Gowanus in Flux: Planning for Neighborhood Resiliency

           On Friday, November 16th, BWRC hosted a lively discussion on the the future of the Gowanus waterfront. Michelle de la Uz, Fifth Avenue Committee Executive Director, was the first speaker and she outlined the major demographic shifts underway in Gowanus. Most importantly she noted, between 2000 and 2015 much of the neighborhood underwent a major exodus of Latino/a residents in certain Gowanus census tracts; certain census tracts saw a flip from a Latino/a supermajority in 2000 to a majority white tract by 2015. As economic pressures have led to this decrease in the  Latino/a population, de la Uz said, the median household income in Gowanus has spiked nearly 300 percent, rising from around $35,000 per year in 2000 and landing near $90,000 a year in 2015. These massive transformations have ushered in a new set of challenges throughout a neighborhood that is is already home to immense environmental contamination; currently, the highly contaminated Gowanus Canal is also home to the EPA’s federally-mandated Superfund remediation project that seeks to reduce heavy contamination throughout the Gowanus watershed.

              In 2016, after Mayor de Blasio announced plans to rezone Gowanus, land values began to increase, years before the actual rezoning has been unveiled. De la Uz walked audience through one of FAC’s key proposals for the upcoming rezoning — the creation of the city’s first EcoDistrict. The FAC’s proposed EcoDistrict would prioritize equity, resilience, and climate readiness throughout the entire Gowanus community. While the city has never implemented an Eco District, there are strong and successful examples from other cities across the country that New York City could use as a blueprint.

              De la Uz was followed by Andrea Parker, Executive Director of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy (GCC), who walked us through her non-profit’s vision for increasing open space and green infrastructure throughout the Gowanus canal watershed. Critically, Parker outlined the current issues with Combined Sewage Overflow throughout the Gowanus watershed, which leads to repeated canal contamination. While the city’s re-zoning moves forward alongside the Superfund remediation project, Parker reminded the audience that setting mandatory standards for green and blue infrastructure remain critical to any efforts which seek to build a climate-resilient, ecologically sound neighborhood. Parker suggested that the city’s rezoning could mandate a comprehensive set of standards for green infrastructure, alongside resilient design for newly created open space. Altogether, these opportunities for ecologically sound design could help Gowanus’ long-term residential communities thrive — and remain — in their neighborhood.

                Both FAC and the Gowanus Canal Conservancy play a critical role in the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice (GNCJ), which is a grassroots coalition of stakeholders that are leading the rezoning process and outcomes. Key to their framework is the advancement of racial and economic justice, the preservation and expansion of affordable housing, and the promotion of environmental justice. In the coming months, both organizations will help steer the community’s response to de Blasio’s rezoning proposal and aim to secure equitable outcomes, green design standards, and more for Gowanus’ long-term residents.

Visions for Newtown Creek

BWRC hosted its first Breakfast Talk of the semester, “Visions for Newtown Creek,” on October 12th, 2018. Speakers representing the Newtown Creek Alliance and Riverkeeper outlined their comprehensive, community-driven Vision Plan for the remediation of Newtown Creek.

Lisa Bloodgood, Director of Advocacy and Education at the Newtown Creek Alliance and Chrissy Remein, the Community Project manager at Riverkeeper, presented this ambitious plan starting with a brief history of the challenges inherent to environmental restoration in a densely-populated urban industrial environment. Among the most pressing concerns for residents in the area is the chronic issue of combined sewage overflow (CSO), which occurs when sewer systems are overloaded with rainwater run-off, diverting a mixture of sewage and stormwater to the nearest water body–in this case, the Newtown Creek. Watch this video by the Center for Urban Pedagogy to learn more about CSO.

Although it was designated as a Superfund site by the EPA in 2010, the formal environmental remediation process in Newtown Creek has yet to begin. While the EPA continued its research and feasibility studies, community and environmental advocacy organizations formed the Superfund Community Advisory Group (CAG) with local residents, businesses, and environmental advocacy groups to develop a long-term planning strategy, culminating in the 85-part Vision Plan.

At the heart of the Vision Plan is a commitment to protect and support Newtown Creek as a site of industry and employment in the community. The various strategies outlined by the report intend to strike an appropriate balance of uses between recreation and industry by reimagining what these public spaces can achieve for future generations.

BWRC 2019 Conference Call for Papers

“Housing along the Brooklyn Waterfront” Call for Papers 

BWRC seeks a candidate to research and write a white paper that will set the context for our Spring 2019 Conference, “Housing along the Brooklyn Waterfront: Then and Now” (working title). Although the project intends to create an accessible and comprehensive historical account of housing within the geographic area, proposals are welcome from several disciplinary perspectives. 

