On The Waterfront Blog

A Perspectival Analysis of the Ecological and Sociological Implications to Community with the Revitalization of European Urban Waterfronts.

With some travel in between!

On The Waterfront

28 June 2016

Hello, and welcome to the start of On The Waterfront: The Ecological and Sociological Implications to Community with the Revitalization of European Urban Waterfronts. It sounds heavy, but there’s lots of travel in between, and I promise to keep the blog portion of it light—for both our sakes.

You’re Traveling For Seven Weeks! How Did That Come About?

Traveling is one of many passions, which I try to incorporate into all aspects of my life. One can gain a world of knowledge from books and the Internet, but it is a world limited by someone else’s subjectivity. To fully understand place, societal conditions, and history, one must travel to places of interest and experience full sensory stimulation and reflection. The journey provides immeasurable perspective, and it is the reason that—just as last year—I apply for as many travel funds and grants that I can find.

This summer I am completing an elective course at the Parsons Paris campus. I decided to look for ways to add my study interests to my time in Europe, as I would be in France for all of July. As a graduate student at Parsons, I am fortunate that the school believes in sponsoring travel in the name of education[i]. While the disbursement of the travel fund has changed from being issued a student budget-friendly check to a more corporate Concur Expense Reporting account, I am nonetheless grateful for the opportunity.

What is This Trip About? Why Urban Waterfronts?

Seeded from ideas in two courses I took in Fall 2015—Architecture Design Studio 3: The Gowanus Water Studio and Theory of Urban Form (ToUF)—the proposal for this travel fund was a product of my case study project on Industry City Brooklyn. In this case study, Industry City: Factory for a Community’s Future, I theorized a phased revitalization of 1km2 of the area surrounding Brooklyn’s Bush Terminal. Building on the current maker-centric development, and the history and characteristics of the surrounding Greenwood Heights and Sunset Park neighborhoods, my design called for sublimation of the Gowanus Expressway, reinstallation of the Fifth Avenue Light Rail, establishment of a ferry line stop, and expansion of the Bush Terminal Piers Public Park to incorporate waterfront sport, and aquaculture.

The historic Bush Terminal Buildings as viewed at dawn from my apartment.

The historic Bush Terminal Buildings as viewed at dawn from my apartment.

New York City’s historic industrial waterfronts include: The Brooklyn Navy Yard, The Gowanus Canal, Red Hook, Long Island City, Greenpoint, Newtown Creek, DUMBO, South Bronx Maritime and Industrial Area, Red Hook, King Van Kull, as well as several others that I have not listed. In their heyday, these areas were commercial and manufacturing arteries to New York City—ships were built, material imported, products exported, and pollution accumulated. As with Industry City, many of these areas fell into a period of abandonment following the mass exodus of manufacturers and subsequent economic capital in the mid-twentieth century. These “ghostfronts” became hotspots for crime, prostitution, vagrancy, poverty, and the biggest crime of all—the neglect of the middle class that lived in surrounding neighborhoods. In retrospect, it is easy to say that had industry not moved out, the character and quality of life in New York City would have developed very differently. However, one cannot predict the effect of even the smallest technological innovations; and thus, we make decisions to cut short-term costs rather than for long-term longevity.

We are caretakers of the ground we walk on, and it is important that the environmental and ecological damage caused from our industrial past stop marring the character of these neighborhoods. New life—that is not luxury housing or commercial enterprises—can be injected to these areas and without causing the dislocation of the communities that live there. Since the 1992 Comprehensive Waterfront Plan, many of NYC’s industrial waterfront areas have be rezoned. But, to incorporate the proposed initiatives of Vision 2020, massive infrastructural changes must be made. These changes include: the construction of roads where none existed, neighborhood amenities, public transportation, and the development of schools, libraries, hospitals, and various institutions.

So, why look to Europe? The short and simple answer is that waterfront redevelopment is an urban problem that many European cities have committed themselves to since the mid-twentieth century. By examining the older cities that are characteristically similar to New York, I hope to compile a ‘database’ of case studies that examine the city’s commitment to sustainability, ecology, and its people, as well as, look at some of the problems that are still being addressed.


[i] Parsons Graduate Student Travel Fund.