New York City's New Leisure Waterfront
September 5, 2018 10:21 PM   Subscribe

How all of this looks and feels—whether it’s clever or profane—depends on how you feel about the deindustrialization of the waterfront. One sunny afternoon about a year ago, I rendezvoused with two old friends for a beer. Each of us arrived on a CitiBike from our respective neighborhoods. We convened at a newly opened outdoor bar—really, just a line of picnic tables—in front of the swank hotel near the Old Fulton Street entrance to Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Afterward, I biked home along the Brooklyn waterfront with one of my friends. As we parted ways on the edge of Red Hook, we commented on how different this version of New York City is, how much more good-natured it is than the one that existed when we first lived here back in the 1980s. The New York City of the 21st century, I thought, is not half bad.

This observation, born of sunshine, endorphins, and beer, is a loaded one.
posted by MovableBookLady (12 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It is tempting to write off the recreational waterfront that’s emerged over the past couple of decades as something false, or too sweet

With containerizing, just in time planning, and growing automation the geographical footprint will shrink, certainoy compared to the 1900's manual loading of ships. Giving waterfront access to the most people is a very great social good.

Boston's last mayor got a ordinance that where possible the waterfront has a public walk. There is an almost continuous boardwalk/sidewalk around the entire harbor and it continues to grow with new development.
posted by sammyo at 6:26 AM on September 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

Imagine the waterfront before it was industrialised. Would you argue that the industrialisation should happen to it?
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 7:30 AM on September 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

Before Piers 1 and 6 opened to the public in 2010, I was on the side of the naysayers. On principle, I disapproved of the funding concept. Then the park opened and became a very compelling argument for its own goodness. Go to Brooklyn Bridge Park, look around, and tell me that the only people who benefit are the wealthy residents of adjacent condos—I doubt you’d come to that conclusion.

I love Brooklyn Bridge Park - it's my favorite place in the city - and this is a big part of the reason why.

A great illustration of this happened in 2016, when (hilariously/horrifyingly) a local resident said that the park needed to get rid of the basketball courts and replace them with tennis or badminton and then "the criminals will go away." The park president dismissed this in a statement saying "Getting rid of some the most popular basketball courts in the city is decidedly not the solution, and would fly in the face of everything this park stands for."
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:49 AM on September 6, 2018 [8 favorites]

I often fall prey to this idea that making things nicer and more comfortable is always at the expense of the old grit and character of the thing that it replaces.

In those times I try to remember my father's stories of working at a Detroit steel mill in the late 60s and early 70s and of just generally living that particular industrial city environment. It sounds somehow both terrible and romantic, like how I think a lot of armchair patriots feel about the experience of war.

I think we can have good arguments about what is the best and most equitable way to redevelop these types of areas, but I don't think there any reason to let some misplaced nostalgia stop us from doing it for fear of losing some idea of grit or character. Nice things can be nice.
posted by dudemanlives at 7:56 AM on September 6, 2018 [5 favorites]

The world has plenty of grit.
posted by Cris E at 8:03 AM on September 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

"Imagine the waterfront before it was industrialised. Would you argue that the industrialisation should happen to it?"

Maybe I would if I was around living in the times in which it was industrialized. at such a time there'd still be so much beautiful nature and waterfront everywhere I don't think I'd consider that bit particularly precious.
posted by GoblinHoney at 8:17 AM on September 6, 2018

These green spaces are nice. We need more of them. I don't miss the waterside wastelands.
posted by Liquidwolf at 8:25 AM on September 6, 2018

It's odd to talk about the new parks and development at Hunter's Point (or even Gantry Plaza) as somehow being a break from some imagined past when the waterfront was the sole domain of burly roustabouts and stevedores. If you were to follow the shoreline north a few miles from that point you would pass through Queensbridge Park (there as early as 1909 when the Queensboro Bridge was built), Rainey Park (1912), and Astoria Park (1913), not to mention smaller bits of public waterfront like Socrates Sculpture Park and the waterfront path along the Astoria Houses. You'd also pass a huge power plant and a ton of smaller factories and warehouses. I guess that, like sex, every generation thinks it invented mixed-use.
posted by enn at 8:33 AM on September 6, 2018

The development of parks and lesuire spaces around the waterfront also allows for the development of seawalls, bioswales, oyster beds, and other tactics to reduce flooding and erosion.

The sea is rising, storms are getting worse, and the ocean wants to take over. Anything that can revisit that is needed.
posted by The Whelk at 8:39 AM on September 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

I guess that, like sex, every generation thinks it invented mixed-use.

Yeah, but sex is right -- it pretty much did invent mixed-use.
posted by The Bellman at 10:55 AM on September 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

What they say about the gaps in the waterfront pedestrian path between parks in Williamsburg is true and it bugs the snot out of me, largely because Brooklyn Bridge Park does that kind of thing so well.

When I was more active with my a kayak group in Red Hook, I used the park as a major part of my bike path from my house to the Red Hook pier; I really, REALLY appreciated the off-road bike paths so I wasn't sharing road space with the service road below the BQE. Then I discovered that the kayak group at Brooklyn Bridge Park is a little better organized and I can walk there.

A friend of mine knows someone on the Brooklyn Bridge Park board and was talking about her reaction to how the corporate involvement was controversial; would they have preferred to fund the park in a more traditional way? Absolutely. But it was seen as a necessary-evil thing, and it got the park finished way faster.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:55 AM on September 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Maybe it's just that I have been reading Vanishing New York or because I live in one of the parts of New York still not gentrified enough for Citibike, but I am somewhat disappointed by how easily people are bought off for the Bloomberg-driven corporatization of New York. The same trends that give you the "leisure waterfront" also give you an overcrowded, underfunded subway and neighborhoods full of soaring rents and chain stores or — worse — spots landlords are holding vacant for a chain store than may never appear but definitely is no longer that shop you loved.

But I miss weird old Kent that was half-empty and had spots for non-wholesome, non-corporatized weirdness; it's a genuine loss and I don't know that it will ever exist again. I wish there was a way for the city to evolve without just giving into the real estate interests. Overall, I just don't think bleaching things out is really an improvement, even if some white girls on bikes really enjoyed those wetlands!
posted by dame at 5:08 AM on September 7, 2018

« Older Like counter-programming Inside Llewyn Davis...   |   Revitalizing Small Town America Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments