The Brooklyn Waterfront Research Center is an institutionally affiliated research and education center that advances interdisciplinary inquiry about one of Brooklyn’s most valuable but least understood assets: its waterfront. The Center serves as an institutional focal point for many of the waterfront-related, grant-funded initiatives that City Tech has developed and plays an integral role in the College’s federally funded redesign of its Pathways program. This new curriculum uses the waterfront as its central focus and is based on active learning, place-based instruction, and interdisciplinary cooperation.
The Center functions as an incubator for new waterfront-related research and as a venue to bring students into the knowledge-creation process. Furthermore, it reaches beyond the walls of the college through its public events, conferences, web initiatives, and seminar programs. Through such means, it draws attention to key issues that affect Brooklyn’s waterfront communities and enables dialogue between key policymakers, experts, educators, and community leaders. The Center’s interrelated goals are reflected in its three central missions: research, education, and public outreach.
Over the past decade, several faculty members at New York City College of Technology formulated the idea that Brooklyn’s waterfront could be used as a “living laboratory,” an extension of the college’s classroom in which students could undertake fieldwork in a variety of disciplines: biology, chemistry, history, English, architecture, urban planning, photography, design, etc. The waterfront offers a rich canvas to study Brooklyn’s social, economic, cultural, and architectural past, but also its present and future: the borough’s shoreline is a highly dynamic space undergoing rapid development, a contested site where environmental concerns and issues pertaining to public access and social equity frequently collide. Since the waterfront is constantly changing, it provides many opportunities for student and faculty research and advocacy to influence real-world decision-making.
This vision of an integrated waterfront curriculum emerged from a series of grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation to support faculty research and curricular development focused on the waterfront. Building on this momentum, City Tech won a $3.1 million, five-year Title V grant to redesign its entire general education program around the waterfront “living laboratory” concept. The Brooklyn Waterfront Research Center was created in tandem with the implementation of the Title V grant, which provided initial operational funding. But the Center attained an independent existence, becoming the institutional home for ongoing research and curricular development now that the original grants have expired.
The Brooklyn Waterfront Research Center’s purview is wide ranging, encompassing all aspects of Brooklyn’s waterfront and its surrounding communities, but ultimately puts topics that concern the public interest at the forefront of its agenda. Environmental problems, real estate development, labor, entrepreneurship, transportation, public access, architectural preservation, recreation, technology, the historical and literary past, and the future of the “working waterfront”
Environmental problems, real estate development, labor, entrepreneurship, transportation, public access, architectural preservation, recreation, technology, the historical and literary past, and the future of the “working waterfront” are some the key topics that scholars who work with the Center are currently studying. The Center has sponsored research about the Brooklyn waterfront on topics ranging from the history of the bicycle in Brooklyn (a Brooklyn carriage maker in the late nineteenth century held the first bicycle patent), to the digital deserts in the industrial business zones along the Brooklyn waterfront, to the history of housing along the Brooklyn waterfront. In addition, the Center has established relationships with government agencies like the NYC Department of Planning and related cultural institutions like the Brooklyn Historical Society and the new Brooklyn Navy Yard Center at 92. Through these relationships, the Center helps students obtain exposure to fields like preservation, planning, public history and education, and archival work.