Dynamic Places for Tech
While DUMBO consistently attracts tech firms due to the character of its old industrial buildings, its location by the waterfront and bridges, and its arts scene, the other points of the Tech Triangle need to show that they are dynamic places that will support a tech community interested in cultural activities, opportunities to cycle from home to work, and places to eat and meet. Much of the area is dominated by infrastructure from the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) and the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, creating barriers between the Tech Triangle neighborhoods. New York has a great history of transforming infrastructure elements into unique places and these spaces under and along the BQE and bridges must be embraced as part of the identity of the Tech Triangle.
Like the unprogrammed spaces created as a result of infrastructure, existing public space is underutilized. Columbus Park and Cadman Plaza could become a major focal point for Downtown Brooklyn, with visitors walking over the Brooklyn Bridge and people making connections between DUMBO and Downtown. These open spaces are also not robustly programmed for activities or evening uses and need to be re-imagined to broaden the appeal of the Tech Triangle.
Major roads like Flatbush Avenue, Flushing Avenue, and Adams Street have allowed cars to dominate. As a result, these roads generally have few restaurants or stores that generate foot traffic and are difficult to cross. Moreover, some of the major office space retains the aesthetic of 1980s back office space. The building lobbies, materials, and facades do not easily generate appeal among tech firms, even though the office spaces themselves offer dramatic views of the New York skyline.
The feeling of a lack of ground-floor activity and desirable buildings in some areas of the Tech Triangle is exacerbated by the presence of underutilized public space. While MetroTech Commons is heavily trafficked during business hours, more can be done to activate this charming public square through additional programming, seating, public art, lighting, and food and beverage options. The combination of more ground-floor activity and event space would mean that the programming already underway there could be extended into the weekend and evenings more often to draw in crowds from surrounding neighborhoods.
Specifically, the challenges to making the Tech Triangle places more dynamic include:
- Challenge 1: The MetroTech Campus has an opportunity to enhance its appeal as a public space destination.
- Challenge 2: Tech Triangle lacks a cohesive greenway linking Downtown to the waterfront.
- Challenge 3: The careful adaptation of infrastructure has transformed many Tech Triangle destinations into desirable public space (e.g.,the Manhattan Bridge Archway, Willoughby Plaza, and Pearl Street Triangle), but the areas beneath the Manhattan Bridge are loud and difficult to navigate.
- Challenge 4: The edge along the Navy Yard is harsh and feels unsafe to walk and cycle along.
- Challenge 5: Flatbush Avenue between the Fulton Mall and Barclays Center lacks identity.
- Challenge 6: Not enough attention has been paid to lighting the Tech Triangle at night, which could help turn the area into a series of safe and dynamic 24/7 destinations.
A number of initiatives have been proposed to address these challenges, a few of which are highlighted in more detail below:
MetroTech/Flatbush Ave Interplay
The Flatbush and Myrtle Avenues intersection is a key juncture that could create a strong link between universities, businesses, and residential buildings on either side of Flatbush Avenue. Reworking the Myrtle Street turnaround east of Flatbush into a through street with a single drop-off lane would open a large plaza along the North edge of the Chase building. This would create an opportunity for a unique restaurant or collaborative tech space above. In addition, the Chase building and 15 MetroTech building could have transparent retail spaces extending from them to create new retail frontage linking from City Point to Tillary Street.
MetroTech Commons/Bridge Street Market
The MetroTech Commons is a year-round active destination. By emphasizing more opportunities for events and by creating more food options, the Commons can create a dynamic 24/7 space in the center of Downtown Brooklyn. Through the inclusion of food trucks on Tech Place, the integration of public art, and the initiation of more nighttime events like outdoor films, MetroTech Commons can become a focal point for the tech scene. This initiative would support greater street life by enhancing the north-south connector streets from MetroTech to Willoughby and Fulton Streets. For instance, at the centrally located Bridge Street, a series of food vendors would create a market-like atmosphere that would add vitality to a key street leading into MetroTech.
