(January 15, 2022) — Governor Kathy Hochul is interested in appointing a civic commission of landscape architects, theologians, and ethicists to reimagine urban cemeteries and to make recommendations on how to repurpose some of New York City’s largest burial grounds for badly needed public park space — including the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, founded in 1838. She is planning to ask Cardinal Timothy Dolan to serve as chairman of the commission as early as next week.
Hochul believes that the vast 470-acre gated-cemetery can better serve humanity as a public park, and could be enormously valuable quality of life infrastructure for all of Brooklyn. New York City is badly in need of new public space — and Hochul wonders if some burial practices have become environmentally unsustainable inside of dense urban environments from a land use perspective.
“One option is to commit to not disturbing or relocating any remains, and instead plant one or two trees on-top of each gravesite, so that the entire 470-acres becomes very thickly wooded, with the exception of existing driveways and paved pedestrian trails. We may keep some meadows, allowing for natural regeneration over time, but there will be no mowed lawns because we’re not sure whether we would want to encourage uses like frisbee or picnics above the burial plots,” a source close to Peter Davidson, the Chairman of Green-Wood Cemetery, explains. “That may change, on the advice of theologians. We’re not sure.”
Landscape architects are calling the concept ‘The Enchanted Forest of Brooklyn’ — so thickly planted that a walk or jog becomes an entirely immersive experience that allows residents to momentarily escape their densely populated neighborhoods of South Slope, Sunset Park, Kensington, and Borough Park, on trails that meander for miles.
“The idea is to allow nature to retake the entire site in a way that respects the memory of those buried there. Our tentative plan to deal with headstones is to relocate nearly all of them so that architects can reuse them to build commemorative walls and remembrance monuments on the site,” he adds. “There are a lot of ideas that are under consideration, but we wouldn’t want to float some ideas until the city’s religious leadership has an opportunity to advise us on the appropriateness of various strategies.”
“Depending on what Cardinal Dolan advises, we may want to extract DNA from the 600,000 human remains on site in order to compile a genetic database with corporate and research partners,” he notes. “The Governor is particularly excited about what ‘humanity mapping’ might teach us about cancer.”
Brooklyn was the epicenter of immigration in the United States for more than 100 years, and the Green-Wood Cemetery has been the borough’s most sought after burial ground. It’s crypts could emerge as valuable research frontiers in genetics, medicine, bio-mapping, genealogy, and cultural anthropology — and a joint venture between Pfizer, Ancestry.com, Cornell University, Sloan-Kettering, and the Museum of the City of New York could be in the works. If State approval is granted, it could be worth more than $200 million for the Green-Wood Cemetery, which would likely use the funds to endow it’s genealogy library and visitor center.
“If Governor Hochul and Cardinal Dolan approve the research portion of this project, it would be like the Apollo project — and all privately funded,” he asserts. “But if they only approve Green-Wood’s conversion to a public park, we think that will have pretty profound impacts on Brooklyn’s quality of life too. It would also save us a lot of money on perpetual maintenance of our lawns, which could better be used for remembrance ceremonies and other programing.”