First Breakfast Talk – Gowanus: Brooklyn’s Curious Canal


Author Joseph Alexiou captivated the audience with a narrative history of the Gowanus Canal’s transformation from an idyllic tidal estuary into a major commercial waterway in the nineteenth century. Alexiou highlighted Gowanus’s significance to the Revolutionary War and how the creek helped American troops escape the British during the Battle of Brooklyn. As South Brooklyn became a port in its own right, civic leaders worked to create a competitive waterfront with modern shipping facilities. The Canal was proposed by Daniel Richards, the architect of the Atlantic Basin, which forever altered Red Hook’s natural shoreline. Edwin Litchfield, known as “the father of Park Slope” was actually responsible for developing the Canal and the surrounding neighborhood in the 1860s.


In his talk, Alexiou connected the Canal’s industrial past to its current state as a Superfund site. The audience was treated to photos of toxic sludge at the bottom of the Canal known as “black mayonnaise” – a mixture of chemicals dumped into the waterway throughout its history.  The Canal is the repository of Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) systems that dump raw sewage into the waterway during heavy rain storms. Alexiou explained how CSOs affect water quality in the Canal, and what will be done to mitigate overflows as part of the Superfund cleanup. Alexiou pointed out that the Gowanus neighborhood is in the midst of a real estate boom and reflected on the effect of new development on the existing sewer system.

Alexiou energized the audience, generating many questions and a lively discussion that continued after the event. Check out Alexiou’s book Gowanus: Brooklyn’s Curious Canal here!

We look forward to seeing you at our next Breakfast Talk on November 18!

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Controversial BQX was the topic of our final Breakfast Talk of the semester

Schechtman talk 1

Harris Schechtman, National Director of Transit for Sam Schwartz Engineering, was our guest for the final BWRC Breakfast Talk of the semester (Mr. Schechtman replaced Mr. Schwartz, the originally scheduled speaker). Mr. Schechtman, who has over 40 years of experience in the field of transportation design and operation, spoke about the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX), a proposed streetcar line that would link Astoria, Queens to Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

Mr. Schechtman, whose company has been conducting a study of the proposed line, presented a number of findings in favor of the BQX, arguing that it would ease congestion on crowded or near-capacity bus and subway lines; provide equitable access for Brooklyn and Queens residents to jobs along the waterfront corridor; enhance connectivity to already-existing transportation and infrastructure; and promote economic development overall. Despite the strong interest evinced by audience members, the proposal met with some skepticism from community members who are wary about its impact on Brooklyn Heights, Sunset Park, and other waterfront neighborhoods.

Regardless, the event was successful in bringing together transportation advocates, urban planners, and community members, who turned out in large numbers despite the driving rain. We at BWRC look forward to planning events on transportation and other pertinent waterfront issues for the coming academic year.



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BWRC Fifth Annual Conference Wrap-Up


Photo credit: Robin Michals

The BWRC Conference on “The Past, Present and Possible Future of Manufacturing Along the Brooklyn Waterfront” was a resounding success. Our best-attended conference yet examined the past, present, and future of industry and manufacturing on the Brooklyn waterfront, a topic which aroused considerable interest and generated some lively discussion.

After opening remarks by BWRC’s Richard Hanley and City Tech President Russ Hotzler, Brooklyn Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna and City Council Member Carlos Menchaca set the tone with their impassioned calls for a return to policies that would preserve and add jobs to the recently revitalized waterfront. Reyna was the first of several speakers who recalled their personal connections to Brooklyn’s manufacturing past; her memories of her mother’s experience as a garment worker reminded the audience that only a generation or two separates us from a time in which a thriving manufacturing economy was an important source of local employment.

Presentations by historians Julie Golia of the Brooklyn Historical Society and Aileen Chumard of the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s BLDG 92 also reminded us of Brooklyn’s rich industrial past and the ways in which waterfront history continues to shape the present moment. Pointing the way towards a possible future was Miquela Craytor, of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, who presented the city’s “Action Plan” for creating industrial and manufacturing jobs in the twenty-first century.

Adam Friedman, director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, argued for a “high value” approach to urban manufacturing, one that could be achieved by technology, design, innovation, and aesthetic quality. Others spoke to the challenges inherent in bringing about a waterfront manufacturing renaissance, including the limitations of current transportation infrastructure, the imperatives of market-based real estate development, and the necessity of considering the needs of existing waterfront communities.

The rest of the day was divided into three panel discussions, on “Locations, Infrastructure, and Resilience,” “Jobs and Workforce Development,” and “Supporting Manufacturers in an Urban Environment.” Here we heard perspectives from entrepreneurs and representatives of small businesses, as well as from community organizations, academics, and policymakers. Queens College’s Tarry Hum had the final word with her look at the convergence between real estate development and immigrant communities in neighborhoods like Sunset Park.