The Brooklyn Strand
An impressive but underutilized and under-programmed belt of parks and plazas begins at the Brooklyn Bridge and extends through the center of Downtown Brooklyn to Brooklyn Borough Hall. This 21-acre series of public spaces, which includes Cadman Plaza, Walt Whitman Park, the Korean Veterans Plaza, Columbus Park, and various vacant municipal lots and lawns are punctuated by substantial open areas, a community of mature and healthy trees and impressive civic architecture. Together, these parks serve thousands of people daily, from local students playing soccer on the turf lawns of Cadman Plaza to Downtown office workers and people serving jury duty visiting the Greenmarket of Columbus Park. However, heavy usage is concentrated in two limited areas of the 21-acre stretch and the series of spaces lack cohesiveness or an overall sense of place.
Many of the other open spaces in the Tech Triangle can best be described as interstitial spaces alongside the infrastructure of the bridges and BQE or along streets or in other leftover spaces within the urban fabric. While individually small, these sites taken together as a network of spaces have great potential to provide necessary neighborhood amenities and green space. Columbus Park, Cadman Plaza, and these smaller open spaces should be designed to function in a fresh way that encourages flexibility of use, authenticity of place, and a neighborhood character that is youthful and dynamic. They should not only be pedestrian, bike- and dog-friendly, but also functional, green, and varied.
In aggregate, these spaces have the potential to serve as critical connective tissue between two borough-wide destinations (Brooklyn Bridge Park and Downtown Brooklyn) and many neighborhoods (Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO, Fort Greene, Downtown Brooklyn, etc.). An effort should be made to re-imagine these spaces as a whole rather a collection of disconnected parts—and as the Tech Triangle central commons known as the Brooklyn Strand.
There is a parking lot at the critical juncture where Adams Street, Willoughby Plaza, Fulton Mall, Joralemon Street, and Boerum Place all come together. Given its central role as the southern gateway to the Civic Center and Cadman Plaza, the space should be redesigned and reprogrammed as an open space for people to enjoy. While preserving all existing trees, the fences and barriers would be removed, opening the space to Adams Street and Fulton Street.
Roughly one third of the ground plane would be planted with ornamental gardens, creating a green oasis. The remaining pedestrian plaza areas would be defined with alternating paving bands and site furnishings as well as seating areas. A sculptural folded topiary “arbor” would form a backdrop for the park, provide a structure for flowering vines and an armature for a series of urban porch swings. The new park would be inviting, green, and brimming with life and activity.
One way to make Cadman Plaza more dynamic would be to add activity areas. The Cadman Café would create a fantastic outdoor gathering point and serve as a key element of the Brooklyn Strand. In addition, the café would appeal to visitors arriving off the Brooklyn Bridge promenade, offering them a reason to head south in the direction of Downtown. The café itself would be sited in a minimalist footprint so as not to disturb park activities or open space on the north side of the Brooklyn World War II Memorial, helping to revitalize an oval-shaped area at the northern end of the Plaza.
Brooklyn Landing/Clumber Corner
This site is wedged into the interstices of the Brooklyn Bridge and the BQE, and is divided by Washington Street and Prospect Street into three separate spaces. It is one of the first places pedestrians and tourists encounter when walking down from the Brooklyn Bridge. It is also visible in the sight lines of all persons using the bridge or highway. Proposed in the largest segment of the site is a tethered helium observation balloon called Brooklyn Rising. The balloon will symbolize the revitalization and growth of Brooklyn. The observation balloon would be an iconic element rising 600 feet in the air, and visible for great distances. It will afford balloon riders unprecedented views of the borough and surrounding city and harbor. The balloon would hold up to 30 passengers at a time and serve as a great tourist attraction and neighborhood amenity; it would also invite concessions who operate similar attractions in other places in the country (e.g., Orange County, CA) to the Brooklyn Tech Triangle to operate this attraction.
A series of concentric rings radiating out from the balloon organize the three open space parcels into a unified whole. At the base of the balloon would be a plaza with a queuing line and a visitor center with ticket booths and restrooms. Across Washington Street would be a terraced lawn and plaza with picnic tables and seating. This space would be suited for programmed events and performances, art installations, and hanging out. The third part of the space would be organized with concentric bands of recycled concrete and ornamental plantings. Clumber Corner would serve as an iconic marker for Brooklyn and a gateway to DUMBO and the tech community.