An honorarium will be awarded to the selected candidate, and BWRC will schedule periodic meetings to consult with the candidate between November 1st, 2018 and February 1st, 2019. The final deliverable will be between 20-40 pages and will be published in the conference program. We welcome supplemental digital materials; the white paper will be published on our website <brooklynwaterfront.org>.

Eligible candidates should have an academic affiliation and demonstrated scholarly expertise in urban history; urban planning; urban development; and/or New York City history.

Applicants should prepare a 500-word prospectus and submit, with a brief cover letter, a one-page CV and a list of relevant publications by November 16th to Director Richard Hanley at rhanley@citytech.cuny.edu. Questions and inquiries can be directed to Director Richard Hanley.

Brooklyn Waters: Annual Conference Recap

        BWRC hosted Brooklyn Waters, its seventh conference at Borough Hall on April 20th, 2018. Titled Brooklyn Waters, the conference focused on the complex, interconnected issues of sea level rise, sustainability, and resilience along Brooklyn’s waterfront. BWRC was thrilled to host a sold-out event, with over 185 urban planners, government leaders, community advocates, and scholars registered.

        The gathering kicked off with featured speakers who spoke about the Brooklyn waterfront’s history, climate science, and current urban planning initiatives. Julia Golia, Director of Public History at the Brooklyn Historical Society, outlined the history of Brooklyn’s working waterfront, providing much needed context on the development and transformation happening along the shoreline in Kings County. Cynthia Rosenzweig, Senior Research Scientist at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, provided pertinent information on the current climate science behind sea level rise affecting New York. Closing out the morning’s framing conversation was Michael Marrella, Director of Waterfront and Open Space Planning at the NYC Department of City Planning.

         The first full panel, moderated by City Tech professor Benjamin Shepard, explored civic, government, and design response to sea-level rise and storm surge. The first panel featured advocacy leaders, Caroline Nagy from the Center for NYC Neighborhoods and Kate Boicourt from the Waterfront Alliance. Tevina Willis, Local Leaders Facilitator with the Red Hook Initiative, walked the audience through grassroots resiliency efforts in Red Hook. Similarly, architect Eran Chen explained that his firm (ODA New York) prioritizes resiliency design efforts in more large-scale projects along the Brooklyn waterfront. Another waterfront powerhouse, the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, joined the conversation; Executive Vice President Clare Newman explained that the Navy Yard’s resiliency plan promises continued sustainable growth alongside steady job creation.

         After lunch, conference participants got a closer look at Brooklyn’s ‘soft edges,’ with an emphasis on Brooklyn Bridge Park and Jamaica Bay. Moderated by City Tech professor Reginald Blake moderated the panel that offered critical perspectives on both natural and built ‘soft edges.’ Executive Vice President of Brooklyn Bridge Park, David Lowin, explored the ways that a recreational edge environment prepares its infrastructure for rising tides and storm surge. Next, leaders from advocacy, research, and government organizations shared critical views on the role that Jamaica Bay plays in maintaining Brooklyn’s resilient edges. Adam Parris, Executive Director of the Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay, was joined by John McLaughlin, from NYC DEP’s Office of Ecosystem Services, Green Infrastructure, and Research. To close out the session, Lauren Cosgrove of National Parks Conservation Association discussed the vitality and critical ecological role played by Gateway National Recreation Area.

        In the final session of the conference, Roland Lewis, President of the Waterfront Alliance, moderated a round table discussion on the future of resilience efforts in New York and beyond. Council Member Carlos Menchaca joined the panel, imploring the audience to integrate political activism into all resiliency efforts. Alongside Menchaca were panelists Sam Hersh, of Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency and City Tech professors, Reginald Blake and Illya Azaroff.

         The day’s discussion and debate closed with a few words from BWRC Director, Richard Hanley, who gave a sneak peak of the 2019 conference topic: the contested issue of housing along Brooklyn’s waterfront. BWRC is thankful to all the panelists and moderators who joined us for an action-oriented day. Finally, many thanks to Robin Michals for so generously photographing the conference.

 

 

Brooklyn Waters: Sea Level Rise, Sustainability, and Resilience along the Brooklyn Waterfront

The Brooklyn Waterfront Research Center (BWRC) presents Brooklyn Waters, a full-day conference on sea level rise, sustainability, and resiliency along the Brooklyn waterfront. Brooklyn Waters will examine how preparation for storm surge and rising tides has already remade – and is set to radically remake – the coastal areas of Kings County.

