The much-loved wooden boardwalk of the historic Brooklyn Bridge Promenade is approaching its next replacement cycle. Wood has been an integral part of the Brooklyn Bridge experience for 137 years, and it should remain front and center as New York City considers how to improve the pedestrian and bicycle experience. The traditional material – chosen for its strength and beauty – is naturally durable tropical hardwood.
Tropical hardwood is often obtained in ways that damage rainforests and local cultures. Extracting timber – and other resources like minerals and petroleum - can encourage the building for roads, making it easier for others to clear the rainforest for commodities like palm oil, beef, and soybeans sold on the global market. Such deforestation is one of the primary causes of climate change. It also destroys native biodiversity and threatens the communities that depend on the rainforest for their survival.
On the other hand, carefully managed timber harvesting can be a force for conservation, providing an economic incentive to keep the forest standing instead of converting it to cropland or cattle pasture. When tropical forest communities have a way to make a living from the forest without cutting it down, they are often the best protectors the forest can have – often outperforming national parks.
New York City has an opportunity to be a leader in protecting forests and the climate by choosing to renovate the historic wooden boardwalk using timber sourced from a well-managed “partner forest” in the tropics. Unlike substitute materials like plastic lumber, choosing sustainably sourced timber addresses the root causes of deforestation by supporting local communities that have chosen to safeguard – and even restore – tropical forests.
Specifically, we propose that the 11,000 new planks for the Brooklyn Bridge be provided through a partnership with the Guatemalan community of Uaxactun, whose people protect approximately 200,000 acres of rainforest. Their selective and low-intensity harvest model – (1 tree per acre every 40 years – has provided income to the community while keeping the rate of deforestation nearly at zero for over 25 years – a rare bright spot in a region where deforestation is rampant).
A dedicated Brooklyn Bridge Forest would be endowed by sponsors like you. Each board sponsored would protect the equivalent of 18 acres of forest. This dedicated forest would ensure that the Promenade boardwalk has the wood it needs for centuries to come, support the partner community economically and provide the global environment with a new and powerful ally: the people of New York and the friends of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Brooklyn Bridge Forest
Preserve a Landmark
"Learn how to preserve Roebling’s vision of using wood for the Promenade to create the ultimate setting for the pedestrian".
Protect a Rainforest
"Learn how wood sourced for the Brooklyn Bridge promenade through a partnership with Uaxactun, can help protect 200,000 acres of rainforest".
Cultivate a Partnership
"A list of names almost a mile long of people who support the Brooklyn Bridge and rainforest protection!"
Glass Walkways and Green Spaces: Designers Reimagine the Brooklyn Bridge Experience Wall Street Journal, July 2020
Sustaining the Forest, Maintaining a Bridge New York Times, August 2010
The Brooklyn Bridge May be Going Green Timeout.com, January 2014
A Rainforest Grows for Brooklyn Bridge: Sustainably Harvested Wood Proposed for Boardwalk
Treehugger, August 2010
Beyond Cool: Making the Brooklyn Bridge an Icon of Global Sustainability About.com, January 2014