Place in History

Newtown Creek Initiative

Year: February - October 2000

A community planning and urban design process examining the industrial waterway that marks the western section of the Brooklyn-Queens border.

  • Copper on the Creek: Reclaiming an Industrial History

    In November 2000, Place in History, in collaboration with Laurel Hill Works, published Copper on the Creek, an illustrated, interdisciplinary history of the former Phelps Dodge copper refinery, which until its demolition in 1999 was located on the creek's north bank in West Maspeth, Queens.

    Click here to order a copy of Copper on the Creek

  • Newtown Creek Community Planning Process

    Between February and October 2000, working with local representatives and activists, Place in History, the Queens Department of City Planning and the New York City Council on the Environment coordinated a Creek-wide community planning initiative, which gave area residents a chance to influence the development decisions that will determine their neighborhood's future.

    To kick off this process, more than 50 Queens and Brooklyn residents assembled in Greenpoint to discuss the history of this much-maligned waterway, and what lessons this history holds for those shaping the area's future.

    Using these stories as a guideline, landscape architects Jamie Purinton and Matthew Potteiger then developed a series of schematic plans for the Vernon Boulevard street end in Long Island City. In November 2000, these plans were presented to neighborhood workers and residents.

  Transcripts - Part I  




The following is only a small sample from the transcripts of the February meeting. All names have been edited out.

Part I

“I have lived on Noble Street and now work on Noble Street, and I can remember taking my lunch hour on the Noble Street Pier, actually having access. It wasn’t the safest place to be but it was open to the public. You could walk all the way down to the waterfront, sit down and have your lunch. Saturday night [in] the old days when Rock and Roll began and the guys used to hang out on the corner and harmonize. Those were great places to sit and harmonize. So you younger folks don’t know or remember those days.”

“I found Newtown Creek by accident when I got lost finding a construction site in Maspeth about 15 or 20 years ago. My interest in it from a very early time was as a safe boating place, as I have met people in Greenpoint who, I was surprised to find, thought it was too dirty to do things in. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re in a boat, you’re not touching it. I guess I became interested in issues of access. The best way to find it is by boat. I’m very jealous of the Queens frontage because it’s not a bulkhead. There’s much more shore on the Queens side, and that has a lot to do with what you see and whether it’s resurgent for wildlife. Mine is a recent memory.”

“At the turn of the century the railroads that exist on the Queens side and the traffic of Newtown Creek had made Long Island City the premiere industrial complex in New York City and had made the Creek a real dump. I mean a terrible sewer…The settlement near the town of Newtown changed its name to Elmhurst and it’s been called Elmhurst ever since. Now we have a name that means nothing to nobody anymore for the most part. We always called it Newtown Creek, but it doesn’t go to Newtown anymore. Newtown is kind of a bland name in the first place. It doesn’t relate to Indians, it’s just like New City, big deal. But it’s the new world – there’s new things all over the place. Change the name, change the spirit, and my other thing would be bring back the stations on the railroad and start using that railroad to get people to go there with public transportation. The railroad brings you access to the Creek. Otherwise you’re way further in on the Queens side and you can’t get there.”

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