Sensory Image of Newtown Creek

The New York City Ferry ride from Midtown goes a lot faster than you think it would. For the cost of a metro card swipe, I got a quick, scenic ride across the East River into Greenpoint, Brooklyn with views of the city from a unique perspective. The arrival point in Brooklyn is roughly a 20 minute walk from our destination, but the time could be cut in half with a quick bike ride. Greenpoint is filled with Citi Bike stations and bike lanes, as only one main train line runs through it. 

The closer we get to our destination, the more we start to notice the shift in scenery. Residences start to disappear, and warehouses for garbage companies and metal shops begin to occupy the space. Suddenly, the neighborhood is less of a community, and more of an industrial zone. Large, onion shaped buildings with metal exteriors come into view. That’s the local Wastewater Treatment Plant, a part of the Department of Environmental Protection. It’s connected to several pipelines that stretch across several blocks, gated off but still visible to pedestrians. The pipelines lead up to the waterfront public space. That’s our destination. 

We’ve arrived at Newtown Creek, the site of decades of pollution as a result of the oil industry. This waterway connects the coast of Greenpoint, Brooklyn to Long Island City, Queens.  It may not appear to be so at first sight, but it’s had a source of federal funding over the last few years toward recovering petroleum and contaminants from its waters, after being designated as a superfund site in 2010. Despite the effort to cleanup the water, litter still finds its way into the water, usually in the form of food packaging.  From the site, we have a direct view of the Long Island City Skyline, the roadway of the Pulaski Bridge as well as the Kosciuszko Bridge in the distance, as cars drive by endlessly. We can also spot nearby facilities unrelated to the creek such as a scrap metal yard across the way, lifting car bodies with a large metal claw onto neat piles, as well as organize scrap metal with bulldozers. The noise is audible, but distant. Other sights include large boats in the narrow creek, often include barges of scrap metal or garbage pushed by a tugboat, or boats marked “DEP” which work with the plant, outfitted with lots of pipes on their decks, presumably for the transfer of wastewater. The creek is directly accessible via a set of steps allowing visitors to walk up to the water, which i’ve utilized to conduct several tests of water quality, determining an elevated level of total chlorine, as well as total water hardness.

The site also offers a nature walk along a promenade, full of different plant species labeled with their individual scientific names. The one thing that the space was lacking in was people. Due to its location, not many people frequent the space as much as i’ve been for this project. The one individual I managed to interview at the creek wasn’t aware of the public space accessibility until somewhat recently. Additionally, the lack of accessibility via mass transit, as well as its presence in an industrial area possibly makes it less desirable as a destination to visit. Otherwise, i’ve only spotted a handful of people at the site while conducting the processes of the project.

– Edwin Hansler

~ by edwinhansler on November 1, 2019.