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Newtown Creek and Flushing Waterways – Community visioning for NYC’s future


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Hundreds turn out to shape new ideas for remediation, restoration, recreation, and resiliency improvements to two key waterways.

This summer is shaping up to be quite historic in two corners of New York City – Newtown Creek and the Flushing Waterways – as Riverkeeper kicks off two separate community-driven planning programs.

We’re developing architectural, environmental, and landscape design reports – “Vision Reports” – to put into one place all of the amazing ideas for the future of these local waterways.

Riverkeeper, along with key stakeholders, elected officials, the public, agencies, and local scientists, will focus on the “Four Rs” – Remediation, Restoration, Recreation, and Resilience – as we develop, design, and prioritize potential projects and policies throughout these two waterways. These reports will both be issued at the end of 2017.

Over the past few weeks, Riverkeeper (led by Chrissy Remein) and our partners put together two very successful citizen open houses to solicit ideas and to vet existing plans with the community.

In Newtown Creek, Riverkeeper’s kickoff meeting was held at Kingsland Wildflowers, a community space and green roof in the heart of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Over the course of our four-hour event, over 115 people contributed their insights – about the Creek’s past, present, and future.

With its long history of pollution, Newtown Creek is a federally listed Superfund site, sits atop one of the nation’s largest on-shore oil spills, is burdened by over a billion gallons of sewage and stormwater discharges annually, and has a long way to go before it will be considered “clean.”

Even so, and with plans for the Creek’s stormwater and Superfund remediation still unknown, the community came out with an array of new ideas and positive energy – envisioning a future with more boating, thriving ecosystems, sustainable and water-dependent industrial jobs, and access to the waterway wherever possible.

Next, Riverkeeper and the Newtown Creek Alliance will be taking hundreds of ideas back to our design and planning team (experts from the global planning and architecture group Perkins + Will) to create a framework for this ultimate community vision.

This Newtown Creek Vision Report is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and is made possible with the partnership of the Waterfront Alliance, SWIM Coalition, and other academic, agency, and organizational partners too numerous to list here!

In Flushing Bay and Flushing Creek, together, the Flushing Waterways, our Visioning kickoff meeting was held at the Queens Museum, where 100 people were welcomed and the meeting was launched by New York City Council Member Peter Koo, whose district includes most of the Flushing Creek waterfront.

While the Flushing Waterways are not listed as Superfund sites, historic and ongoing industrial pollution is still a great concern. Moreover, while the Waterways are home to CitiField and the Mets, NYC’s Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, and the World’s Fair Marina and Promenade (the Bay’s waterfront esplanade), over 2.4 billion gallons of combined sewer discharges every year discharge from City sewers into the Bay and Creek. Impacts from LaGuardia Airport (along the Bay’s northern edge), and pollution brought in every high tide from the Upper East River compound the problems of these waterways.

In the heart of the Flushing Waterways, though, amidst this pollution, hundreds and hundreds of dragon boaters are out paddling, day and night – kids from downtown Flushing, adults from East Elmhurst, and paddlers from all over the Greater New York region have created a community on the water.

From this group, and with non-dragon-boating members from the community, in just the past few months grew the Guardians of Flushing Bay – an advocacy group (with non-profit status pending) dedicated to cleaning up the Flushing Waterways. For this Vision Report, Riverkeeper is partnering with the Guardians, their associated dragon boating teams, and key stakeholders from the community at large.

At the Queens Museum kickoff meeting the community put forth ideas for improved access to the waterfront, better connections through CitiField and across Roosevelt Avenue, new boat launches and piers, climate resilient wetlands, a boathouse, history museums, green infrastructure, and a brand new environmental education laboratory and community hub.

As with the Newtown Creek Vision Report, Riverkeeper’s next step will be to (with the help of Perkins + Will) make these ideas come to life in drawings, designs, and maps, to bring this vision for the future of the Flushing Waterways back to the people and agencies in early Fall.

This Visioning work is supported by the JPB Foundation, with the partnership of Guardians of Flushing Bay, Waterfront Alliance, NY/NJ Harbor & Estuary Program, SWIM Coalition, Queens College, and a host of other groups and agencies.

For both waterways, Riverkeeper and our local partners have been meeting with most every agency with jurisdiction over these two waterways, including DEP, DEC, DOT, NYC Parks, the Queens Borough President’s office, EPA, NOAA, DCP, and more. Community visions rely on informed, engaged, inspired and excited elected officials and agencies; we plan to keep the concerns of the City and State at the forefront of our planning efforts.

We’re very much looking forward to next steps – developing designs and conceptual site models for both waterways, to begin to turn ideas into proposals. We hope you’ll join us in visioning the future for Newtown Creek and the Flushing Waterways!

Check out informational posters and submit ideas for the Flushing Waterways Vision here.

Posters for Newtown Creek and an ideas form for Newtown Creek Vision are here.

Photo: Perkins + Will

Photo: Perkins + Will

Photo: Perkins + Will