Urban Island or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Flatbush Ave

by: Babak Bryan & Jake Lachapelle

Grand Army Plaza is untangled by layering the conflicting modes of travel. A new transportation hub is created by submerging Flatbush Avenue. Prospect Park expands into the spaces left above, and pedestrian Brooklynites can finally move from the north through the plaza and into the Park unimpeded.”


gap north


gap south












The location of the public space known now as Grand Army Plaza came out of a confluence of paths between the villages that would eventually make up Brooklyn. The largest of these paths ran along the line of present-day Flatbush Avenue. The designers of Prospect Park, Calvert Vaux and Frederick Olmstead, fashioned the plaza as a large open space which would serve as the grand entrance to the park. In their investigations they found it difficult to design a proper entrance to the park. "The unsatisfactory feature was the shape of the entrance itself, left at the apex of a triangle which was apparently struggling to wedge its way into the street system of the city," Vaux and Olmsted wrote in their 1874 report to the commissioners. "To overcome this serious difficulty, the Plaza was introduced as a main elementary feature in the general design." [- GAPCo report Rethinking Grand Army Plaza: Bringing People and Communities Together, 2007] However, their overly rational and symmetric solution was forced upon multiple converging grids and never succeeded in unifying the entire area. As the traffic patterns developed the oval became more congested and blocked pedestrian movement through the plaza. There is little debate that the plaza is dysfunctional, despite recent improvements.

Grand Army Plaza can be untangled by layering the multiple modes and paths of travel. The existing functioning areas and useful adjacencies should be maintained and new elements will be interwoven to enhance this already vibrant Brooklyn landmark. We propose the following:

• Cut terrain open to reveal the upper level of the subway below.
• Submerge Flatbush Avenue to the level of the 2/3 train.
• Create a new transportation hub by providing bus turnouts from Flatbush for safe transfer from all three routes (B47, B69 & B71) to all subways (2,3,4,5,B & Q). Routes are unchanged.
• Allow pedestrian traffic to flow through newly created park space from the north end of the plaza unimpeded, through the Memorial Arch, and into Prospect Park.
• Maintain the outer ellipse, Plaza Street, as originally planned. Additional bike-only lanes on the inside of the parked cars enhances bikers' safety as they loop around to their destinations.
• Create an urban island above the transportation hub; keep the Bailey Fountain and other historic monuments in place. The former road beds are replanted with seasonal vegetation. This fosters a zone for quiet reflection.
• Span Flatbush with a pedestrian bridge which provides an annex reading room to the adjacent Brooklyn Library.
• With Flatbush significantly below grade we are able to flatten the sound dampening berms at the east and west sides of the plaza and bring that space back into public usage. The 'green market' gains a bigger new home in this area.
• Provide a new grand staircase to connect the pedestrian plazas below to the Memorial Arch, creating a dramatic formal entrance to the park. The stair evokes other great urban staircases, where pedestrians can relax and enjoy watching Brooklyn.

Competition Home: Reinventing Grand Army Plaza