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Williamsburg Walking Tour Examines How to Increase Public Space

By Serena Dai | April 1, 2015 11:09am | Updated on April 3, 2015 6:26pm
 Domino Sugar Factory is one of the stops on a walking tour of Williamsburg that examines how public spaces form in a city.
Domino Sugar Factory is one of the stops on a walking tour of Williamsburg that examines how public spaces form in a city.
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flickr/Santos Gonzalez

WILLIAMSBURG — A new Williamsburg walking tour is focusing on how the neighborhood's public spaces have changed in the past — and how locals can shape their future.

Activist group Neighbors Allied for Good Growth and Parsons Urban Practice graduate students Julia Borowicz and Larissa Begault are hosting two-hour tours each Saturday this month that look at development and public spaces in the neighborhood.

The tour stops at 10 spots, starting with NAG's office and the East River State Park and including Bedford Avenue's commercial corridor, as well as the Domino Sugar Factory site.

Each stop is meant to spark a different conversation about urban planning, according to Borowicz and Begault, both Williamsburg residents who focused their urban planning studies on the area.

A stop at the Wythe Hotel, for example, will also involve a discussion on how buildings zoned for industrial use were used to build an entertainment district with bars and hotels instead of factories.

It's one of the few areas that didn't need to be rezoned to have a completely different flavor, Borowicz and Begault said.

Other stops, such as those at McCarren Park and in South Williamsburg, will talk about the Polish and Latino communities that used to dominate the area and how the landscape has changed due to development.

"There isn't a single space or narrative within these neighborhoods," Borowicz said.

Williamsburg and Greenpoint are perfect places to look at how public spaces form in a neighborhood with development and demographic changes, they said.

Learning more about the history can help locals decide how they want public spaces to change and connect in the future, they added.

Even though the tour is held in partnership with activist group NAG, tour leaders Borowicz and Begault said they are not urging people to take one particular action after the tour.

"It's ripe with opportunity as Williamsburg and Greenpoint undergo rapid changes in terms of development," Borowicz said. "It's a great time for more people to get involved."

They said Greenpoint and Williamsburg are underserved as far as public space is concerned and the tour should really just spark interest and provide the tools to think about public space issues.

"We are trying to engage people in having more agency," Begault said. "We're trying to show that there are multiple tools to start engaging in urban planning."

Walking Workshops are happening every Saturday in April at 1 p.m., kicking off from NAG's offices at 110 Kent Ave. The tours are free and last a little less than two hours. RSVP by email walking.workshops@gmail.com.