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Posts in Waterfront & Islands
Rough Paradise: Sex, Art, and Economic Crisis on the New York City Waterfront

Rough Paradise: Sex, Art, and Economic Crisis on the New York City Waterfront

By Jeffrey Patrick Colgan and Jeffrey Escoffier

New York City was for many years one of the world’s leading ports. In the early 1950s, the docks in New York City, by far the country’s busiest, directly and indirectly supplied, according to the City’s Department of Marine and Aviation, livelihood for almost 10% of the city’s population. Nevertheless, even then there were signs of the port’s impending doom. Plagued with racketeering, traffic congestion, and outmoded facilities, the invention of container shipping was the final straw. Without adequate rail and road access and the space to operate cranes and stack containers, most of the port’s Manhattan-based business moved to New Jersey where new container facilities were being built.

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Dutch Baymen, Blue Points, and Oyster Crazed New Yorkers

Dutch Baymen, Blue Points, and Oyster Crazed New Yorkers

By Erin Becker

Beginning as early as 8,000 years ago, the land which would eventually become New York City was intrinsically connected to the oyster. The Lenape targeted shellfish as a food resource and left behind heaping shell middens. Upon arrival to the New World, the Dutch and English colonists found a familiar food source — the oysters of New York Harbor. For a time, it seemed oysters were an inexhaustible resource. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, oysters fed the rich and poor of New York City. Like the ubiquitous hot dog carts of today, oyster carts and cellars lined the streets of New York City, peddling affordable food to the masses. ​

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On the (Queer) Waterfront

​On the (Queer) Waterfront

Reviewed by Elvis Bakaitis

On the (Queer) Waterfront is currently on view at the Brooklyn Historical Society (March 6-August 4), and offers glimpses of individual LGBTQ lives from the mid-1800s through the post-WWII period. Co-curated by Avram Finkelstein and Hugh Ryan, the exhibit is based on Ryan's recently published book, When Brooklyn was Queer, which focuses on the borough as a whole, though with a strong anchor (pun intended) to the waterfront.

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Dredging Newtown Creek: An Interview with Mitch Waxman

Dredging Newtown Creek: An Interview with Mitch Waxman

Interviewed by Joseph Alexiou

Writer and photographer Mitch Waxman is the leading authority on the history of Newtown Creek, a toxically polluted industrial waterway on the border between Brooklyn and Queens. In addition to his reporting and documentation, Waxman leads regular tours on land and by boat while spreading the unique stories of New York’s most centrally located contaminated coastline to the community.

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Hudson Rising

Hudson Rising

Reviewed by Kara Murphy Schlichting

What metaphor captures the relationship between the Hudson River, the cities that line its shores, and the people who plie its waters? Is the river a touchstone by which thinkers trace American ideas about nature? Is it an allegory, teaching those humbled in the face of ecological change to repent humanity's role? Is it the exemplar of the declension narrative present in American environmental storytelling? Or is the river more like a battle cry, rallying those committed to environmental activism and resiliency? Hudson Rising, the new exhibit at the New York Historical Society, contends it is all of these things. This deeply researched, thoughtfully presented, and satisfyingly interdisciplinary exhibit introduces the visitor to myriad people who have used and shaped the river, confronted ecological ruin, and turned towards preservation to mitigate degradation.

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Urban Ornithology: 150 Years of Birds in New York City

Urban Ornithology: 150 Years of Birds in New York City

Reviewed by Leslie Day

I lived on a boat on the Hudson River in Manhattan from 1975 to 2011 and it was then that I became an avid birder. Living on the Hudson I watched canvasback ducks with their beautiful red heads arrive each winter in huge numbers in the 1980’s. And I observed them as their numbers diminished greatly after the 1990’s. When I first moved to the river there were many laughing gulls that migrated to the city each April. My father’s birthday was April 12th, around the time they’d show up. The happy sound of their calls would bring me running outside to my deck to look at them and hear the joyous cries — my harbinger of the beautiful warm months to come. By the time I moved away in 2011, there were just a few arriving each spring.

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New York Recentered: Building the Metropolis from the Shore

New York Recentered: Building the Metropolis from the Shore

By Kara Murphy Schlichting

In 1865 New York City park commissioner Andrew Haswell Green came to the conclusion that the city had outgrown Manhattan Island. In a report for the Board of Commissioners of Central Park, Green argued that the city’s future should include its mainland environs of Westchester County north of the Harlem River. He articulated a river-spanning future for New York. Green reasoned that lower Westchester was “so intimately connected with and dependent upon the City of New York, that unity of plan for improvements on both sides” of the Harlem was “essential.”

Reprinted with permission from New York Recentered: Building the Metropolis from the Shore, by Kara Murphy Schlichting, published by the University of Chicago Press. © 2019 by the University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved.

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Hugh Ryan's When Brooklyn Was Queer

Hugh Ryan's When Brooklyn Was Queer

Reviewed by Benjamin Serby

“Pick a random book about ‘New York City’ history, and chances are, it will mention Brooklyn… sporadically if at all. The chance that it talks about the queer history of Brooklyn? Nearly zero.” Thus writes Hugh Ryan, a curator and author whose new book, When Brooklyn Was Queer, marks a first attempt at correcting the ingrained Manhattan-centrism of queer studies and recovering the stories of queer Brooklynites in particular.

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Rivers, Filth and Heat: Riverbaths and the Fight over Public Bathing

Rivers, Filth and Heat: Riverbaths and the Fight over Public Bathing

By Naomi Adiv

In the summer of 1870, New York City got its first municipal bath: swimming pools sunk into the rivers, through which river water flowed. An 1871 New York Times article describes them: “baths are of the usual house-like model, and have a swimming area of eighty-five feet in length by sixty-five feet in width. They are… provided with sixty-eight dressing-rooms, have offices and rooms in an additional story, and are well lighted with gas for night bathing.” In the year after they were built, the Department of Public Works reported that they were regularly used to their capacity, particularly on hot summer days. At their height, there were twenty-two such baths around the waters of New York City.

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