Astral Oil Works

Greenpoint’s Hidden Waters Explored at A/D/O

Pratt’s Astral Oil Works on the East River at Bushwick Inlet (Scientific American 1872)

Walk alongside the western Greenpoint waterfront and you’ll eventually hit a jut of water bordered by a weathered fence, marsh plants, and a lingering stench of seawater. Unlike the mammoth Hudson or Superfund-famous Gowanus, Bushwick Inlet is easily lost in the hierarchy of remarkable city waters.

This humble inlet, however, joined the limelight this past Thursday, thanks to Sergey Kadinsky, an analyst at the New York City Parks Department and adjunct professor at Touro College. Speaking at A/D/O, a design hub and workspace on Norman Avenue, Kadinsky gave a wide-ranging talk exploring the “hidden waters” across the metropolitan area.

Kadinsky took the stage as the final speaker in a series on water and design. Once a tour guide on Gray Line double-decker buses, he channeled that same brio as he barreled through the five boroughs, pointing out disappeared bodies of water at a blistering pace.

Suffice to say, the city hasn’t been kind to its ponds, streams, creeks, or lakes. Take the now-defunct Collect Pond, which used to be Manhattan’s main source of freshwater. As the city grew, so did the surrounding industry. Contaminated wastewater from breweries, tanneries, and slaughterhouses seeped into the small lake, leading officials to fill it in.

1924 NYC Map aerial survey of Bushwick Inlet to McCarren Park (via Hidden Waters blog)

Bushwick Inlet had a similar history. Fed by the disappeared Bushwick Creek, it had an illustrious career, home to a notorious rumrunner during prohibition and was also the launch site for the first ironclad warship constructed in the United States.

City officials then filled in Bushwick Creek in the 19th century, which ran through north Williamsburg and present-day McCarren Park, leading to the contraction of the inlet.

While there’s little hope for the resurrection of Bushwick Creek (its path was projected to run through the location of A/D/O), Kadinsky argued that this doesn’t prevent us from “daylighting” previously forgotten waters.

View of Bayside Oil Tanks through the weeds at Bushwick Inlet Park. Photo by Megan Penmann
Bushwick Inlet Park. Photo by Megan Penmann

For example, Collect Pond is gone for good, but city officials named a park in the same location in lower Manhattan Collect Pond Park, connecting past geography to present.

Bushwick Inlet has fared better than Collect Pond, but by all accounts needs a facelift. Luckily, it projects to be part of the northern extension of what will eventually be a complete Bushwick Inlet Park, a move to put the inlet “back on the map.” 

Via Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park
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What’s New For Maker Park

A rendering of the tanks, transformed. Via Maker Park

Maker Park, the proposed 7-acre waterfront space once home to Astral Oil Works and now within the larger scope of Bushwick Inlet Park, has been aiming to bring art, education, community and performance to the Williamsburg waterfront by adapting industrial infrastructure since 2015. Now, the team behind the reimagined industrial-space-turned-community-hub is moving forward with a whole new vision based on open dialogue, communication and feedback from the community.

Since their December 2016 design display for Maker Park, Stacey Anderson and Karen Zabarsky, co-founders of Maker Park, and the project’s Executive and Creative directors respectively, have taken the past year to listen to the community. Each time, they heard community members call for open space, and environmental remediation of the land.

Stacey and Karen touted North Brooklyn’s “Civic Warriors,” who have worked so hard to get the city to deliver on the full 28-acres Mayor Bloomberg promised for Bushwick Inlet Park in 2005. They hope that Maker Park will be one feature of Bushwick Inlet Park, which they aim to incorporate into the community’s vision for the park space as a whole.

Given the increased density that Bloomberg’s 2005 rezoning has engendered, open space is a paramount concern on the North Brooklyn Waterfront. In order to increase green space, Maker Park will no longer advocate for repurposing the  3-story brick factory building on the site, and will instead focus on remediating the 50-foot decommissioned fuel tanks that speak to the land’s long and sometimes painful industrial history.

The Maker Park team hopes to honor the community’s complex relationship with the tanks, and the industrial history they represent, while also reinventing them in “playful and contemporary ways” that will make them available to the community as a resource for art, education and performance.

The idea has successful precedent. For example, in 2017, the Mapo Oil Depot in Seoul, South Korea was repurposed as Mapo Cultural Depot Park; the site’s oil tanks are now used as exhibition spaces and concert halls.

To make sure our own tanks here in North Brooklyn will be a safe and sustainable asset to the community, the Maker Park team is working with environmental lawyers, scientists and architects on a preliminary remediation plan, which they will make accessible to the public.

Ultimately, Stacey and Karen said, they hope Maker Park will help transform the tanks into something “beautiful and green,” which will be “literally creating new life.”

For on-going updates on all things Maker Park, you can follow the project on Instagram @makerparkBK

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