night and of the seasons.

The park had a mandate to be financially self-sustaining, as set out in the 2005 General Park Plan from the New York State Urban Development Corporation, meaning that all funding for operations, maintenance, and upkeep needed to be generated within the park footprint from commercial activities and residential projects located within the park. It stipulated that up to 20% of the project site could be dedicated to development.

Responding to the the self-financing mandate, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation (the client, a not-for-profit entity responsible for park financing, operations and maintenance) originally developed a financial model in 2005 during the park’s planning phase that projected future maintenance costs and correlated them to financial models of potential revenue generation. The financial models are updated annually and are publicly accessible through the Brooklyn Bridge Park website. Based on the initial models, 10% of the park’s footprint was dedicated to be development parcels, which provide the bulk of revenue for ongoing maintenance costs, such as maintenance staff, utilities, and most significantly, the upkeep costs of the piers and pilings. Financial modelling also accounted for and projected different strategies for addressing the long-term upkeep costs for the marine infrastructure. 

Having a guaranteed maintenance funding stream, regardless of variations in municipal park funding, allows Brooklyn Bridge Park to plan strategic long-term improvements of marine infrastructure, and to carry out more labor-intensive vegetation management strategies, such as the “managed succession” approach that mirrors long-term ecological processes.

  • Since the park is being constructed over multiple phases, lessons learned in earlier phases are being incorporated into the implementation of later phases. For example, the Pier 1 salt marsh was constructed with a riprap breakwater along the waterfront to cut down on wave energy. This riprap level was originally set just below the high tide elevation, which resulted in floatable debris filling the salt marsh. In a salt marsh constructed at John Street during a later phase, the breakwater was set 6 in above high tide, which eliminated the debris accumulation issue.
  • The sound berm at Pier 3-4 Uplands was initially seeded with grasses and forbs with jute matting to prevent erosion. The jute matting was not open enough to allow forb seedlings to grow through, resulting in difficulties establishing the planting. Additionally, there were longer-term maintenance concerns with the sound berm planting: native grasses generally proved difficult to establish on the steep slopes, resulting in bare patches where weeds could then establish. Since many of these areas are at 1:1 slopes, weed removal and ongoing maintenance are difficult. Later changes to the sound berm used geofiber-reinforced soil instead of jute matting and a fescue planting mix that includes a creeping variety that establishes quickly to choke out weed development. Beginning in the summer of 2016, 4 goats were also introduced on the steep slopes to help with weed removal.
  • High-use lawn areas wear out rapidly because of high levels of traffic. The design team and owner continue to experiment with solutions. The Bridge View lawn is hosting a trial of turf grids that are supposed to resist compaction. These were installed in the fall of 2015 and continue to be evaluated.
  • Large portions of the park were inundated for up to 4 hours during Superstorm Sandy on October 29, 2012, and in the aftermath, some tree species that were in the floodplain died from overexposure to salt. Brooklyn Bridge Park horticulture staff marked the limit of inundation with paint, brought in water trucks, and began a regime of spraying down the vegetation and planting beds below the line in order to flush the salt out of the soil profile. This was combined with a soil monitoring program. The list of plant species was adjusted based on which trees seemed better able to handle the saltwater inundation, and horticulture staff at the park have subsequently organized a consortium of regional waterfront park managers to share vegetation best practices for salt resistance and waterfront planting. One takeaway has been the value of elevated topography for waterfront parks. In future, efforts should be made to place more trees on high ground, where the root zones are protected from saltwater inundation.

Range Fence: Custom designed by MVVA using wire and black locust wood posts
Marine Rail: Custom designed by MVVA
Lighting: Custom designed by MVVA and Domingo Gonzalez Associates
Benches: Custom designed by MVVA using steel and reclaimed longleaf yellow pine wood

Project Team

Team Leader and Landscape Architect: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.
Cost Estimating: Accu-Cost Construction Consultants
Civil, Marine and MEP Engineers: AECOM
Renewable Energy Consultant: Altpower/RELAB
Architecture: Architecture Research Office, James Carpenter Design Associates, Kenny and Kahn
Environmental Engineers: Cerami Associates
Food and Restaurant Consultant: Clark Wolf
Government and Community Relations: Constructive Strategies
Urban Design: Cooper, Robertson and Partners, Greenberg Consultants
Lighting Design: Domingo Gonzalez Associates
Risk and Protection: Ducibella Venter and Santore
Transportation Planner: Eng-Wong Taub and Associates
Architecture and Conditions Surveyor: Gensler
Ecologist: Great Eastern Ecology
Infrastructural Engineer: Henry Bardsley, RFR
Economic Consultant: HR&A Advisors
Hotel Consultant: Lodging Investments Advisors
Ecological Landscape Planning: Margie Ruddick Landscape
Landscape Maintenance and Cost Analysis: Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects
Stormwater Reuse Consultant: Nitsch Engineering
Irrigation: Northern Designs
Graphic Design: OPEN
Park Building Architect of Record: Paulus, Sokolowski and Sartor
Graphic Design: Pentagram Design
Soil Scientist: Pine and Swallow Associates
Structural Engineer: Richmond So Engineers, Inc, Ysrael A. Seinuk, PC
Ecologist: Steven Handel
Economic Consultant: Susan Fine
Park Maintenance and Planning: Weisz + Yoes Architecture

Role of the Landscape Architect

The landscape architect served as the primary consultant and design lead from the 2005 master plan through construction. The landscape architect organized and coordinated a large team of consultants on a complex site for over a decade, from setting out the initial high-level design strategies to making detailed design decisions on all aspects of the project. Working collaboratively with the client, Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, the landscape architect helped determine the footprints for development versus open space and established the layout of the “urban junctions” from park to neighborhood. Working collaboratively with the consulting ecologist, the landscape architect determined the mix and arrangement of target ecosystems throughout the park. The landscape architect organized studies by consultants on economic modelling, infrastructure and marine engineering, park maintenance, and sound abatement to establish the major elements and design decisions in the park. The landscape architect intervened at various moments throughout construction to redesign portions of the project when materials or structures were donated or gifted to the park, and continues to consult with the horticulture staff for ongoing maintenance and planting decisions.


Stormwater management, Habitat creation, preservation & restoration, Habitat quality, Air quality, Carbon sequestration & avoidance, Reused/recycled materials, Recreational & social value, Noise mitigation, Operations & maintenance savings, Wetland, Trees, Reused/recycled materials, Native plants, Efficient lighting, Biodiversity, Placemaking, Revitalization

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