After the conclusion of the conference, a number of participants departed for a bus tour of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a locus of revived waterfront tech-based industry that also provides a fascinating glimpse into Brooklyn’s industrial and maritime past.

Thanks to all who attended and to all who contributed to making this year’s conference such a success. We at BWRC look forward to an equally stimulating and thought-provoking public discussion next year.

(All Photos by Robin Michals/BWRC)


Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna.


City Council Member Carlos Menchaca.



Adam Friedman, the Executive Director of the Pratt Center for Community Development.


Jocelynne Rainey of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.


The crowd mingles in the corridors of Borough Hall.

Richard Tarry

Queens College Professor Tarry Hum looks on as BWRC Director Richard Hanley announces the winner of a raffle for some exclusive Made In Brooklyn products.


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New Facebook page

Please check out our new Facebook page and give us a “like”! We’ll be posting occasional updates, as well as a moderate amount of links to events and articles related to the Brooklyn waterfront.  As always, you can follow us on Twitter.

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Upcoming BWRC Conference Will Focus on Manufacturing on the Brooklyn Waterfront

Navy Yard Bldg 128_NARA

Navy Yard Building 128 during its midcentury industrial heyday. Photo courtesy of National Archives.

For almost twenty years, the Brooklyn waterfront has been experiencing a renaissance propelled mainly by residential development. However, there have also been some manufacturing rebounds, or at least stabilization. The history of manufacturing losses in Brooklyn stretches back to the mid-1950s. The declines continued into this century when, from 2000 to 2010, Brooklyn lost 55 percent (23,925) of its remaining manufacturing jobs. But since the current decade began, the decline has stabilized, and Brooklyn is no longer seeing decreases in manufacturing employment. Also, there has been a new vibrancy at manufacturing locations along the Brooklyn waterfront’s industrial corridor at places such as, the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Industry City, Liberty View Industrial Plaza, and the Brooklyn Army Terminal.

BWRC’s Fifth Annual Conference, “The Past, Present, and Possible Future of Manufacturing Along the Brooklyn Waterfront,” will examine whether these recent developments can lead to the growth of a new kind of manufacturing that will be sustainable, or whether they are just a slight interruption in an inexorable march toward residential development and service sector employment along the Brooklyn waterfront. Featured speakers will include Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna, Miquela Craytor of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, and Adam Friedman of the Pratt Center for Community Development.

“The Past, Present, and Possible Future of Manufacturing” conference will take place at Brooklyn Borough Hall on April 8th, 2016, from 8:30am–12:30pm. The event is free and open to the public; you can RSVP for the event here.

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BWRC Mourns the Passing of Sunny Balzano

Richard Hanley (BWRC), James Reid (CityTech), "Sunny" Balzano and his wife Tone (Sunny's Bar) gather after the screening of "Sunny's Rennaissance"

Richard Hanley (BWRC), James Reid (CityTech), “Sunny” Balzano and his wife Tone (Sunny’s Bar) gather after the screening of “Sunny’s Renaissance”

BWRC joins the Red Hook and Brooklyn communities in mourning the passing of Sunny Balzano, patron of the arts and owner of the beloved Sunny’s Bar in Red Hook. The subject of a recent book, Sunny’s Bar had been long been in the Balzano family, serving food and drink to longshoremen and other waterfront workers for decades before reinventing itself in the 1990s as a speakeasy and haven for artists, musicians, and anyone who happened to stumble across the isolated Red Hook outpost and its endearing, affable owner. 

Back in 2013, BWRC was fortunate to have Sunny attend a screening of the film “Sunny’s Renaissance,” directed by Prof. James Reed. The original post from that event follows below.

On March 13, 2013 we filled a room to capacity for a showing “Sunny’s Renaissance: Raw Hospitality on the Waterfront” for our preBar series. James Reid (Hospitality Managment) presented his documentary about the history and rebirth of Sunny’s Bar in Red Hook following Superstorm Sandy.

The warmth of Sunny and his eclectic bar shown through quite palpably in the documentary, which made it all the better when Sunny and his family made an unscheduled appearance at the end to say hello and answer questions.

Thanks to James, Sunny, Tone and many others for such an enjoyable evening with the BWRC!

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Brooklyn’s Urban Farms: Production and Education Breakfast Panel

The BWRC held its first Breakfast Talk of the semester—and our first Breakfast Talk Panel conversation ever— on Friday, February 19th. We were pleased to present a panel of four highly-qualified experts on a topic that has been steadily garnering attention over the last decade: the rise of urban farming initiatives in Brooklyn and beyond. As our panelists made clear, some of the most innovative and exciting urban farming projects have been taking place in Brooklyn, often in waterfront areas where (until recently) under-utilized space was readily available.

