The city opens “The Arches” under the Brooklyn Bridge

This is what people mean when they talk about political will. Skateboarders who used the space under the Brooklyn Bridge — dubbed the Brooklyn Banks — never gave up on their dream of seeing the skate park reopened. When they came to CB1 to try once again back in fall 2020, stars aligned and members of the committee glommed on, seeing an opportunity for an even bigger park using those spaces and then some.

And then by good luck, the project dovetailed with Mayor Adams’ plan to open public spaces around the city, and that’s where the political will comes in. The de Blasio administration didn’t go for the plan when it was first pitched — the Department of Transportation was still toiling at a 13-year, $800 million project to restore and clean the bridge, and using those acres for staging and parking. (Who knew the stone of the bridge wasn’t actually brown??)

But now that the DOT is almost finished — their work will be completed at the end of this year — the city was willing to cut the fence on one of the more peripheral spaces under a vestigial ramp this past Wednesday, creating a shady, one-acre public space on what was the 140th birthday of the bridge. At the ribbon cutting, the city promised that future areas will be opened at the end of 2024.

“It’s almost surreal that I am standing here now,” said Steve Rodriguez, a co-founder of Gotham Park and a skateboarder who’s been tilting at this windmill for almost two decades, since the city first closed the area temporarily in 2004. On Wednesday, his son was doing the skateboarding, not him. “Where there’s a will there a way. This sport is so amazing — I just love to see the diversity — and now it’s in the Olympics.”

It’s not an impressive space really — while I would recommend a walk over just to get a sense of it, you will discover one half is just asphalt courts under the ramp; the other is the original brick-paved public space that was always there but was fenced off. The underbelly of the ramp itself creates the most visual interest. The DOT’s contractors did the work, laying the asphalt, patching the bricks and installing extra benches and hoops. Skateboarders will for sure love it, and the students at Murry Bergtraum next door will now have an outdoor space to colonize. (There are pickleball, basketball and shuffleboard courts but you have to bring your own equipment.)

But the potential for additional spaces closer to the 53 arches under the bridge is what is really striking. The DOT left some good viewing areas where you can see the truly impressive restoration work of the stone arches and their brick details and what I found most exciting: another large passageway under the bridge — the Vanderwater arch, once on a now forgotten street, Vanderwater Street — that will serve as a pedestrian only connection between Chinatown and the Seaport.

How this first acre gets shared will be interesting to see — only a few remember how it all worked in the late ’90s and early 2000s. “The space was always been used by everyone from skateboarders to people doing Tai chi to off-duty cops,” Steve said. “There’s enough space here to do anything — passive activities and bikes and skateboards.”

Right now the folks behind Gotham Park — the non-profit set up to guide the park through its next years — had the city add extra benches where Steve said no one would skate anyway. And there are big stretches of open brick, where, he suggested, a kid could learn to use a bike or you could set up a couple small soccer goals.

“Now I want to make sore the momentum we have now keeps going,” Steve said. “I’ve been an advocate for 20 years. I know it’s a large ask. But spaces like this allow that to get there.”