Place in History

Newtown Creek Initiative

Year: February - October 2000
Project:

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 III  

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Part III

“I’ve lived in [Greenpoint] for 42 years, in the same building on the same corner. And my involvement has been with the terrible pollution in that area. There was this old plastic part company that was on DuPont Street, right across the street from the parochial school. And I thought, what is that stench? What is that awful smell? So I kind of went around from here to there and from there to here, and made them put up some pollution counters on the roofs. That was my first edge in trying to protect our community. The next problem was with the fact that Hartan Company wanted to take over some of the buildings in the area to expand and I went to City Hall and I kind of bitched again. I said, wait a minute, we have so much industry here, so much manufacturing, do we need any more? No one is telling the City to do away with the manufacturing that’s here. But please, because of the pollution, do not add anymore heavy industries to the area. And so they changed that zoning from M3 to M3-1, which is a very small plus, but it was something for the benefit of the community again. And I raised four children here and my grandchildren in the neighborhood. And I would certainly like to see a reversal of all the pollution problems that we have here. And one of the big issues is the Mobil Oil spill which is also polluting the Creek still! There are still pools in the Creek that are collecting the leakage and the seepage of the oil from the Mobil Oil spill. That was in the ‘40s.”

“The Creek was noticed by the Coast Guard recently. I had the opportunity to work on the natural history, and one of the officers who happened to be there at one of our round tables brought up the fact that there’s still seepage in the Creek. And we said whoa, wait a minute, let’s talk about this and when are we going to see it stop? I mean it just continued, it never stopped. So that’s why I say that it should be our goal to see that it is cleaned up. Particularly because it is a federal body of water. And why should we continue to live with the stench? In fact the New York City Health Department did a study on our area and said clearly that we have a very large percentage of cancer of the breast, cancer of the stomach, leukemia, and” --

 --“I have to break in here. I can give you a copy of this study, and in fact the contrary is stated in the study. It shows that Greenpoint has one of the lowest levels of cancer in all of New York City and the clusters happen to be in areas of Williamsburg and Bushwick. If you would like me to et the study now, I’ll go over” –

 --“I know an awful lot of people in Greenpoint with cancer.”

 --“I have friends and relatives who have had their breasts removed, and heart conditions and open heart surgery, and it has to do with the air quality. So we have cumulative problems.”

 “The area of the Mobil spill is on the other side of Greenpoint Avenue. There was a leak in 1978: two million gallons on top of the other one. The original was between 14 and 17 million gallons, and they’ve been able to clean some, but [not much].”

--“Oh, yeah, they have recovery wells all along.”

“I’ve lived in Maspeth for 17 years, grew up in Queens. Not to insult your area, but growing up over the Kosciusko Bridge, as a child I just dreaded, what was it, Berkowitz Fat. My father used to tell me this is where they melt the horses. The stench was unbelievable, I mean it was always backed up with traffic and you dreaded being stuck in traffic over Newtown Creek. So to me it was just the odor. Newtown Creek was always a joke. When I moved to Maspeth in 1983 – my interests are marine and railway history – nobody even knew that DeWitt Clinton lived along the Creek. Did you know? And the library, I went to the Maspeth library and asked for any books on DeWitt Clinton, and they said “who?” I said he lived in Maspeth, he designed the Erie Canal while he was living in Maspeth, which no one knew. I’ve done tours of the Creek and people from my own neighborhood don’t even know it’s there. They can’t believe there’s that much room. I’ve taken pictures, there’s a video coming out. The Creek existed to drain most of western Queens – it was much bigger. Once they [filled] it in, it stopped flowing. And that’s when it started to smell. So my main interests are historical, I run 4 cruises, we spend three hours and if I get enough interest, I’ll do another one.”


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