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 Fleischer

Blessing The Fleet

(June '01) A thousand feet from land, at the edge of the Canarsie Pier in Brooklyn, looking across the gentle chop of an inland sea at an uninhabited tree covered island, Patie Ventre cast a memorial wreath into Jamaica Bay. A cannon was fired. The American flag was raised. The National Anthem was sung.Ventre is the Commander of the United Inter-Yacht Clubs Association, and this was the 47th Annual Blessing of the Fleet.

Rabbi Cecil Walkenfeld, a Chaplain with the New York City Department of Corrections offered his blessing, "Let man and boat work together to successfully navigate our way". Father Angelo Pezzullo of Nativity Church in Ozone Park joined him. He asked God to bless "all those who protect this country by sea, make their livelihood from the sea, and use the sea for enjoyment."

Under powder blue skies, a warm sun and with a steady off-shore breeze, representatives of eighteen Jamaica Bay yacht clubs formed a maritime procession lasting two hours. In turn, powerboats, sailboats, and hand-powered craft floated past the reviewing stand on Canarsie Pier. Passengers and crew aboard the ships stood at attention, saluting, most of them in formal dress white, a few in navy blue and white. It was an impressive display of pomp and protocol.

As the lead boat from each club passed the reviewing stand, the ecumenical clergy team offered each fleet their blessings. Two hundred feet down the pier a ten gauge cannon was fired.

Commander Ventre stood at a reviewing stand or "Bridge" with Vice Commander Richard Brew and Rear Commander, Gaetano "Tom" Polito. A team of five judges from the New York Police Department Harbor Unit, the US Park Service Police, the National Park Service and the owner of Canarsie Pier's Sunset Landing judged each ship in the fleet for seamanship and procedure. Clubs were judged based on attendance.

Powerboats have an interesting history in Jamaica Bay. The legendary bandleader Guy Lombardo raced powerboats in its waters. Its many channels, basins and islands provided hiding spots to rumrunners during Prohibition. The Hudson River Yacht Club located in Padergat Basin was founded in 1873.

The Fleet's half-century-old traditions stem from a post-World War Two emphasis on safety in a Jamaica Bay that had only been recently transformed from a military base to a haven for recreation. Additionally, many club members had served in the military and were eager to maintain their navy traditions - discipline, respect and duty.

The genesis of the oddly named United Inter-Yacht Clubs Association dates to the early 1930's. At that time, Robert Moses' plans to construct a "Belt" Parkway threatened havoc to the dozens of boat clubs that lined the bay's northern edge. The clubs organized to coordinate their response to Moses' plan and eventual construction of the circumferential roadway and bridges. In the end, many clubs folded and others were forced to move.

Today the association continues to work together on matters of mutual interest. The group strongly opposed the recent closure of a Jamaica Bay Coast Guard facility citing safety concerns. With their membership highly devoted to fishing, they closely watch matters that impact the bay's environmental health.

Commander Ventre of the Brooklyn Yacht Club was the first woman to become a fleet captain. A dynamic and optimistic leader, she sees the need for her organization to work more closely with the estimated one hundred boat clubs in a twenty-five mile radius of New York City. Ventre brings inclusiveness to her association that augurs well for the growing, diverse use of the harbor. Though a power boater, she welcomed the participation of the kayak oriented Sebago Canoe Club. Of particular importance to the commander was the presence of a Coast Guard vessel for the first time in recent years.


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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