While the Brooklyn waterfront holds much in common with other coastal regions—and with those of its sister boroughs— the challenges it faces are unique. The past two decades have ushered in a dramatic transformation of the Brooklyn waterfront district’s built environment. Now, we are faced with yet another dramatic waterfront transformation in the coming two decades, one the will be driven by the unwieldy forces of ecological systems.

The conference opens with a provocative primer on sea level rise, subsidence, and storm surges. A panel will discuss how these issues have already catalyzed change along the water—in the waterfront’s infrastructure, its transportation systems, its low-lying communities, and its public housing. The core of the conference, however, will center on the question: What is the future of Brooklyn’s built and natural waterfront?

Brooklyn Waters will offer a diverse set of perspectives on the topic of future interventions and approaches to rising tides. Various waterfront community leaders will share their grassroots planning efforts. City officials will speak about both the near and long-term promises of resiliency planning. Architects will debate the role and limits of design in creating resilient neighborhoods. Environmental experts will discuss efforts to protect Brooklyn’s natural and constructed shorelines, including Jamaica Bay and Brooklyn Bridge Park. The conference’s agenda will span the gamut from urban policy, engineering, community activism, to land use. 

Please register here & reserve your seat today.

Brooklyn Waters Panels:

A Waterfront Transformed: Exploring Civic, Government and Design Responses to Sea-level rise & Storm Surge

The first panel will look at the issues created by climate change and sea-level rise from a variety of perspectives and places. This panel will explore about new guidelines for building in a sustainable manner along the waterfront; the way designers have integrated sustainable planning into two significant residential developments in North Brooklyn; what “resilience” means in the context of public housing in Red Hook; what changing flood maps and the resulting changes in flood insurance rates might mean to small homeowners in communities like Canarsie; steps that large industrial developments along the waterfront like the Brooklyn Navy Yard are taking to become resilient; and how environmental justice can be achieved in waterfront communities faced with these challenges

Built or NaturalStewarding & Safeguarding Brooklyn’s Diverse Waterfront Communities

Panel two focuses on two jewels of the Brooklyn waterfront: one built and one natural. Panelists will explain how the first, Brooklyn Bridge Park, was designed for resilience and how the second, Jamaica Bay, is the object of study and efforts to keep it sustainable. Jamaica Bay is a collection of various endangered ecosystems—salt marshes, fresh ponds, beaches, and dunes—that are of intrinsic value in themselves as well as being important to the ecology of the region. We will hear from panelists representing organizations engaged in this work of study, preservation, and resilience.

Resiliency & Beyond: A Round-Table Discussion on the future of planning, governing and design within our climate-altered future

The last session of the day will feature a forward-facing discussion that will invite conference participants to jump into the discussion. Representatives from the Mayor’s Office of Recovery & Resilience will be joined by Council Member Carlos Menchaca as well as community leaders and architects. This forward-looking group of panelist will tackle the often side-stepped, more macro-questions: What are some near-term and far-term developments for which New York City citizens should be prepared? What emerging realities – managed retreat, widening flood plains, transformed housing demands – should be centered more in our public debate about climate change? What will the challenges posed by Brooklyn’s waterfront geography demand of both citizens and government alike?

Light refreshments and a full lunch will be served. For further questions and information, please contact ccastellan@gradcenter.cuny.edu . 

Art at the Water’s Edge: Building Community Along Brooklyn’s Waterfront

 

The BWRC hosted a breakfast talk “Art at the Water’s Edge,” on Friday, March 2nd, which featured a panel discussion on participatory art eviactices along Brooklyn’s waterfront. Moderated by City Tech professor Robin Michals, the panelists discussed their respective creative practices and emphasized the waterfront’s role in their process, craft, and creative goals. Although they employ different media, the four artists all shared a deep commitment to place, New York City’s waterways, and civic engagement.

Dylan Gauthier, a Brooklyn based artist and educator, focuses on research-based and participatory projects that draw citizens into conversations about architecture, ecology, and urban design. Gauthier’s direct engagement with the Brooklyn waterfront began with the Empty Vessel Project in the Gowanus Canal, a project that utilized a boat as both community and performance space. Later, Gauthier launched Mare Liberum, a community boat-making initiative that uses reclaimed urban materials as the raw base materials for rowboat construction. With regular boat launches into the Newtown Creek, the Mare Liberum collective convenes community discussions that stoke critical dialogues around agemigration, urban design, and local politcs.

