Following riots in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, one of the largest public squalors in the United States, Senator Robert F. Kennedy proposed an ambitious proposal for community rehabilitation. I.M. Pei, then working on the Kennedy Library, was brought in to provide physical evidence of the program – quickly, at minimal cost, without demolition or resident relocation.
As the 3.5-mile district was found to have an over-abundance of city streets and too little public space, the solution was to transform excess roadways into a community resource by creating unique superblock centers of neighborhood life. Each would consist of two or three parallel blocks interconnected by parks, play areas, or other communal uses, each customized according to the wants and needs of its residents. Two demonstration sites were selected: Prospect Place, a stable street of owner-occupied brownstones (wanting only to reinforce the neighborhood’s quiet residential character with new trees, lighting, street furniture and speed bumps) and, very different, St. Mark’s Avenue, filled with tenements, empty lots, and a highly transient population with lots of children. In the latter case, the street was closed to traffic and transformed into a mid-block playground with a fountain pool, new trees, and outdoor seating.
Only two of seventeen superblocks were achieved. The pilot program stalled after Robert Kennedy’s assassination, robbed of leadership and thwarted in a changed world by the Viet Nam War and the languishing war on poverty.
The Bed-Stuy project received an Honor Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects in 1969, a Special Award from the American Institute of Architects, New York State Chapter in 1970, and an Award for Outstanding Community Service from the Realty Foundation of New York in 1975.
Design Team: I.M. Pei, Design Partner; Yann Weymouth, Design Architect
I.M. Pei & Partners