A Chance to Honor the Past, Celebrate the Present, and Salute the Future
by Katie Naplatarski
Along the shores of the East River, in Williamsburg and Greenpoint Brooklyn, from N9th to N15th Street at Bushwick Inlet, lies a stretch prime waterfront land, its fate undetermined. The history of this shoreline mirrors the story of our city and nation: from natural habitat long ago, to farmland for a new nation, to the Industrial Revolution bringing heavy industry to these North Brooklyn shores: pottery, glass and metal works, ship building and sugar refineries. The river’s edge was a land of smoky factories and busy commerce with freight trains loading up at the piers.
By the mid 1900’s, as our nation turned to highways, it turned away from shores, leaving abandoned buildings, dilapidated piers, and in North Brooklyn, land taken over by waste transfer stations, piles of city garbage with circling seagulls. But there were also old-timers, artists, and immigrants, thirsty for scarce open space, who climbed through any hole in a fence to be by the shore of this beautiful river, creating “accidental playgrounds” and sunbathing amid weeds, old rails, and pottery shards.
Among the ruins arose a grassroots movement of reclamation, which pitted itself again and again against garbage companies, a proposed massive power plant, and forty story towers, a battle of opposing visions for the use of this land. Community groups, local elected officials and The Trust for Public Land gallantly acquired a section of this land, creating what is now the East River State Park, while others prophetically purchased large parcels years before the city itself realized its value.
These contrasting ideas for the use of this land are reflected in the city’s 2005 rezoning map: the 28-acre parcel of land is green, marked “Park”, but stamped M3 – 1, heavy industry. A few blocks of land designated as both park and heavy industry including retail. Ten years later, this bizarre dual label still exists. And following the huge warehouse fire shedding light on this parcel, New York City finds itself at the precipice of a decision: Will we have a Costco, an apartment tower, or parkland?
As a new generation embraces city life and a love of the river, New York City and all parties involved must insist on the reclamation of this shoreline. The rally cry of “Where’s our park?” is not merely about the ironclad rezoning promise made by the city to this community, a community which is one of the most polluted and least green in the city; it is also about the universal principle of the importance of the natural world in all our lives and the responsibility of our leaders to fulfill that ideal.
For centuries this nation destroyed nature for the sake of industry. It is in the hands of the mayor and our elected officials to mindfully counter this trend and bring back our riverfront to all. To be able to take a walk or ferry ride to the river, sit at the shore, stroll through wetlands, watch the sunset: this an invaluable part of life which, echoing the grand visions of Robert Moses and Theodore Roosevelt, should be ensured for the sake of generations to come.
If you feel that the promise of Bushwick Inlet Park should be kept by the City of New York, for the benefit of all, we need you!
For more information and ways to help visit: www.bushwickinletpark.org