2017 BWRC Conference: Moving Goods and People to, from, and along the Brooklyn Waterfront with Keynote Speaker Congressman Jerrold Nadler

Friday March 31, 2017, 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM

Brooklyn Borough Hall, 209 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201

RSVP required via Eventbrite

In the mid-twentieth century, before its decades’ long decline, the Brooklyn waterfront buzzed with the movement of ships and trains and trucks and trolleys and people. The goods that moved to and fro along the waterfront came from around the world, but many, if not most of the workers moving along the same waterfront came from adjacent neighborhoods – Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Vinegar Hill, Sunset Park, and Red Hook. Many of those workers walked to job sites at large warehouse and factory complexes at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Bush Terminal, the Domino Sugar processing complex, and the Brooklyn Army Terminal. The workers serviced ships, moved goods, processed coffee, and sugar and worked in manufacturing.

There was much less movement along the Brooklyn waterfront in the latter part of the twentieth century as first the shipping industry and then other industries moved, taking jobs and many of the workers with them. After more than a generation, the Brooklyn waterfront is moving once again, but it is a different kind of movement and for different reasons. There are now and soon will be more residents of high-rise towers in neighborhoods that were formerly characterized by low-rise tenements, brownstones, and high-rise public housing. There is still a Navy Yard, Bush Terminal (now Industry City), and Brooklyn Army Terminal, but no Domino Sugar plant. There are scores of thousands of tourists visiting sites along the Brooklyn waterfront. What is left of the transportation infrastructure is overtaxed and insufficient to accommodate the needs for moving along the Brooklyn waterfront.

This joint, full day conference, sponsored by BWRC and the University Transportation Research Center, has as its goal as comprehensive a conversation as we can about the transportation needs of the communities, businesses, and visitors along the Brooklyn waterfront. Some of the questions that will be asked are: Have those needs been studied? Who are the community-based actors working on these issues and what are they saying? How are city, state, and local officials planning to address the issues? There are many means of transportation and transportation infrastructures in place or proposed: subways, barges, buses, trucks, ferries, private shuttles, freight rails, the Brooklyn Greenway, bicycles, a light rail system, car sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, and even a gondola to replace the L line. Are, or could, these systems be sufficient to meet the needs? Trying to answer these and other transportation questions will be our keynote lunch speaker, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, representatives of maritime industries, elected and appointed officials, representatives from waterfront communities, developers of residential, commercial, and industrial properties, and transportation scholars.

Full-day attendees of the conference will be offered lunch.

February Breakfast Talk: “Shooting” the Brooklyn Waterfront – Two Photographers Talk About Their Work

BWRC presented our first Breakfast Talk of 2017 with photographers Robin Michals and Nathan Kensinger. Robin is an associate professor in the Communications Design department at CityTech while Nathan is a filmmaker and curator who writes for CurbedNY. Both started shooting the New York waterfront in 2007, when residential development was rapidly replacing remnants of the industrial past. Robin’s initial interest in the city’s shoreline was sparked by concerns over sea-level rise. Her first collection of photographs, called Castles Made of Sand documented places that would one day be underwater. Nathan, a native of San Francisco, moved to Brooklyn in 2003, and began photographing the disappearing working waterfront. Both photographers have been exhibited widely in New York City, with shows in Brooklyn libraries, galleries and museums. Six of Nathan’s images of industrial Brooklyn are currently on view in the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays station.

In recent years Robin’s focus has shifted to development on the Brooklyn waterfront, while Nathan’s current work reflects a burgeoning interest in climate change. Each photographer gave a short presentation, with selected images from the last 10 years, and an explanation of what drew them to the waterfront. The overarching narrative was of waterfront regeneration, as Robin and Nathan chronicled transformative changes to Brooklyn’s formerly industrial shoreline. Images of the former Domino Sugar Factory, the old Greenpoint Terminal Market, and Todd Shipyard (where Ikea sits now) drew great interest from the audience. Robin and Nathan explained how their work has come full circle, since they began chronicling the Brooklyn waterfront. Robin’s recent work has focused on real estate development, whereas Nathan is examining the effects of climate change. The presentations were followed by a lively discussion about Brooklyn Bridge Park and current models for waterfront revitalization.  

To view and learn about Robin’s work, please visit: http://www.e-arcades.com/

Nathan’s work may be found at http://nathankensinger.com and http://ny.curbed.com/camera-obscura

December Breakfast Talk: A Museum Comes to the Brooklyn Waterfront


On November 18, the Brooklyn Waterfront Research Center held its final Breakfast Talk of 2016. The featured speaker was Julie Golia, Director of Public History at the Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS). Golia discussed BHS’s exciting new venture: a satellite location on the DUMBO waterfront, housed in the renewed Empire Stores. Set to open in December 2017, the museum will occupy 3,000 square feet on the second floor of the building. The inaugural exhibit, “Waterfront” will illuminate the legacy of the Brooklyn waterfront, and it will highlight the Empire Stores and Brooklyn Bridge Park. The talk was accompanied by dozens of slides that told the story of the waterfront and also revealed expertly researched artifacts and documents. 

Overall, the museum will seek to uncover, research, and display a wide range of objects and documents collected from the entire Brooklyn waterfront, from Greenpoint to Jamaica Bay. Golia and her team explored the physical and social history of the Brooklyn waterfront in order to elicit diverse narratives about people, labor, and industry. The museum plans to bring these stories to life through innovative story-telling practices, hands-on displays, and digital interfaces. For example, through the use of artifacts and oral histories, the museum will highlight the role of slavery in the growth of the port, the contributions of women workers during WWII, and the influence of artists who flocked to the waterfront in the 1980s.  


Due to the scope of the museum’s goals, the challenges of accurate historical research, the broad audiences the museum seeks, and the spatial and financial constraints, Golia described the project as both exhilarating and daunting. After the presentation, Golia solicited feedback and ideas from the audience, which led to a lively and productive discussion. At the end, Golia emphasized the importance of recognizing economic changes on the Brooklyn waterfront, and acknowledging both industrial and service workers. 

With its proximity to Brooklyn Bridge Park, the museum will attract both local and international visitors. BHS will seek to provide meaningful narratives and experiences for diverse audiences.  

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!

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.



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.


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.

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.

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!

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