Who said you can’t fight City Hall? Duffield Street homeowner Joy Chatel — whose house was set to be seized by the Bloomberg Administration to be torn down for a parking garage despite its link to the Underground Railroad — did fight the city. And last week, she won.
Thanks to a persuasive judge, the city agreed to end its attempt to seize Chatel’s Duffield Street home by eminent domain and has already begun the process of redesigning the public space that Joe Chan, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, envisions as a Bryant Park-styled gathering place in the heart of a booming Downtown Brooklyn.
Planners may be correct in their assertion that Downtown will need that kind of open greenspace — especially given what a bad job a prior generation of planners did at the walled-in Metrotech. But the city’s years-long effort to grab Chatel’s history-laden home made a mockery of legitimate use of the power of eminent domain, and we’re glad that the city has finally agreed to back off.
Earlier this year, we took a cynical view of the city’s symbolic co-naming of Duffield Street as “Abolitionist Place” and its promise of $2 million towards commemorating the anti-slavery history that took place Downtown. Given that the city was planning to tear down Chatel’s house to make room for Willoughby Square Park, those efforts seemed particularly ironic.
But now that Chatel’s house has been saved, there is a unique opportunity for the city to realize not only the vision of a world-class urban gathering space, but also the stated desire to honor Brooklyn’s Abolitionist past.
Because Chatel’s home will occupy the southwest corner of Willoughby Square Park, we urge the park’s still-unnamed designers to actually incorporate the home into their blueprints. We’ve long thought that a museum would be perfect on the site, given that prominent Abolitionists owned some houses on the block, which are connected by underground tunnels that may have been used by fugitive slaves.
With Chatel’s great victory comes a great responsibility.
Because the city will no longer seize her home and demolish it to make way for the park, it now falls upon Joy Chatel to do the right thing and allow the city to buy her building to be turned into that very museum.
It would be pretty ironic if the city had to threaten eminent domain again — this time to seize Chatel’s home for the public benefit of an Abolitionism museum instead of a parking garage for Downtown workers.