The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized its cleanup plan for Gowanus Canal. The Brooklyn Canal, bound by Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Red Hook, was declared a Superfund site in 2010 and communities have long been pushing for its cleanup.
Judith A. Enck, the EPA Regional Administrator, said:
“The cleanup plan announced today by the EPA will reverse the legacy of water pollution in the Gowanus. The plan is a comprehensive, scientifically-sound roadmap to turn this urban waterway into a community asset once more.”
One-hundred and fifty years of industrial activity has left the waterway filled with PCBs, PAHs, coal tar waste, heavy metals and volatile organics, and poisoned both the water and fish. The cleanup will take 8 to 10 years and, even then, swimming and fishing would be ill-advised. However, the effort initiates a process of ecological revitalization and sets a precedent that holds companies accountable for their actions.
If this federal decision pulls through, its long term benefits, in terms of residential health and re-investment in the NY Harbor area, are immense.
On September 29th, Freshkills Park opened its gates to the public for the fourth annual Sneak Peak event and attracted 3,500 people, a steady increase from previous years.
They came on bikes, on ferries, and in cars; with family, with friends. A girl from Brooklyn says, “This is a strange place. It does not feel like we are in the city at all.” Indeed, the tall yellow grass, the rolling hills, and the hawks in the sky seemed like neither the city nor the previous landfill site.
In the central area, a miniature horse pulled kids around for five minute rides. The goats that helped eat the site’s invasive phragmites, bleated at passerby. Families lounged on wooden-crates, as Staten Island artists transformed the stone bridge with spray paint. In the distance, a giant rock wall supported climbers of all ages; kayakers took boats into the river.
For a quieter experience, people trekked to the Overlook, a high point where they could see the Manhattan skyline. Or, on a steeper path, they climbed to the top of North Mound and flew Freshkills Park kites.
Art, nature, food and clear skies: we couldn’t have asked for a better day! Now, to start planning for next year’s Sneak Peak… In any case, stay posted on Freshkills Park happenings, and if you missed Sneak Peak this year, there’s always next year. Park tours are also available from April to November:
The Freshkills team is always on the lookout for engaging initiatives that combine education, sustainability, and art – not to mention recycling. Recology, a waste management company based in San Francisco, supports a young artists program that combines all these topics in one exemplary project. The artist-in-residency program diverts found objects from the city’s landfills into donated studio spaces for the artists – and eventually galleries. The chosen artists are allowed to “scavenger” at Recology’s San Francisco transfer station for supplies and tasked with making art out of 100% recycled materials. Here is a short video about the program featuring one of the recent artists, Ethan Estess:
Freshkills has been the subject of numerous artistic endeavors, including most recently the Land Art Generator Institute (LAGI) competition and publication. The LAGI exhibit is currently on display at the Parks Dept. HQ in Central Park.
Bush Terminal Piers Park is slated to open this October, the new waterfront park is located between 43rd to 51st Streets in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Sandwiched between modernized industrial parcels along the waterfront, the park was designed by AECOM. The new park will provide the residents of nearby neighborhoods the first new open space in the area in decades.
Bush Terminal was a historic integrated manufacturing and shipping complex throughout much of the twentieth century. By the 1970s the site where the park is located was abandoned and contaminants found in the soil discouraged redevelopment. In 2007 the NYC Economic Development Corporation launched Sunset Park Vision Plan, a plan to reinvigorate sections of the industrial waterfront as well as provide increased public access and open space.
Following the (completed) brownfield remediation effort, the park will feature numerous sustainable elements including designated spaces for environmental education, urban reforestation, wetland restoration, and the installation of various types of stormwater management infrastructure. Additionally, Bush Terminal Pier Park will have three turf playing fields, a sloping lawn, picnic areas, walkways, and concession stands (Source via Curbed).
Freshkills Park is another example of land transformation and reuse of a brownfield. Like Bush Terminal Piers Park, Freshkills Park is committed to implementing sustainable practices and engaging the public with exciting recreational opportunities as well as providing educational information about the site and its history. Currently two areas of Freshkills Park are open, Schuml Park and Owl Hollow playing fields. Both areas incorporate many sustainable elements, check them out!
The Arsenal Gallery at Central Park will host Freshkills Park on Wednesday July 10th at 6:00 p.m. as Angelyn Chandler, Capital Program Manager at Freshkills Park, discusses the park’s history and future plans. The event is free and part of the Land Art Generator Institute exhibition, please RSVP with firstname.lastname@example.org . Join us and learn more about the development if this world-class park!
The complex relationship between cities and agriculture was a hot topic this spring at the “Feeding Cities” conference at the University of Pennsylvania. Growing populations are demanding more food, as well as increasing the geographic footprint of cities. Once fertile land on the outskirts of cities is being developed, and agriculture has become dominated by large scale corporate farming, which further complicates food distribution issues. However, Heather Grady of the Rockefeller Foundation stated in her key note speech at the conference that by getting rid of waste in processing, delivery and sales, as well as conserving land for agriculture within and surrounding urban areas can help address global food security issues.
Although food security issues are present at a global scale, solutions are being explored at a more local level. The Urban Design Lab (UDL) of Columbia University’s Earth Institute undertook a study of the feasibility of urban agriculture in New York City. The UDL published their results in The Potential for Urban Agriculture in New York City report in 2011. The study identified almost 5,000 acres of vacant land likely to be suitable for farming in the five boroughs of New York City, as well as more than 1,000 acres of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) green space, underutilized open spaces, and Greenstreets.
