The Grand Army Plaza Coalition (GAPCo) was founded by PPS and a group of committed local residents in March 2006 to improve Grand Army Plaza and connect surrounding neighborhoods to what could be one of the most important public spaces in Brooklyn. While speaking at a conference of the Park Slope Civic Council, PPS suggested the creation of the group and organized the first meeting. PPS has since worked closely with GAPCo as it has evolved to be a strong grassroots group with a bold vision and agenda.
In March 2007, to further build the coalition and articulate the issues and opportunities for the plaza, PPS facilitated a community workshop for GAPCo called "Rethinking Grand Army Plaza". The workshop was funded as part of the NYC Streets Renaissance Campaign by Mark Gorton's Open Planning Project, and produced a report that continues to guide the evolution of the area.
GAPCo invited community stakeholders from many different constituencies--neighborhood residents, planning professionals, elected officials, and issue-oriented activists--to come together and rethink how Grand Army Plaza functions. Using PPS Placemaking principles and "Place Game" methodology, participants observed and assessed every element at work in the Plaza, brainstormed some creative solutions, and presented their thoughts to the larger group.
The vision that evolved from the workshop was that Grand Army Plaza, as one of Brooklyn's most significant destinations, should draw on and highlight the cultural, institutional, historical and economic assets of surrounding neighborhoods. The experience of the plaza should be broadened by linking it to its surroundings, and local institutions and communities should be engaged as the improvement process proceeds. The workshop report served as a programmatic vision document to test design ideas against.
In summer 2009, PPS facilitated meetings of GAPCo's design committee to maintain the grassroots momentum and help articulate and summarize the broad range of creative ideas that had reached a degree of community agreement. Meetings included members of the Prospect Park Alliance and the Department of Transportation.
In spring 2010, NYC DOT announced some changes that reflect closely what the community had been asking for. and will be implemented during the summer. By fall 2011 the changes had been announced and celebrated by GAPCo and NYC DOT. The PPS workshop and report are also credited as the seed of the community vision for the rightsizing of Prospect Park West.
The process to more actively manage and grow GAP as a heart of Brooklyn, and eventually connect the arch to the park, is still underway.
Many great public spaces have grown out of communities resisting development. It is the evolution from opposition to proactive visioning - helping to create, finance, and manage public spaces - that often makes the opposition successful. Congress Square, and the community around it, are forging this story of transformation.
Mayor Bill de Blasio caused quite a stir around New York City yesterday as he floated the idea of tearing up the pedestrian plaza in Times Square. This statement was the culmination of several days of debate centered around predatory panhandling and the square’s growing number of “street performers.”