Prospect Park doesn't just wake up looking like this—not only does it take a lot of work to maintain its many paths and lawns, it's taken years to whip Brooklyn's most popular green space into the shape it is today.
The Prospect Park Alliance was formed in 1987 in attempt to rehabilitate what was then a somewhat troubled space, said Susan Donoghue, who assumed the role of Alliance president in October.
Among the first projects it undertook was restoration of the carousel, which was first installed in 1952 but in later years fell into a sorry state of disrepair. "They literally took the whole thing apart, repainted it, restored the horses and the organ and opened it back up to the community," she said. "It was kind of a signature effort of ours to get people back out and feeling comfortable in the park."
The Alliance next targeted the ravine area, with $9 million dedicated to replanting trees, restoring pathways and making it a "habitable, pleasant place to go into and to stroll," Donoghue said.
As for the present, the Alliance has focused its efforts on restoring the park's heavily trafficked ball fields, which Donoghue said have long suffered from "terrible drainage issues." Field One is already done, though it will be closed through summer to let the grass grow in.
"We've made a commitment that we wont take any more than two fields off at one time so it won't have too much of a negative impact on usage," she said. "But we're making improvements to those fields so they can be better utilized throughout the year."
The park's largest and flashiest project, though, was the redevelopment of Lakeside, a $74 million endeavor that totally revamped the park's lower eastern side, restoring aspects of the design originally drawn up by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, which includes the scenic Music Island and the restoration of the park's two skating rinks. The redesign also resulted in the "recapture" of three acres of parkland, "which I feel like you're never able to do that in a densely populated area like New York," Donoghue said. It also doubled the number of bathrooms on the premises.
In attempt to make lemonade out of lemons, the park has also erected Zucker Playground, using trees felled during Sandy to create a natural play area for kids.
"It's a really interesting space, with little pathways for kids and stumps to climb on, and it's been really popular," Donoghue said, adding that its creation also helps illustrate the potential to "activate new space in the park." She said she'd next like to focus on roughly 26 acres near the park's northeast perimeter—"a beautiful wooded area that right now is not so well utilized." Potential uses might be a sculpture garden, an amphitheater or performance space, or just another restroom.
Still, Donoghue pointed out that the intention is not to replicate Central Park, with its impeccably groomed walkways and perfectly manicured lawns.
"The ability to get lost in Prospect Park and not know that you're in the city is what's so great about this park, and really differentiates it from Central Park and other parks in the city," she said. "It is very much a neighborhood community, it's people's backyard, and it's something that we very much value."
Building on the momentum of Lakeside and the park's other successes has inspired the Alliance to look at what's next. "As we look at the things that we're trying to address, like the incredible popularity of the park and serving over ten million people a year now, we basically just need more space and more usable space," Donoghue said. "It's a never-ending list."
Previously: Central Park in the 1980s vs. Present Day