Get to know Olmsted and Vaux


A petition is circulating to bring grass back to the dustbowl, that further intends to install a dedicated astroturf soccer pitch in the middle of the oval.  The grass part sounds wonderful, but the astroturf is problematic on several levels…

•  Astroturf is not just a carpet.  It would require a concrete slab to be poured under the entire footprint of the pitch, and might require a fence.

•  The oval would necessarily become a permitted sports area just like the tennis courts, meaning soccer players would need to organize teams, secure permits, and schedule playing time.

•  Fort Greene park is a landmarked park, and astro-turfing a central lawn in an historically preserved Olmsted and Vaux designed park would be next to impossible.

That last one is the real kicker.  Fort Greene Park was landmarked along with an adjoining swath of brownstone blocks back in the 1970’s.  Many people living within the landmark district know how stringent a concept landmarking can be.  Preserving the historical character of our park is a burden we bear, but it is also what makes our neighborhood so popular, for better or worse.

Some may say, “But what about the tennis courts?  Why do they get to be there?”  It may be that tennis courts were part of the Olmsted and Vaux design, and so any update would have been permissible.  Curiously there is some unsubstantiated evidence to suggest that the oval was originally a croquet field!  As referenced above, the tennis courts are permitted athletic fields, and any proposed soccer pitch would fall under the same regulations.

On a somewhat related note, the dustbowl players are circulating a photograph that claims to show “football” players in Fort Greene Park in the 1870’s, tagged with the comment “As Olmsted and Vaux envisioned it!!!!!”  In the sense that there is grass on the ground, yes.  Otherwise, one can’t really tell whether the activity captured was soccer, or football, or rugby…or whether a dot in the air is a ball, or a dot.  One thing is for sure, the photo was taken before Olmsted and Vaux’s park even existed.  Their plan was implemented after that photograph was taken, in fact, Fort Greene Park was not even officially Fort Greene Park until 1897…until then it was known as Washington Park.

From website:

In 1867 landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, designers of Central and Prospect Parks, were engaged to prepare a new design for Washington Park and a crypt for the remains of the prison ship martyrs. At the top of the hill was a trellised walk approaching two flights of steps that led down to a circular parade ground in the northwest corner of the park. Olmsted and Vaux proposed that the rest of the hilly site would be “somewhat closely planted, and . . .so laid out that it will offer a series of shady walks that will have an outlook over open grassy spaces.” Washington Park was renamed for Fort Greene in 1897, less than a year before Brooklyn was consolidated into greater New York City. The street that bounds the park on the east is still known as Washington Park.

That “outlook over open grassy spaces” line certainly strikes a chord today.

And while we are on the subject of history, did you know that Commodore Barry Park was the first park in Brooklyn?  Fort Greene Park was a close second!  Regardless of which came first, our neighborhood is blessed with two amazing, historically significant parks.  One is landmarked, increasingly crowded, and suffering a dustbowl.  The other is not landmarked, underutilized, and suffering a desolate concrete slab.  If we can find a way to serve the needs of both our parks, they can serve ALL of Fort Greene, and take a positive step towards bridging the divide that has existed across Myrtle Avenue for a century or more.  There is so much density in our area today, from housing projects to glass and steel high-rises, and since Fort Greene’s growth shows no signs of slowing down, we need both our fine parks to thrive.  Let’s come together and get to work on a greener future for our historic hood!  Anyone who wants to get involved in the conversation about the Commodore Barry Park proposal, click here, and speak up in the comments, and click here to make your vote count in our community polls.  Thank you!


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