The Williamsburg Waterfront and Park Creation

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Daniel Campo, associate professor in the School of Architecture and Planning at Morgan State University in Baltimore, former planner for NYC, and the author of The Accidental Playground: Brooklyn Waterfront Narratives of the Undesigned and Unplanned  (Fordham University Press, 2013), looks at the way the North Brooklyn waterfront went from abandoned urban space to de facto neighborhood playground to luxury development, and what lessons that history holds for the creation of public spaces.


Daniel Campo
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Comments [18]


I also laugh when some claim that an art degree is worthless. Wealthy residents rely upon artists to Lewis-and-Clark their way through "bad" neighborhoods when they lack the cojones to move anywhere outside an unfamiliar zone.

The ability to live within new surroundings is one of the main reasons I moved here 20 years ago. Bloomberg's policies attracted many who, in past years, would never have had the desire nor skills to forge a life here otherwise.

Dec. 17 2013 11:53 AM
Ursula Hahn from Brooklyn, NY

Campo should have mentioned that the East River waterfront from the Manhattan Bridge to Atlantic Avenue (and, really, beyond to Red Hook) was inaccessible to the public before the construction of Brooklyn Bridge Park was begun. The same was true for what is now the High Line and Governors Island. All "public" clandestine uses were illegal.

I, for one who's been a Brooklyn Bridge Park advocate since the 1980's am very happy that we now have the "restricted-use" Brooklyn Bridge Park, which is 100% more than what existed beforehand.

Dec. 17 2013 11:51 AM
Tommy from Elmhurst

Still, ultimately the changes have made it more accessible and use-able, so that's what matters...

...actually I should have said more accessible but LESS use-able. Less..."appropriat-able"

Dec. 17 2013 11:43 AM

harlem on the hudson river in the 120s.

neighborhood guys used to hang out and fish. there were venerable businesses- diners, etc - like the floridita...

columbia creep and park development has sanitized and conventionalized the area and stripped it of it's local character- and many old establishments are casualties.

Dec. 17 2013 11:42 AM

To be fair, some neighborhoods are undergoing more gradual and sustainable changes. But the Williamsburg and Greenpoint developments are suffering exponential transformations that are completely incompatible with existing infrastructure. It's not going to be pretty in 2 years.

Dec. 17 2013 11:42 AM
Hal from Crown Heights

Very insightful. It seems the spaces in question serve community needs as a combination, town square, playground, picnic meadow, meditation, space, party space and on and on. The key is the unstructured, dynamic nature of 'raw' space that allows spontaneity and creativity. And proximity to the community.

Dec. 17 2013 11:41 AM
Alan from Brooklyn

I lived in Pittsburgh a few years ago, where there were wide open swathes of empty land (both post-industrial and undevelopable hillsides) which great places to adventure around, and the times when there were the same sort of places in the middle of a great big city seem amazing. But New York is incredibly short of housing these days (hence the prices). So we either need to build it in post-industrial land or in existing neighborhoods, and people fight like hell against both-- something has to give!

Dec. 17 2013 11:39 AM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

It is the same issue that some of us older, long-time or native NYers ahve been complaining about for decades:

The lost of authenticity, history, grit, and the working class level of life on the ground to gentrification, hipsterization, sterilization, Disneyfication, & Starbuckization.

The vast majority lose the flavor of their neighborhoods, and lose the financial ability to live there as the common resource (land and air space) is used to line the pockets of the few -- the developers & politicians, and when the newest nouveau rich -- and tourists & gawkers -- move in, driving up costs, rents, and driving out the mom & pops of old.

I say bring back the drugs, whores, pimps, & peep shows of Times Square and get rid of the squalor of mindless consumerism!

Dec. 17 2013 11:38 AM

It was interesting when the people who moved into formerly industrial-zoned loft buildings demanded that their existing neighbors (who had made the area "habitable" for the newer people) restrict their noise after a certain hour.

Yes, neighborhoods change. I do resent that within 18 months I've suddenly had to be extremely watchful for cabs and car services that won't hesitate to run anyone down in an effort to compete for the surge of new residents and visitors.