As BWRC director Richard Hanley’s opening remarks reminded us, the challenge of providing nutritious and sustainably grown food to a growing urban population remains a global one. Our first speaker, Diana Mincyte, an assistant professor of sociology at City Tech, helped place Brooklyn’s current urban farming projects in this global context. Mincyte, who has written widely on the environmental and social justice dimensions of agro-food systems in Europe and the United States, contrasted the current vogue for urban farming in Brooklyn to cities in Eastern Europe. There, vegetable gardens and small-scale farming are commonplace, if not always viewed in the same favorable light that has generally accompanied the rise of urban farms in American cities.

Ben Flanner, the CEO, head farmer, and co-founder of Brooklyn Grange—currently the largest soil-based rooftop farming operation in the world—described some of the challenges inherent to urban farming generally as well as some of the specific hurdles his company has faced on its way to becoming one of the most successful rooftop farms in the country. As Flanner pointed out, structural and other building considerations, issues of space in densely-concentrated urban neighborhoods, and skyrocketing real estate costs all pose significant obstacles to the viability of urban farming in Brooklyn. That established, Flanner described his company’s successful mission to create a sustainable, environmentally-friendly, and profitable urban farm, as well as its recent efforts to branch out by providing landscape consulting, event hosting, adult education classes, and other educational and community ventures.

Mara Gittleman, the farm education manager at Kingsborough Community College, CUNY, spoke passionately and eloquently about her work integrating farming and gardening skills into the KCC curriculum. Describing the historical context that has shaped the built environment and affected the underprivileged communities where green spaces are most needed, Gittleman set up a contrast between the suddenly “buzzworthy” urban farms and the city’s community gardens, which are still largely unprotected and unrecognized by city authorities. In addition to her work as an educator, Gittleman continues her advocacy for community gardens as the founder and co-director of Farming Concrete and as a member of the board of directors of the NYC Community Garden Coalition.

Lastly, Mark Hellermann of City Tech’s Hospitality Management program spoke about his experience as an instructor of culinary arts and as the advisor to City Tech’s Garden Club. Underscoring the challenges posed by Brooklyn’s booming real estate market, Hellermann described the demise of the Garden Club’s former growing space on DeKalb Avenue, now replaced by a high-rise construction site (more felicitously, the Club now rents a plot from Brooklyn Grange). Hellermann also invited one of his students, Caroline Carreno to speak about her experiences both as a student in the Hospitality program and as the vice president of Garden Club.

A lively question-and-answer session followed the four speakers, as audience members contributed a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives to the conversation. The Hospitality Program provided an array of pastries and delicious jams made with fruit grown by the Garden Club, providing a tasty illustration of some of the educational possibilities that urban farming initiatives can help foster.

diana panel crowd Mara Gittelman talk

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Brooklyn’s Urban Farms: Production and Education. Breakfast Talk on Friday, Feb. 19th

Although the current urban farming movement predates its arrival in Brooklyn, some of the most innovative and dynamic urban farming is being done in that borough. While urban farms address issues of sustainability, nutrition, and “food deserts,” they have always had an educational component to them.

BWRC’s first breakfast event of the new semester will be a panel discussion on urban farms along the Brooklyn waterfront. The panelists will include urban farmers and educators: Ben Flanner of the Brooklyn Grange, Mara Gittleman of KCC Urban Farm, and Mark Hellerman and Diana Mincyte of City Tech.

The event is Free and Open to the Public. However, reservations are strongly encouraged.


February 19th 2016 – 8:30am

New York City College of Technology
Atrium 632
300 Jay St, Brooklyn NY

Urban farm image small

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Neil DeMause Discusses Ever-Changing Coney Island

Neil deMause gave the BWRC a fascinating Breakfast talk on the Coney Island Chapters of his new book Brooklyn Wars.

Here are some pictures from the event:

demause1 demause7  demause6 demause11

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The New Coney Island: Who gains, who loses? Breakfast Talk on Nov. 13th

November 13th, 8:30am at the New York City College of Technology, come hear Neil DeMause speak about how Coney Island has been changing.

Coney Island is in the midst of one of the biggest overhauls in its century-plus history: a redevelopment plan that’s involved over a decade of battles between city officials, amusement operators, developers, local residents, and, at times, protesters wielding amputated mermaid tails. This has been a transformation where much has been gained and lost. What is the future of America’s Playground? And whose vision of that future shapes public policy?

DeMause is a contributing editor for City Limits magazine, a frequent contributor to the Village Voice, and a former op-ed columnist for Metro New York. He is co-author of “Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money Into Private Profit” (University of Nebraska, 2008) and is currently at work on “The Brooklyn Wars,” scheduled for publication in early 2016. You can find him on Twitter @neildemause.

The event is Free and Open to the Public. However, Reservation strongly encouraged.


November 13th, 2015 – 8:30am

New York City College of Technology
Namm Building, Room 119
300 Jay St, Brooklyn NY


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