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Sustainable Benches Bring New Opportunities

people sitting on a bench

A vibrant transformation has taken place at South Oculus Plaza, just in time for spring—twelve new curvilinear benches invite visitors to pause, relax, and find a moment of respite within the bustling energy of the World Trade Center campus. 


Designed with both sustainability and social impact in mind, these benches are more than just places to rest your feet. They are the product of a partnership between the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the non-profit, Brooklyn Woods, which is a reentry program that empowers unemployed, low-income New Yorkers through skills training and career development. Together, the benches have not only reshaped public seating, but also transformed lives by offering opportunities for growth to individuals like Eric Pagan, one of the skilled artisans who contributed to the making of these structures. The project has become a launching pad for Eric’s professional growth as he navigates the transition into society after 8 years behind bars. 

people building a bench Participants clamp wood into place, molding it into the benches' unique curved shape.

“My family didn’t believe me when I told them,” Eric recalls, reflecting with pride and disbelief on his contribution to a globally recognized landmark. “People from all over the world are going to sit here.”


Jake Fry, a planning manager at the Port Authority, underscores the agency’s commitment to fostering opportunities for individuals seeking a fresh start. “Empowering programs like this one help formerly incarcerated people start a new chapter in their lives,” he explains, highlighting the importance of initiatives like these which bridge the gap between past challenges and future aspirations. This is the second time Brooklyn Woods has partnered with the Port Authority; in 2022, individuals from the organization helped to build sustainability sourced bee houses for Liberty Park.


Scott Peltzer, the Program Director at Brooklyn Woods, emphasizes the holistic support the organization provides to participants. “It’s really difficult for people returning from prison to reenter society,” he acknowledges, citing the myriad obstacles they face. Through paid training and ongoing job placement support, Brooklyn Woods equips individuals with the skills and confidence needed to thrive beyond the workshop.


In the organization’s workshop in Gowanus, Brooklyn, participants exercised their expertise in several advanced woodworking techniques as they steamed, bent, and clamped the wood into shape. 

wood material

As we celebrate Earth Month, let us not only admire the beauty and skill that went into the making of these benches, but recognize the role they play in promoting sustainability. Crafted from sustainably sourced black locust, a material featured elsewhere in the public spaces of New York City, including Little Island and Brooklyn Bridge Park, the benches are also a symbol of environmental consciousness. Black locust has gained popularity as an eco-friendly alternative to rainforest hardwoods imported from South America. By choosing materials with care and supporting initiatives that prioritize social responsibility, we can create a brighter, greener future for generations to come.


The next time you are on the WTC campus, take a seat, invite a friend for coffee, bring your lunch, and enjoy! 

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