On Staten Island in particular, a large portion of the vacant land was found not to be suitable for farming, due to the difficulty of establishing a farm on such sites, as well as the problems innate in converting valuable ecological resources such as wetland or forest to food production, including much of Freshkills Park. Although there are currently no plans to incorporate agriculture into the park plans, the study found over 4,000 acres on Staten Island that have the potential for urban agriculture.
The report outlined the numerous benefits to developing agricultural spaces within or near urban areas, including the potential to reduce food transportation costs and environmental effects, as well as provide opportunities for economic development and diminish the disparities in access to healthy foods. However, in order to become a viable option to food production for the masses, urban agriculture must overcome challenges of scalability, energy efficiency and labor costs.
The comprehensive 438-page report, unveiled last week, represents the most significant series of forward-thinking initiatives and concrete proposals since Sandy. It builds on new data, also released recently by the Mayor’s office, which warns that New Yorkers will face even hotter summers, more rainfall, and more frequent major storm events. The plan, A Stronger More Resilient New York, will dictate how NYC prepares for flooding and storm surges moving forward, including challenges related to buildings, economic recovery, community preparedness, insurance, utilities, telecommunications, healthcare, transportation, and parks (pdf).
The parks chapter omits Freshkills Park specifically (Freshkills is not yet mapped as parkland), though the site’s protective attributes – its mounds and wetlands – were well recorded post-Sandy. Wetlands in particular are thoroughly extolled for their flood mitigation capabilities. Building on the critical importance of areas like Jamaica Bay, the report outlines new initiatives to support coastal ecosystems and reintroduce improved natural barriers to many sections of the 520-mile NYC coastline.
“Wetlands, streams, forests and other natural areas offer substantial sustainability and resiliency benefits. The protection and restoration of these natural areas is, therefore, of critical importance.”
Within the 16 schemes in the parks chapter, wetland restoration complements other proposals that will design new bulkheads, fortify existing piers, and relocate vulnerable infrastructure, among many other initiatives.
Last week several members of the Freshkills team assisted Dr. Mark Hauber, a professor of Psychology at Hunter College, in checking bird nestboxes in the park. Dr. Hauber is gathering data on the bird populations and breeding success at Freshkills Park, a site which has acted as a stopover for bird species along the Atlantic Migratory Flyway since the closure of the landfill. A migratory stop-over site provides safe and efficient foraging and resting opportunities between long-distance stretches of continuous migratory flights.
Dr. Hauber has been researching bird breeding at Freshkills since August of 2011, when the nest boxes were first installed in the park. He is currently monitoring two other active nestbox sites in New York City: a site in the Bronx near Hunters Point and Jamaica Bay’s National Gateway Park. By studying these sites, the aim is to assess of the ecological value of reclaimed sites with respect to migratory bird populations. The impact of a stop-over habitat on migrating birds is difficult to detect in adult birds, therefore Dr. Hauber has focused his research on birds hatched on the site, whose health directly reflects the local environment. Dr. Hauber ‘s work will help define the differences and similarities between newly restored brownfield landscapes and areas where nesting has been long established.
According to Dr. Hauber’s initial findings, Tree Swallows or House Wrens are the dominant species found in the nextboxes. The newly set-up nest boxes in the Bronx and Staten Island are only 30 percent occupied, whereas the long-standing nestbox colony in Jamaica Bay’s National Gateway Park has 75 percent occupancy. His team is also finding that more young Tree Swallow females, which have a distinctive brown coloring at the age of one, settle in boxes that are recently set-up, compared to the well-established sites. The age of nesting males is much more difficult to determine considering that all males have the same green coloring, irrespective of age. An analysis of abandoned eggshells and nestling down feathers is still underway.
On their recent trip, the team checked the 80+ bird nestboxes located in South Park and North Park. Corresponding with his initial findings, the nestboxes were found to be primarily inhabited by House Wrens and Tree Swallows. Upon inspection, it was discovered that several of the nests contained recently laid eggs, some with a single egg others contained up to seven. Dr. Hauber and the Freshkills team will be returning to the site to check on the nests and the soon to be hatched baby birds in the next few weeks.
To engage best practices and innovative thinking from around the world, the city has invited designers and urban planners to submit plans for an 80-acre site in Far Rockaway, Queens. The FAR ROC [For a Resilient Rockaway] competition entries will provide inventive solutions to be applied directly in the Rockaways, as well as new ideas for other at-risk waterfront neighborhoods throughout the city.
Hurricane Sandy demonstrated the need for new ideas about development along NYC’s vulnerable coastline. The damage to buildings, beaches, and utility systems on the Rockaway Peninsula calls for a difficult discussion as to whether certain areas should be “rebuilt, maintained and defended, or simply abandoned.” Challenges posed by climate change, sea level rise, and increasingly frequent major storm events cannot be resolved by designers and planners alone, but new development strategies, like the ones to be tested in the Rockaways, can provide a laboratory to solicit the most innovative ideas. Submissions are required to consider the environmental and physical challenges of the at-risk site as well as the economic development, housing, and infrastructure needs of the area.
The Phase I submission deadline is June 14, 2013. The competition is organized by city Department of Housing Preservation and Development, L+M Development Partners, the Bluestone Organization, Enterprise Community Partners, Triangle Equities, and the AIA NY.