Today: A Sneak Peak at Lakeside, Part II. Yesterday, I shared a look at the ravishingly restored original shoreline in Prospect Park's Concert Grove. Now for the rest of the tour: Turn on your heel, and there, looming over the bucolic scene, is an unfinished pavilion so large, it brought to mind those spaceships in "War of the Worlds." (Or maybe I'm just traumatized by the grim landing of the Barclay's Arena downtown.)
Our guide, Christian Zimmerman, the park's VP for Design and Construction, gestured to the insulation-wrapped slice that cut the horizon in two. "This," he stated, "allowed us to do this," pointing toward the verdant lake shore. It seems as if the architects have put much effort into trying to camoflauge the staggering scale of this project, through "green roofs," sweeping berms, and other tricks. The sketches (like this one of the main entry) make the finished product look like a post-modern, eco-conscious utopia. Perhaps it shall be so.
We clomped across what would be a green roof. How you grow trees on a flat roof without disaster I'll never know, but it's all the rage, as at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden's new entry pavilion. (The cynical renovator in me wonders, in 20 years, if we'll be sitting around LEED-certified buildings amid buckets full of rainwater, saying, "Remember the green roof craze?")
Looking down at the two rinks, the project's enormity hits you. The old Wollman rink was a pocket-sized affair (and set on a noticeable slant, requiring one to skate uphill), open only in winter. These rinks will offer two vast ice kingdoms in winter (linked by an "ice bridge"), and in summer the outdoor one (above, at left) will be a water playground while the sheltered one (now a dirt field, right) will provide Brooklyn with a roller rink (its only one after the lamented closing of a rink on Empire Boulevard some years ago).
...and summer, with (as Letterman says) "Prancing Fluids." (What artist gets the job of concocting these visions of sugarplums to dangle before donors and planning boards? I wish life would look like that.)
According to the park's plans, the two new rinks will cover 30,000 square feet, enough room to keep wobbly learners away from speeding hot-doggers. Also promised are a roomy cafe overlooking the ice (which we toured in raw-Sheetrock state) plus changing facilities, parking (on Breeze Hill nearby), and a new dock for pedal-boat rentals and electric boat tours. Lakeside clearly will tip the balance of park-power towards "my" side of the park, the often-neglected southern and eastern side; the Park Slopers will be heading our way with hockey gear in tow.
FUTURAMA, OR VAMPIRE SIBLING?
Lakeside will be dazzling, certainly in its first blush of youth. But recent events cast a shadow over those glowing renderings. Every donor and politician loves a ribbon-cutting, but this $74 million project is rising even as the rest of the park cuts staff and programming to the bone, with education—supposedly one of the park's big missions—taking it on the chin. School programs have already been suspended, as I wrote here, hoping that someone would protest. (No one did.)
The latest round of cutbacks are detailed here. Does anyone remember the fuss over the dramatically rescued-and-rehabbed Boathouse, a brief walk away? It opened with a flourish in 2002 as America's first and only urban Audubon Center, an environmental educational powerhouse for city kids. Now, says the park, the Center is cutting back public programs on-site to just two days a week, and renting the historic Boathouse out on weekends for badly needed "revenue."
And we're not done: The Lefferts Historic House has cut one member of its already tiny staff and cut programming and hours, as well as charging a modest admission fee that will still discourage many casual walk-in visitors.
Yes, I know: It's not like you could take dollars earmarked for Lakeside and give them to other players within the park. But there are only so many tax and philanthropy bucks to go around...and only so much public attention span.
BARRIER-FREE...FOR THE WALLET?
When the rink does open, it will be painstakingly compliant with ADA regs. But will it be economically accessible? The shabby Wollman Rink was at least fairly cheap, and non-affluent kids and families could rent skates and still afford hot dogs and cocoa. When I hear terms like "hockey" and "LEED-certified," my red-alert goes off: Will it cost $20 per-person to skate there, with a farm-to-table menu of $15 panini for refreshment afterwards? If so, I'll be watching from the sidelines, and eating a tote-bag banana, sulking.
I wonder what Mr. Frederick Law Olmsted would have made of it all. His and Calvert Vaux's original plans made little provision for sporting types of recreation. Brooklynites simply waited until Prospect Park Lake froze over, and showed up to skate. (That won't fly with legal these days, and just as well.) When Robert Moses built the first rink, active recreation for families was a towering priority (think Jones Beach). Today, our intentions are even nobler: not just fun, but eco-friendly, handicapped-accssible, organic and post-consumer-recycled fun. But if the cost keeps many of us far from that "access," it will torpedo Olmsted's high Victorian intentions of making the park a paradise for the common man. He foresaw how changing fashions would alter the park's sense of mission (and allocation of resources). I'll give him the last word: