Demographics
Internet resources for what you need to know on the NYC Waterfront
Five Favorite Sites For Beginners

The Topic
NYC's waterfront is roughly 600 miles long. Include metropolitan New Jersey and Westchester, and the total increases to over 1000 miles. This metropolitan waterfront is as diverse as it is long. Its uses range from oil depots, cruise ship terminals and modern container ports to marinas, recreational esplanades, and bathing beaches. Contrary to reputation and expectation, the harbor, its shores and its waterways are integral to the region's economy and quality of life.
The Context
The harbor is one of the few places in the metropolitan area where large spaces still exist and where usage patterns are dynamic. Unlike most urban land areas, the regions' waterways belong to everyone. Consequently, many uses compete for the same space. Diverse concurrent uses and a clash of competing interests shape the character of today's metropolitan maritime crossroads. In the shared world of the waterfront, issues are complex, and political values intermingle. Within each issue is a frothy mixture of economics and ecology, community and bureaucracy, freedom of action and the desire to be protected from the actions of others.

Improving water quality makes the competition among users more robust. Fish, waterfowl, birds of prey, and marshlands are returning. Recreational uses proliferate, competing with other uses.

In commerce, long-term harbor users are expanding operations. Growth in trade requires smarter port operations and more acreage for containers. Deeper dredging of ship channels and expanded municipal facilities are planned. Privately owned ferries crisscross the waters carrying commuters by the tens of thousands.

Despite all this, the waterfront is still part of larger natural processes. Twice a day, vast seas flood into and ebb from the harbor, which determine the pace of maritime commerce. Daily, the waters change the harbor's geography, creating and denying access to mudflats, shellfish, docks and harbors. Flux at the water's edge holds peril and promise.

The Reporter
Peter B. Fleischer is writing a book on the New York City waterfront. The work focuses on individuals whose pioneering efforts opened the harbor for all. Formerly, he was a transportation and environment policy advisor to New York City Mayors Dinkins and Giuliani.
The Archives
See past monthly updates for Waterfront.

by Peter B. Fleischer

Change and Conflict on the Brooklyn Waterfront

Change is coming along the heavily industrialized East River shores of Greenpoint and Williamsburg in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn streets with lovely names like Metropolitan and Grand once linked Manhattan's teeming Lower East Side to the city's largest borough via ferries. They retain magnificent skyline views, as do the unused piers and wharves off of Huron, India and Java Streets, that via freighter linked these neighborhoods to markets and goods worldwide. These once busy waterfronts now house the Newtown Creek wastewater treatment plant, the hulking remains of abandoned industrial structures, dilapidated piers.

Today, a thriving club and residential scene has emerged on Bedford Avenue, one stop from Manhattan by the "L" Train and a short walk from the river. Waterfront that was once the exclusive preserve of power plants, oil storage facilities, lumber yards, ferry slips and working piers, is being transformed into parkland, housing and a focus for a community returning to its maritime roots. The existence of large, underutilized, relatively inexpensive, waterfront parcels, easy access to Manhattan and superb views of the Manhattan skyline fuel the transformation.

Change comes to these neighborhoods, much as it comes throughout the city, in fits and starts. In recent years, residents have opposed municipal uses such as solid waste transfer stations and power plants. Today, the locals are advocating for public access to both the East River waterfront and the banks of polluted and much-maligned Newtown Creek while continuing to oppose power plants.

Conflict has come to this corner of Brooklyn as large empty spaces have been discovered by groups as diverse as power plant proponents, waterfront recreationists, housing developers and open space advocates. The neighborhood's lack of open space and waterfront access combined with a long history of having noxious municipal uses sited in the community makes today 's clash interesting even by New York City standards. A City Planning Commission zoning review, that promises to be contentious, is under way.

In Williamsburg, NAG, a community organization originally founded to fight waste transfer stations, has called for improved public waterfront access, open space and mixed-use development. In Greenpoint, 41 local, civic and non-profit community groups joined to form the Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks and Planning, GWAPP, an umbrella advocacy group. Again, the association's original focus was opposition to power plants. Both organizations now focus on the challenge posed by development --residential, commercial and industrial.

Joe Vance, co-chair of the Greenpoint association, described his role as one of the many watch dogs for the community. He hopes to "shepherd the neighborhood through the rezoning, open space and development processes" now unfolding.

At Brooklyn Borough Hall on June 13th, Governor Pataki announced grants to study and plan for public access to these Brooklyn waterfronts and for joint city and state development of open space at the WNYC transmitter site by the Greenpoint piers. These grants follow the recent $9.3 million purchase of more than six acres at Kent Avenue between North 7th and North 9th Streets for New York University sports fields, a waterfront esplanade and community open space.

Private sector forces are in the mix too. Two proposed waterfront developments in Greenpoint, comprising 38 acres, would, in Joe Vance's estimate add 15,000 new residents to a community of perhaps 75,000 people, dramatically inundating the ara.

And then, there is the power plant. To help meet the city's estimated future electricity demand, the TransGas Energy (TGE) System has proposed a 1,100-megawatt facility for the Bushwick Creek Inlet at the border of Williamsburg and Greenpoint. The energy company favors the site because of its proximity to electric transmission lines, oil pipelines, Con Ed steam and the river. The neighborhood groups have banded together to oppose the project. According to Vance, "this is the first power plant of this size proposed for a waterfront site without a power plant."

TGE is expected to submit its application late this summer.


Sites For Beginners:

  • Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance - Formerly, the Waterfront Project. MWA seeks to influence the future of the region's waterfront and waterways through education, grassroots organizing and media advocacy.
  • Working Waterfront Association - Maritime and environmental advocates, providing education, new initiatives and programs that foster waterfront planning, safety, and access for the New York and New Jersey Harbor Estuary. WWA acts as a catalyst for communication between diverse port interests. WWA facilitates cooperative 'smart growth'.
  • Gateway National Recreation Area - Gateway is a bi-state park with "units" in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Sandy Hook, New Jersey. Gateway is part of the National Park System.
  • Pier Park & Playground Association - P3 seeks to enhance opportunities for children to play sports and opportunities for parents and other volunteers tp participate. The primary focus of P3 activity is the drastic lack of space for youth sports in Manhattan.
  • Hudson River Park Trust - The "Trust" is a governmental entity reposible for building a park on the west side of Manhattan in the area bounded by West Street, Battery Park, Battery Park City and West 59th Street. It's Board is appointed and largely controlled by the Governor and the Mayor.
  • Downtown Boathouse - Describes the City's largest boathouse for human-powered craft and home of the free kayak trip. It has a very interesting table showing Hudson River tides and currents


Other Recommendations:

  • Hudson River Foundation - A scientific and environmental research organization that focuses on the New York/New Jersey Harbor Estuary. It supports scientific and public policy research, education, and projects to enhance public access to the Hudson River.
  • The New York City Community Sailing Association is a not-for-profit providing affordable public access to New York City's waterways. NYCCSA provides sail training and non-instructional sailing. They also provide instruction to public high school students at a nominal cost. The association operates from Pier 25 in Tribeca. NYCCSA can be reached at rer@compuserve.com.
  • NYC Swim - This site lists swimming events in the New York area.
  • Floating the Apple - A NYC non-profit that builds historic Whitehall gigs. Volunteer crews periodically row the vessels from boathouse sites in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx.
  • A number of organizations do not yet have web sites, though listservs are available. To connect to the Jamaica Bay List Serve, send an email to Jamaicabay@treebranch.com and then type Subscribe in the subject header. To subscribe to Urban Outdoors, the on-line publication of the Neighborhood Open Space Coalition send an email to NOSC@treebranch.com, also with subscribe in the subject header. If interested in becoming a subscriber to a listserve focused on the Bronx River, send an e-mail to BronxRiver@treebranch.com. Place the word subscribe in the subject line.

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