Sto Len, an artist and printmaker, discussed his intimate connection to the Brooklyn waterfront in his Suminagashi (floating ink) printmaking. In this process, Len creates direct prints of the surface oil traces in local waterways. As Len developed his Suminagashi process, he sought out opportunities that could connect his water-based printmaking with questions of local ecology. Eager to document the Greenpoint oil spill, Len began to generate prints from oil traces floating upon the waters of Newton Creek. Later, Len’s work carried him to Vietnam where he explored the social and ecological life of waterways. Following his Vietnam-based work, Len put up a solo show that quickly became the centerpiece of a community discussion about water quality and ecological stewardship in Vietnam.

Artist and professor, Nancy Nowacek, shared her experience of attempting to design, construct, and gain approval for Citizen Bridge, her proposed floating bridge project that would span the distance from Brooklyn’s shoreline to Governor’s Island. Through the process of prototyping, Nowacek continues to engage multiple stakeholders that range from engineers to city agencies to legal firms. Largely an iterative process, Citizen Bridge currently remains in the prototyping phase, with Nowacek actively developing and expanding the project’s community-reach.

Artist Barry Rosenthal closed out the morning panel with a compelling overview of his “Found in Nature” series. Working as an urban archeologist, photographer, and sculptor, Rosenthal culls his art objects from the trash and debris strewn along New York City’s shorelines. Later, Rosenthal turns these found objects into large-scale photography installations. Through his revolving process of culling shorelines, categorizing trash, and staging photographs, Rosenthal has amassed a mammoth archive that traces the ever-expanding ecological impact of human consumption on our immediate coastal landscapes.

Taken together, the panel showcased how waterfront art practices are effective in generating critical conversations about local ecology, politics, and community. Through varying participatory art practices, Brooklyn-based artists are opening up the waterfront and using it as a space for both creative and community-driven interventions. Critically, all the artists closed out the panel by noting collaboration’s inherent political power, emphasizing the need to involve new stakeholders while simultaneously building toward larger scales of action, policy-making, and creative production.

Wine-Making Along the Brooklyn Waterfront

The BWRC hosted its second breakfast talk of the semester, “Making Wine on the Brooklyn Waterfront: Blending Community, Philanthropy and Education,” on Friday December 1st.

The event was led by hospitality management professor Karen Goodlad, who also directs the campus-wide Living Lab initiative. Professor Goodlad moderated a lively panel discussion that highlighted the challenges and opportunities for winemaking in the heart of the city. Goodlad’s expertise on food and beverage management helped catalyze the focus of the breakfast talk – an innovative college partnership that connects City Tech students with wine producers at the Red Hook Winery.

Joining the panel was Christopher Nicolson, a lead wine-maker at the Red Hook Winery. Nicolson educated the audience about the unique characteristics of Redhook Winery, namely its deep connections with local New York State farmers. Nicolson personally works with eight different small-scale grape producers on the North Fork of Long Island, as well as a host of other producers in the Finger Lakes region. The intimate connection between producer and winemakers allows the Redhook Winery to build a culture of camaraderie that is empowering a local production chain, anchored at the wine’s point of production in Red Hook.

Nicolson also briefed the group on the winery’s recent history, focusing on the effects of Hurricane Sandy. After the storm destroyed a significant portion of the winery’s stock, community efforts enabled the winery to bounce back and build a more resilient business model. The partnership between City Tech and the winery proved crucial to the winery’s ability to sustain itself in the months after the devastating storm.

Hospitality students and panelists, Polina Savchenko, Roberto Burbano, and Renald Castillo also shared lively insights from their first-hand work experience in the wine-making partnership program. Throughout their independent study program, the City Tech students gained critical first-hand knowledge about the wine making process and New York’s unique viticulture. The semester-long adventure culminated with the production of two special label “City Tech” wines that were bottled and distributed to City Tech for it’s campus dining services. Both “City Tech” varietals – a red and a white wine — are served throughout the year in the Hospitality Management Department’s Janet Lefler Dining Room. If you would like to learn more about New York’s growing wine industry or how you can get involved, be sure to visit Red Hook Winery.

November Breakfast Talk: Green Gentrification with Kenneth Gould and Tammy Lewis

 

 

On Friday, November 17th, BWRC hosted a Breakfast Talk featuring Kenneth A. Gould and Tammy L. Lewis who spoke about their book, Green Gentrification: Urban Sustainability and the Struggle for Environmental Justice. BWRC welcomed Gould and Lewis to a full house as they discussed their idea of “Green Gentrification.”

Gould and Lewis are professors of sociology at Brooklyn College and professors of sociology and earth and environmental sciences at the CUNY Graduate Center. Together, they took us through a geographical view of the Brooklyn waterfront and explained how Green Gentrification is affecting waterfront communities such as Red Hook and Sunset Park. They explained the importance of keeping communities sustainable by making an effort to keep neighborhoods affordable for the residents already living there.

