Grand Army Plaza

Prospect Heights, Park Slope
Brooklyn, NY

Submitted by: kathleen ziegenfuss

A plaza that links commercial Flatbush Avenue with Prospect Park, and which joins Park Slope and Prospect Heights neighborhoods.

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Why It Doesn't Work

Grand Army Plaza is one of the most car-oriented intersections in Brooklyn, a place most people try to avoid even though it links commercial Flatbush Avenue with Prospect Park and connects the Park Slope and Prospect Heights neighborhoods. The place is terrifying to walk through, horrendous to bike through, and even scary to drive through.

The main reason behind Grand Army Plaza's failure as a public space is the excessive street capacity devoted to traffic. There are no more than two lanes going in either direction at any entry point, yet the road unnecessarily expands to six lanes in the middle of the plaza. As a result, the green spaces within the traffic circle are extremely hard--even dangerous--to access, and the greatest traffic impact is felt right in front of the grand entrance to Prospect Park.

The Grand Army Plaza area is known as the heart of Brooklyn for good reason. Within a few blocks' walk are the Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, countless shops, restaurants and homes, and of course the renowned Prospect Park. Yet people rarely choose to walk to Grand Army Plaza itself. If people are the lifeblood of any successful place, then Grand Army Plaza is not a very healthy heart at all.

The plaza only comes to life on Saturdays when the weekly greenmarket sets up at the Prospect Park entrance. Other than that (and the wedding parties that brave six lanes of traffic to have their pictures taken near the newly renovated Bailey Fountain), people are just passing through.

What Puts Grand Army Plaza in the Hall of Shame?

Stoplights do not allow pedestrians or bikers to move through the plaza quickly, but rather they must wait at multiple lights to get from one side to another.

The inner plaza is hidden from the Plaza Streets by 90' berms (raised land masses which are fenced off). The crosswalks which exist from the inner plaza to the surrounding sidewalks leave one stranded in the middle, having to make a run across multiple lanes of traffic and hope for good luck!

This is one of the most uncomfortable places in Brooklyn. I try to avoid it by planning my route to circumvent the area, whether or foot or on bicycle.

The plaza is dominated by vehicle use. The inner park has newly renovated fountain and benches but is not accessible enough to let people actually get there to enjoy it.

It could be a great spot, with lots of natural partners, but to date there is not much of a draw to meet people there or to enjoy the presence of others that are there. The inner plaza is isolated and feels a bit unsafe due to lack of people.

History & Background

Designed as a grand entrance to Prospect Park by original Prospect Park designers Olmsted and Vaux, the plaza opened in 1867. The memorial arch, created by John Duncan and completed in 1892, was designed after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and transformed the plaza. In 1975, Grand Army Plaza became a National Historic Landmark.

In 2006, Project for Public Spaces helped set up the Grand Army Plaza Coalition to help generate a new community-based vision for improving the the plaza.

Related Links:

  • Grand Army Plaza Coalition - The Grand Army Plaza Coalition (GAPCo) is an alliance of stakeholders in Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza, encompassing community groups, cultural organizations, and advocates who work together to improve the welfare of Grand Army Plaza. GAPCo seeks to understand how Grand Army Plaza functions today, to envision how the Plaza might function better, and to implement solutions that realize that vision. The coalition is always looking for new members.
  • PPS GAP Placemaking Workshop Findings Summary - Project for Public Spaces lead a community workshop in 2007 to identify key issues and opportunities for Grand Army Plaza.

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