Sep 2, 2008
A new park has risen in Brooklyn. But unlike the old days when parks were the creations of cities and governments on behalf of their citizens, this park comes to our borough on the back of private enterprise. Ikea, the giant furniture chain, has come to Brooklyn and put itself down on the edge of the harbor. Ikea has placed its enormous blue and yellow box on land that once fronted the largest man-made harbor in the country, the Erie Basin. Since the demise of the historic and once-bustling Brooklyn waterfront, that land and the piers and structures that lined its shores entered a long period of decay. Abandoned by the ships that once carried grain and product from American farms and factories to the markets of Europe and beyond, the Brooklyn waterfront became a decrepit and crumbling shoreline, devoid of activity. Hulking wrecks of piers and warehouses have, for decades now, lined its once-proud shores. Neighborhoods died as well, inhabited only by the poorest of the poor.
Now Brooklyn is undergoing a massive renaissance as vast swathes of its territory are transformed (perhapds "demolished" is a more accurate term) and replaced with luxury condos and hi-rise apartment houses for upper income folk. Manhattan has beoam the borough for the very wealthy set and so waves of people have moved across the river to more "affordable" locales. And the developers saw dollars to be made. Thus does Ikea come to down-and-out-for-decades Red Hook.
It's a commentary on 30 tragic years of conservative rule that new parks today have to be given to us by corporations (as a payback of sorts for very generous tax breaks from City Hall). But with three trillion dollar wars, cities don't have money for such things as waterfront parks (or schools or public hospitals for that matter) as tax dollars have taken a one-way trip to the Pentagon and war-profiting corporations. A recent article in the New York Times documented that fact. In a portrait of New Haven, the reporter showed that many localities now depend on wealthy corporations to undertake major improvements to their cities. In New Haven it's Yale. In New York it's Ikea. But the trend is clear and it's called privatization. The question is - who's calling the tune and deciding what gets built and where? When its corporate money you can be sure that there are interests beyond those of the public that hold sway. So it is with waterfront parks and so it is with un-needed stadiums and sun-blocking high rises in the backyard of beautful and historic brownstone communities.
However, a beautiful park it is. Ikea has done a great job - a pedestrian/bike path wanders about a mile or so along the Red Hook waterfront. Signs explain the history of this once-busy port as a massive parking lot now lies where once giant shipyards stood. Here and there they have left standing some of the detritus of a former civilization - giant cranes hover overhead, painted a dull but dramatic navy gray; giant gears and mechanisms from some sort of portside machinery lie frozen in time below them. Maritime grasses and lovely flowers have been planted in abundance and in Ikea's spare and modern style, benches and chairs are placed along the length of the promenade. The view - a fabulous panorama of New York harbor - Governor's Island, the distant Port of Newark (that helped kill the Brooklyn ports), the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline all compete for your attention. And by the way, this has to be the greatest sunset viewing location in all of Brooklyn!
And the fantatic kicker to all this is that you can bike out to Red Hook and then board, gratis, a NYC Water Taxi for a trip across the harbor to Wall Street. Bikes are welcome on board and you don't even have to shop at Ikea!
So on a beautiful end-of-summer Tuesday, my friend Ed and I pedaled over the Ikea for a free taxi ride to Manhattan.
Ed calls for me and we set off for Red Hook by bike.
Red Hook is separated from Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill by the giant, hulking Gowanus Expressway.
Wow - what a view. Prime waterfront land for a furniture store. Hey! But we got a nice park out of it, right?
Fabulous views of our city's harbor abound. Here, old cranes from yesteryear are hover above you as the promenade wends its way along the old port. In the distance, the Statue of Liberty.
The ferry boards at Ikea and takes you to lower Manhattan.
The ride across the harbor is breathtaking. As you leave the shelter of Erie Basin, views of the remote Manhattan skyline stand in contrast to the rotting decay of the abandoned piers and structures of the Brooklyn waterfront. Then, quickly, you pass Governor's Island, the Statue of Liberty, and Downtown Brooklyn with its new high rises. Approaching the Wall Street pier where we would debark, other boats pass by and helicopters hover overhead and lower New York's gleaming skyscrapers tower above set off against a brilliant blue sky. Further up the East River, the Brooklyn Bridge spans the horizon and I thought that this is truly one of the great panoramas to be enjoyed anywhere.
Leaving Brooklyn, the Manhattan skyline competes with the rotting decay of Brooklyn's moribune waterfront.
There's the statue!
Fabulous views of Brooklyn, Manhattan and New Jersey!
We pass some of the last few working piers on Brooklyn's waterfront - a shadow of their former self.
A good opportunity for photos.
Looking up the East River - the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge beyond it.
We reach our destination - the Wall Street pier and lower Manhattan.