The talk ended in a spirited question and answer period during which the speakers provided ways for communities to gain green infrastructure and still serve and retain current residents. BWRC was excited to orchestrate an event where people engaged in discussions about creating sustainable living conditions for New York residents. BWRC looks forward to continuing to serve as a catalyst for discussions about creating sustainable and environmentally benign living conditions throughout our communities.

BWRC Hosts Belgian Urban Planners

On Friday, September 22nd BWRC welcomed 25 Belgian urban planners to City Tech for a discussion about design initiatives along the Brooklyn waterfront. To kick-off our waterfront exploration, BWRC hosted two design scholars to share remarks on their respective Brooklyn-based projects.

Dan Campo (Ph.D. Director of the Graduate Program in City & Regional Planning at Morgan State University), shared a compelling overview of his research on improvisational park-making practices along the Brooklyn waterfront. Accidental Playground (2013), Campo’s ethnographic exploration of the Brooklyn Eastern Terminal District, surveys the methods used by waterfront residents as they fought to create and protect public space in the yet-to-be developed waterfront during the early 2000s. Campo’s presentation followed the thrust of his research, asking the crucial question: can contemporary urban residents continue to create organic uses of public space in the face of accelerating urban development? Campo closed by posing a direct question to the Belgian delegation – how can professional planners plan urban communities that allow for, and even encourage, democratic and improvisational uses?

Adam Lubinsky of WZY architecture firm presented about his integrated design work in the Brooklyn Tech Triangle. Lubinksy explained some of the unique characteristics of the Tech Triangle, namely the large number of new tech jobs that the city plans to integrate into the area, as well as the high-density of 12 universities (home to over 60,000 students). Specifically, WXY’s planning work on the area aims to re-think and re-tool previously underutilized spaces within the Triangle in an effort to absorb the anticipated increase in workers and students over the next five years. With a specific focus on The Strand Action Plan, the WXY firm has drawn up a plan to weave together currently disjointed public spaces throughout the Tech Triangle. By creating a connected corridor of public spaces, the Strand Action Plan aims to remediate some of negative spatial impacts of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. The Brooklyn Tech Triangle project is a dynamic and complex project that takes its cues from multiple stakeholders. Currently, all feasibility studies are coordinated by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, while all public engagement efforts are spearheaded by private the interest group, the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership.

After our keynoters presented their waterfront research, the Belgian urban planners were given a guided tour of the Brooklyn Navy Yard by Andrew Gustafson, President of Turnstile Tours.

Overall, BWRC was thrilled to facilitate a day-long conversation with our international planning colleagues. Campo and Lubinsky’s presentations served as a fruitful catalyst for a day-long exploration into the possibilities for developing the waterfront’s built environment. BWRC looks forward to hosting similar planning delegations in the semesters to come!

BWRC offers a special thanks to delegation facilitator, Jens Aerts (Planner for Bureau for Urbanism), Dean Justin Vazquez-Poritz (Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at New York City College of Technology) and the Rick Russo, Senior Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.

May Breakfast Talk: A Dying Waterfront Transformed with Joanne Witty

BWRC offered its final breakfast talk of the spring semester On May 19. The featured speaker was Joanne Witty, who discussed her recent book Brooklyn Bridge Park: A Dying Waterfront Transformed, co-authored by the late Henrik Krogius. A lawyer and environmentalist, Ms. Witty was directly involved in the creation and development of Brooklyn Bridge Park. Beginning in 2002, she served as director of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation, responsible for the park’s master plan, and as vice president of the current Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation. Her book documents the area’s transformation from a disused port facility to a thriving public park, involving the Port Authority, the Brooklyn Heights community, and several mayoral administrations.

Ms. Witty’s presentation traced the park’s history from the 1980s to the present, while illuminating competing priorities and complex negotiations in its journey from vision to reality. The talk touched on land use, economics and real estate, which generated a lively discussion about the costs and benefits of Brooklyn Bridge Park. The audience delved into current issues surrounding the Park, including residential development at Pier 6, a recent source of contention. Ms. Witty explained that financial sustainability has always been a cornerstone of the Brooklyn Bridge Park project and remains necessary for its future. In all, the talk highlighted important milestones in the history of Brooklyn Bridge Park, and a range of concerns that define this vital part of the Brooklyn waterfront

To learn more about Joanne Witty and Brooklyn Bridge Park: A Dying Waterfront Transformed, visit http://brooklynbridgeparkbook.com/.