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Internet resources for what you need to know on the NYC Waterfront
Five Favorite Sites For Beginners

The Topic
NYC's waterfront is roughly 600 miles long. Include metropolitan New Jersey and Westchester, and the total increases to over 1000 miles. This metropolitan waterfront is as diverse as it is long. Its uses range from oil depots, cruise ship terminals and modern container ports to marinas, recreational esplanades, and bathing beaches. Contrary to reputation and expectation, the harbor, its shores and its waterways are integral to the region's economy and quality of life.
The Context
The harbor is one of the few places in the metropolitan area where large spaces still exist and where usage patterns are dynamic. Unlike most urban land areas, the regions' waterways belong to everyone. Consequently, many uses compete for the same space. Diverse concurrent uses and a clash of competing interests shape the character of today's metropolitan maritime crossroads. In the shared world of the waterfront, issues are complex, and political values intermingle. Within each issue is a frothy mixture of economics and ecology, community and bureaucracy, freedom of action and the desire to be protected from the actions of others.

Improving water quality makes the competition among users more robust. Fish, waterfowl, birds of prey, and marshlands are returning. Recreational uses proliferate, competing with other uses.

In commerce, long-term harbor users are expanding operations. Growth in trade requires smarter port operations and more acreage for containers. Deeper dredging of ship channels and expanded municipal facilities are planned. Privately owned ferries crisscross the waters carrying commuters by the tens of thousands.

Despite all this, the waterfront is still part of larger natural processes. Twice a day, vast seas flood into and ebb from the harbor, which determine the pace of maritime commerce. Daily, the waters change the harbor's geography, creating and denying access to mudflats, shellfish, docks and harbors. Flux at the water's edge holds peril and promise.

The Reporter
Peter B. Fleischer is writing a book on the New York City waterfront. The work focuses on individuals whose pioneering efforts opened the harbor for all. Formerly, he was a transportation and environment policy advisor to New York City Mayors Dinkins and Giuliani.

by Peter B. Fleischer

New Attention From City Hall

New York City's waterways and waterfronts have received special attention from both sides of City Hall this year, with the new mayor highlighting waterfront revitalization in his State of the City address, and the new City Council creating a Waterfronts Committee chaired by Brooklyn Councilmember David Yassky.

Yassky, speaking from the steps of City Hall, recently identified the city's "worst waterfront wastes" - areas along the waterfront that have great potential but are being neglected -- including the underused Staten Island Home Port, the mouth of the Flushing River in Queens, The Bronx's access-starved South East Coast and the giant salt pile on the Harlem River in Manhattan.". He called on the Bloomberg administration to review all city-owned, waterfront parcels, of which there are almost 200.

"You can not stop investing in the future because this year's budget is tight," Yassky said.

Yassky favors the creation of a comprehensive citywide waterfront plan. He praised the scores of volunteer organizations throughout the city that work to provide waterfront access for their communities. He stressed that he seeks "projects that bring people to the water, get them to use it, show them what is at stake and thereby build ongoing support for a waterfront agenda". His waterfront priorities include street-end parks, housing, open space, and ferries.

After Yassky's comments, Carter Craft, program director for the advocacy group, Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, noted that more than a dozen, city and state agencies hold jurisdiction over the waterfront, and called for improved coordination among the public agencies.

Because of the budget crunch, ending forty years of coastal decay will require plans that are inexpensive or that profoundly catch the public imagination. State legislative support, bureaucratic coordination and community solidarity will also be necessary.

To advance a comprehensive waterfront program, new locations will need to be found for existing municipal uses. Developing contaminated land at waterfront sites requires legislation. Ferry route expansion needs public subsidy or private capital. The creative imagination of volunteer organizations and their inexpensive labor will need to be tapped. New York's waterbound citizens will need to relearn their proximity to the sea and perhaps be newly taught its history. The list of what is needed is lengthy.

Waterfront resurgence will not occur overnight or by fiat. The three hundred-year development of New York harbor was incremental, entrepreneurial, and organic -- diverse harbor uses arose for the most part from local needs, as well as acts of God.

Today's ongoing efforts by the city's people to reclaim the waters are rooted in pioneering acts. From the Bronx River Alliance's twenty year struggle to restore its namesake river to the River Project's marine research in Tribeca, from the power boat fleets of Jamaica Bay seeking to extend maritime tradition to Floating the Apple's building and launching historic vessels, New Yorkers have already begun to reclaim their maritime heritage.

We need an inventory of what is already being done on the waterfront alongside the list of what has not been done, and both the council and the mayor should aim to assist these efforts. Newer, bigger plans should be harmonious with the numerous, popular, pioneering efforts that abound on city shores. The coast is large and diverse enough for nature, recreation, transportation and economic activity. A renaissance for both harbor tunnels and harbor herons is possible.

Sites For Beginners:

  • Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance - Formerly, the Waterfront Project. MWA seeks to influence the future of the region's waterfront and waterways through education, grassroots organizing and media advocacy.
  • Working Waterfront Association - Maritime and environmental advocates, providing education, new initiatives and programs that foster waterfront planning, safety, and access for the New York and New Jersey Harbor Estuary. WWA acts as a catalyst for communication between diverse port interests. WWA facilitates cooperative 'smart growth'.
  • Gateway National Recreation Area - Gateway is a bi-state park with "units" in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Sandy Hook, New Jersey. Gateway is part of the National Park System.
  • Pier Park & Playground Association - P3 seeks to enhance opportunities for children to play sports and opportunities for parents and other volunteers tp participate. The primary focus of P3 activity is the drastic lack of space for youth sports in Manhattan.
  • Hudson River Park Trust - The "Trust" is a governmental entity reposible for building a park on the west side of Manhattan in the area bounded by West Street, Battery Park, Battery Park City and West 59th Street. It's Board is appointed and largely controlled by the Governor and the Mayor.
  • Downtown Boathouse - Describes the City's largest boathouse for human-powered craft and home of the free kayak trip. It has a very interesting table showing Hudson River tides and currents

Other Recommendations:

  • Hudson River Foundation - A scientific and environmental research organization that focuses on the New York/New Jersey Harbor Estuary. It supports scientific and public policy research, education, and projects to enhance public access to the Hudson River.
  • The New York City Community Sailing Association is a not-for-profit providing affordable public access to New York City's waterways. NYCCSA provides sail training and non-instructional sailing. They also provide instruction to public high school students at a nominal cost. The association operates from Pier 25 in Tribeca. NYCCSA can be reached at
  • NYC Swim - This site lists swimming events in the New York area.
  • Floating the Apple - A NYC non-profit that builds historic Whitehall gigs. Volunteer crews periodically row the vessels from boathouse sites in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx.
  • A number of organizations do not yet have web sites, though listservs are available. To connect to the Jamaica Bay List Serve, send an email to and then type Subscribe in the subject header. To subscribe to Urban Outdoors, the on-line publication of the Neighborhood Open Space Coalition send an email to, also with subscribe in the subject header. If interested in becoming a subscriber to a listserve focused on the Bronx River, send an e-mail to Place the word subscribe in the subject line.

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