Dec. 17 2013 11:37 AM
art525 from Park Slope

I am as nostalgic for the old days as anyone. I miss the gritty old days of New York. I miss CBGBs. I miss funky Times Square. I am no fan of this slick construction of all the new and very self conscious developments everywhere including on the waterfront. (I have to say I have yet to see anything by Diler et al that impresses me). I miss what the shoreline under the Brooklyn Bridge used to be like. I hate the intended plans to build under the Brooklyn Bridge. However the fact that you can't build fires, put in land art or play loud music in these spaces makes me rethink my dislike of all this development. No I don't like it. However I don't agree with Mr Campo's argument for the old ways. Building a fire doesn't seem like the smartest idea, I don't know that I'm confident of any ole' person deciding they need to do it and maybe not being the most clever and competent person and there is too much ugly and lame public "art" imposed on us by not very talented and self impressed people these days and I wouldn't want to live nearby a place where people feel entitled to play loud music (most likely not very well). I like to go to the waterfront and enjoy it in solitude and with quiet and have a George Gershwin soundtrack play in my head and listen to the water lap up on shore.

Dec. 17 2013 11:37 AM
Salvatore Principato from Greenwich Village

Brian shame on you for using that right wing defined "bad old days"

I socialize with many younger people in their 20's and 30's
and if you asked them would they rather live in NYC in 2013
or back in 1983 aka " the bad old days"
and I'd say at least 95% would say "the bad old days"
when NYC was an interesting place to live

it's only the elites and Bloomberg billionaires that think this is
as good as it gets as far as quality of life in the city goes

and I guess you agree with them.....

Dec. 17 2013 11:35 AM
BK from Hoboken

Digging in the dirt? Then don't live in the biggest city in the country. Lastly, everyone who object to development, putting more people into high rises in a city like NY is the most efficient, environmentally friendly development there is. Guess what? Humans are reproducing, and the people have to go somewhere. Why not put them in a place close to work, close to efficient mass transit? Times change, things change. Keep your memories- that's fine. But we have to move forward.

Dec. 17 2013 11:34 AM
croxfoma from Philadelphia

I'm very thankful for this book because it brought notice to a part of my life that I hadn't actually thought would be recognized by anyone who wasn't there. The old waterfront offered my friends and I a wonderful place of reflection. I remember sitting on those old piers at the end of N. 7th Street on the night of September 11th, watching the smoke from the towers arching over Brooklyn and coming to terms with that day. On other occasions, we would just sit and talk with our feet dangling over the East River. It truly was an accidental, very much organic park of which I felt ownership. It seems serendipitous to me that I could have had it at all.

Dec. 17 2013 11:32 AM
Tommy from Elmhurst

Having grown up in W'msburg I do remember what the waterfront was like before all the renovation. It had a charm, and it still does, although in a more sanitized, corporate sort of way. Still, ultimately the changes have made it more accessible and use-able, so that's what matters...

Dec. 17 2013 11:30 AM
mgw from 11222

To get a glimpse of this space back then, check out the great Brooklyn band They Might Be Giants' video for "Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head":

Dec. 17 2013 11:30 AM
Robert from NYC

And don't forget the old piers in Greenwich Village between 14th st and Morton Street in the 70s were great places to hang out where there was always some fun going on; the drag queens Ruth Truth, Rollerina, the late great Marcia Johnson among the great and real entertainment. The whole world showed up and a good time was had by all.

Dec. 17 2013 11:30 AM
Sebastian on trombone

15 years later, the Hungry March Band, Brooklyn's own street brass band, is still going stronger than ever playing all over NYC and beyond. If it wasn't for that open slab of echoing and unkept concrete on the waterfront enabling us to get together ever Sunday afternoon from 1997-2002, this band would have never existed.

Dec. 17 2013 11:29 AM

ONCE AGAIN!!! Highline's main designer is not the architect firm, diller scofidio + renfro; It is from a landscape architect company: James corner filed operation!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dec. 17 2013 11:26 AM

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