“Reimagining Brooklyn Bridge” Launches

February 11, 2020

New York City Council and Van Alen Launch “Reimagining Brooklyn Bridge”

Design Competition to Rethink the Bridge’s Iconic Walkway Is Open to All

(February 11, 2020—New York, NY)—New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Van Alen Institute today announced Reimagining Brooklyn Bridge, an international competition to rethink the iconic Brooklyn Bridge walkway. Reimagining Brooklyn Bridge seeks creative, unconventional designs that respect and enhance the bridge’s landmark status, think inclusively about mobility and access, and accommodate commuters, visitors, and vendors. The competition is open to all, and proposals must be submitted at vanalen.org by Sunday, April 5 by 11:59 pm ET.

Six finalist designs will be selected by an interdisciplinary jury, which includes leadership from the New York Landmarks Conservancy, SOM, and Transportation Alternatives. Two winning designs will then be chosen with the help of a public vote in July.

“People from all over the world flock to the Brooklyn Bridge to soak in its history and breathtaking views of Manhattan. Commuters rely on it to easily walk or bike ride between boroughs. We need to make sure they are not competing for space because we want the number of people using the bridge to continue growing,” said New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. “Everyone who uses the bridge should have a pleasant experience, not a stressful one. The long-term vitality of the Brooklyn Bridge is essential to our goal of being an environmentally sensitive, pedestrian-friendly city.”

“The Brooklyn Bridge has always been a beloved embodiment of New Yorkers’ most passionate values. Today, we know we must create resilient, forward-looking cities that decrease our reliance on fossil fuels while strengthening our social connections. These profound issues come to the fore on the Brooklyn Bridge, which must become a better place for pedestrians and cyclists,” said Deborah Marton, Executive Director, Van Alen Institute. “We’re excited to see how the public will rethink this treasured New York icon. They will no doubt find ingenious and provocative solutions that serve local commuters and visitors alike.”

“The Brooklyn Bridge has been perhaps New York City’s most iconic structure for 137 years.  Not only is it a must-see tourist attraction, this beautiful bridge is relied upon by thousands of New Yorkers who cross between Brooklyn and Manhattan each day—many of them by foot or bike,” said NYC DOT Chief Operations Officer Margaret Forgione. “As we undertake our own engineering inspection this year to help assess the capacity for changes to the promenade, we welcome new and innovative ideas on how to reimagine the Brooklyn Bridge Promenade to create more space for pedestrians and cyclists.”

Arguably New York’s most recognizable landmark, the Brooklyn Bridge holds a special place in our collective imagination. But that iconic status comes at a cost. At peak hours, the promenade is crammed, uncomfortable, and sometimes unsafe. Thousands of pedestrians and cyclists cross the bridge every day.

With New York’s growing numbers of cyclists and pedestrians, it is imperative to provide modern infrastructure that allows them to move comfortably and safely around the city. And in recent years, city officials have responded, adding protected bike lanes, widening sidewalks, building pedestrian plazas, and providing new bike and pedestrian space on some bridges around the city. But the Brooklyn Bridge, perhaps the city’s most crucial interborough connection for pedestrians and cyclists, remains woefully incapable of accommodating the demands of its users. Reimagining Brooklyn Bridge aims to inspire the public to envision the infrastructure that will shape New York City’s future, support the transit needs of a 21st century city, and set a new standard for how we think about aging transportation infrastructure across the city.


  • April 5, 2020: Proposals due by 11:59 pm ET
  • Early May 2020: Finalists announced
  • Mid-May 2020: Finalists kick-off event
  • May–July 2020: Proposal development
  • Mid-July 2020: Public jury session
  • Late July 2020: Winners announced


Reimagining Brooklyn Bridge is open to all. The general public, students, and international competitors are welcome, and interdisciplinary teams are encouraged to enter. The proposed designs should focus on the bridge’s walkway, but can include recommendations for the bridge’s roadway and nearby public spaces. Proposals must be submitted at vanalen.org by Sunday, April 5, 2020 at 11:59 pm ET.

The competition has two categories: “Professionals,” for teams 22 years of age and above, and “Young Adults,” for teams 21 years of age and under.

Three finalists from each category will be selected by an interdisciplinary jury representing a wide-ranging set of perspectives on the Brooklyn Bridge. The jury will consider the following factors: team composition; accessibility and safety; environmental benefit and security; respect for the bridge’s landmark status; feasibility; and “magic”—i.e. new ideas that surprise, delight, and fascinate.

Jury members include:

  • Peg Breen; President, New York Landmarks Conservancy
  • Andrew Brown; Associate Director of Research, Van Alen Institute
  • Marla Gayle; Managing Director, SOM
  • Jonathan Gardenhire; Artist and Former VP, Alfred E. Smith Resident Association Executive Board
  • Danny Harris; Executive Director, Transportation Alternatives
  • Helen Ho; Principal, Karp Strategies
  • Isabella Joseph; Student, Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture, City College of New York
  • Regina Myer; President, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership
  • Amy Plitt; Editor, Curbed NY

All finalists will have two months to refine their design based on feedback from the competition’s jury. In recognition of their work, finalists in the “Professionals” category will receive $13,000 and finalists in the “Young Adults” category will receive $3,000.

To select the winning designs, all six finalist proposals will be presented in a public event in mid-July 2020 and online at vanalen.org. Members of the public will help choose a winner in each category through an online vote.

For the complete design brief, visit vanalen.org.

About Van Alen Institute

Van Alen Institute believes in the power of design to transform cities, landscapes, and regions, and to improve people’s lives. Van Alen collaborates with communities, scholars, policymakers, and professionals on local and global initiatives that rigorously investigate the most pressing social, cultural, and ecological challenges of tomorrow. Building on more than a century of experience, Van Alen works to develop cross disciplinary research, provocative public programs and inventive design competitions.

With a core belief in an interdisciplinary approach to design, the Van Alen team has backgrounds in urban planning, public health, civic advocacy, community engagement, and arts and culture.

In New York, Van Alen’s public space projects have been fueled by a commitment to civic engagement. With Public Property: An Ideas Competition for Governors Island (1996), Van Alen instigated a citywide discussion about this former military base, a precursor to the vibrant Governors Island of today. TKTS2K: A Competition to Design a New York Icon (1999) challenged designers to reconceive Times Square for pedestrians, resulting in the plaza’s iconic red steps by John Choi and Tai Ropiha.

Van Alen now catalyzes change nationally with initiatives like Keeping Current: A Sea Level Rise Challenge for Greater Miami (2019). In collaboration with city leaders, designers, and communities, Van Alen created visionary and implementable design solutions to rising sea levels. A pilot project—a public park that also retains storm water—recently opened to the public in North Miami.

See all work at vanalen.org.


Alisha Kim Levin, Director of Communications, Van Alen Institute