Monday, September 2, 2013

Bushwick Inlet History

Bird's Eye View of Bushwick Inlet and Neighborhood Context 
Historic Route of Bushwick Creek
Bushwick inlet has a long history and is part of an ongoing waterfront development debate. Before becoming overrun with weeds and invasive plant species Bushwick inlet was at the mouth of what was Norman Kill, later known as Bushwick Creek. The creek once extended to a marsh in what is now McCarren Park, creating the neighborhood boundary between Greenpoint and Williamsburg that is still recognized today. Eventually the mouth of Bushwick Creek became home to Charles Pratt's Astral Oil Works to the south and the Continental Iron Works to the north. In the 1850s Bushwick creek began to be filled in for new housing and around the turn of the last century the creek was completely filled in to cover over what had become a foul smelling, polluted waterway. Although Bushwick Inlet sits unused, a relic of Greenpoint's industrial past, the city has plans to convert the site into a park as part of the redevelopment of the North Brooklyn Waterfront.

Launch of the USS Monitor
The Continental Iron Works was the Greenpoint company that built the iron clad ship USS Monitor. The company was located at the end of Quay Street and launched the USS Monitor on the north side of Bushwick inlet in 1862. The Monitor was built for the North during the civil war and engaged the Confederate iron clad CSS Virginia in the first ever battle between iron clad ships. Part of the land adjacent to Bushwick Inlet has been donated to George J. and Janice Weinmann for a proposed museum site dedicated to the Monitor.

The city has threatened to take the USS Monitor Museum property through imminent domain for inclusion in the in the new Bushwick Inlet Park in order to maintain continuous pedestrian access through the park. As someone who designs parks for a living I think that the inclusion of a museum dedicated to an important part of the site's history can enhance the interpretive environment of the park assuming the museum is designed to be integrated into the park's master plan. Moreover, I do not see any reason the city cannot use an easement to maintain continuous waterfront park access while allowing the museum to be built. I am not sure why the city has made it more difficult for the museum to be built but it seems to me like administration officials are in no position to complain about the museum when they have yet to adequately fund or build a park that was promised to North Brooklyn residents in exchange for allowing developers to construct luxury condo buildings that are at a scale inappropriate to the neighborhood. 

Williamsburg Luxury Condos
When the city first began filling in Bushwick Creek in the 1850s it was to build new housing; however, the residents at the time did not want the creek to be filled in and protested the development initiative. History has a funny way of repeating itself and just like before, the community is protesting the construction of new housing. Originally, the North Brooklyn Waterfront was rezoned to protect the community from undesirable industrial development projects including waste management facilities and a proposed power plant. While rezoning opened the door for more appropriate development types in the neighborhood, a Faustian deal was made with developers. In exchange for opposition of the power plant project and rezoning  of the waterfront from heavy industrial to mixed use, commercial and residential, developers were allowed to construct taller buildings (thirty to forty stories) against the will of local residents. Williamsburg residents are already  paying the price for the new high-rise developments. In addition to being out of scale with the neighborhood, these new gated communities in the sky have contributed to a significant increase in traffic and noise, increased parking demand and a greater burden on existing infrastructure.

Bushwick Inlet from the East River
There has been speculation that oil pollution has migrated from the area around Bushwick Inlet from the Bayside Oil site (formerly Astral Oil Works) to further inland flowing through the tidal ground water and following the original route of Bushwick Creek. For more on that check out this blog: Eastern District

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