New York Daily Photo Analytics

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A Deeper Look

There is a body of water separating four miles of Brooklyn and Queens called Newtown Creek. Never heard of it? Join the ranks of most New Yorkers who also are unfamiliar with this important waterway. The Dutch acquired the creek from the local Mespat tribe in 1614. It was named for New Town (Nieuwe Stad), the name of the Dutch and British settlement in what is now Elmhurst, Queens. From the Queens side, I found a rocky outcropping. At the right place, (ignoring the jangle of industry), at the right time in the orange glow of sunset, I found it quite beautiful, and I could imagine myself somewhere on the coast of Maine. See second photo here.
However, with a deeper look, one can understand why there would not be a land rush to the banks of Newtown Creek. This is one of the most polluted bodies of water in North America, as well as the oldest continuous industrial area in the United States.

Newtown Creek had the country’s first kerosene refinery (1854) and first modern oil refinery (1867). At the end of the 19th century, Rockefeller had over 100 distilleries on both sides of Newtown Creek. The history of industry here is long - read more about it here at the Newtown Creek Alliance website.
There is no natural freshwater flow into the creek - all the historic tributaries were covered over in its 400-year history of industrialization. Read what the Newtown Creek Alliance has to say about this body of water:

"Every year Newtown Creek receives 14,000 million gallons of combined sewage overflow, a mixture of rainwater runoff, raw domestic sewage, and industrial wastewater that overwhelms treatment plants every time it rains. There are also discharges from numerous permitted and unpermitted pollution sources. The creek is mostly stagnant, meaning all the pollutants that have entered the creek over the past two centuries have never left."

The bridges which pass over the creek are equally unattractive - the Kosciuszko Bridge, the Pulaski Bridge, and the J. J. Byrne Memorial Bridge. Newtown Creek is not readily visible from these bridges, and there is also limited access to the creek, so there it sits, mired in pollutants and obscurity.

People love waterfront property - it is remarkable how much of New York City's water frontage is and has been so undesirable - Coney Island, the Gowanus Canal, Newtown Creek, the Brooklyn waterfront, and the piers along the Hudson River on the west side of Manhattan. But every dog has its day, and it is hard to imagine that one day this waterway will not be desirable, lined with footpaths, residential buildings, cafes etc. When that day will come, in 5 years or in 50, I do not know. Climbing out of the sewer can be a slow process...


brooklynpix said...

If you fall into the Gowanus Canal, you need one tetanus shot. The Newtown Creek, it's intravenous for a week!

Katie cat said...

I have noticed that creek on the map whenever I look for routes from Queens into Brooklyn. I have always wondered what is located at or what it is like at the border of Queens and Brooklyn, seeing as they are connected unline Manhattan...

Anonymous said...

Very Nice background study. kudos.

The post reminds me of an old joke we used to toss around back in the early eighties, about the east river.

"oh yea, it's so polluted your skin peels off BEFORE you even make it into the water"

all joking aside, it is a shame that we have these toxic waste sites sitting in our backyard. and then there are those developers with their eye on the gowanus area. (are they on crack?!)

keep up the nice shots.

-a brooklyn native

Hilda said...

That is so sad. I hope that your government begins its rehabilitation soon.

Wish ours had the political will to clean up our Pasig River…