The tech terraces are sited over an underutilized dead-end street adjacent to the Brooklyn Bridge. As the commercial district expands with the activation of the Watchtower Properties, it will be critical to improve the pedestrian experience that must coexist with this major entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge. Designed as a contemporary pocket park, this site has a series of flexible-use terraces. The terraces will be furnished with picnic tables, terraced benches, outdoor ping-pong tables, and ornamental plantings. A large digital screen will be interactive with users mobile devices for both work and play. A grove of scattered trees will provide a light dappled shade for comfort.
This is a new kind of dog run, very urban in character. Located on a sliver of open space wedged between York Street and a tall retaining wall supporting the BQE, this dog run would create productive exercise space by using slopes and ramps to create the first vertical dog run in the City. Slopes will be landscaped with rockeries and plantings and a grove of ornamental trees will provide shade for dogs and their caretakers.
Commodore Barry Park Edge Treatment/New Sidewalk through Ingersoll Houses
Commodore Barry Park is an important public space for many different communities. The park is also at the important nexus of Flushing Avenue and Navy Street. The edge of this park is ringed with high chain-linked fences and then another ring of iron gates, creating an inhospitable front on both those streets. Rising activity along these routes has created an important opportunity to soften these edges with landscaping. A complete renovation and upgrade to the Park would provide a major boost to the live-work quality of the Tech Triangle.
Nearby, the stretch on Navy Street between Myrtle Avenue and Park Avenue is one of the few areas in the City where a typical City street does not have sidewalks. When Ingersoll Houses was built, sidewalks were created not too far from the roadway, but behind the iron gates within the NYCHA property. As a result, many people do not walk along Navy Street even though it is an important connector to Downtown Brooklyn, Commodore Barry Park, and the Navy Yard. The existing road width on Navy Street provides enough space for sidewalks along the street and to eliminate fencing that walls them off.
Fox Square/Flatbush Ave Improvements
A key focus point in Downtown Brooklyn, Fox Square has potential to be reinvented as a kind of Times Square for Brooklyn. For Fox Square, strategies could include digital concrete, embedding sensors and other LED lighting effects in new plaza paving, and physical wayfinding markers as critical points in the lighting route. Activating the blank façade and ground floor of the Con Edison Building (30 Flatbush Avenue) with new tech-oriented retail would help drive the reinvention of Flatbush Avenue.
Lighting can reinforce district identity, alleviate areas that may seem unwelcoming, and enliven key spaces. Lighting infrastructure can also serve to facilitate temporary or seasonal lighting elements and artwork, drawing in visitors and strengthening sense of place. A series of initiatives across the distinct areas of the Tech Triangle will emphasize the unique places and help make people comfortable walking around the area at night:
1. Bridge Street Lighting
There is a need to make the north-south streets connecting MetroTech and Willoughby/Fulton Streets feel safer and more inviting, particularly as more hotels open in this area. Bridge Street’s convivial festoon lighting extends the invitation of the plaza into evening hours, encouraging foot traffic and general activity. This simple lighting idea increases the light level along the passage and adds sparkle that can be viewed from a distance.
2. Cadman Plaza Lighting
The theme of sparkle expands to Cadman Plaza and the Korean War Veterans Plaza by means of tree glitter, made possible by the addition of outdoor-rated outlets associated with select trees and hedgerows. Seasonal or temporary tree lighting can be festive and installed without harm to planting. In-grade lighting can also be located to enhance new shade structures at Fulton Place.
3. York Street Station Lighting
York Street station is a destination in its own right. Taking full advantage of the station house’s prominent site, lighting is proposed to welcome riders with a playful interpretation of the system’s “green globe” (meaning “always-open entrance”): bright green windows that reinforce the neighborhood’s open-for-business mentality.
4. Under the Bridge Lighting
Proposals under consideration for the enhancement of the Manhattan Bridge anchorage and Pearl Street Plaza include the replacement of existing NYC DOT street lights by white (LED) fixtures in a new, pedestrian friendly layout; floodlighting of the exterior bridge anchorages to wash the structure and catch the eye (especially from the Front Street vista); and a complete overhaul of the existing archway lighting with dynamic, color changing, and energy-efficient LED lighting floodlights and wall grazers.