The development team behind Maker Park has released new renderings for an inventive green space that grows from industrial relics on the Brooklyn waterfront.
With this design, and last week’s announcement that the city will buy a critical strip of vacant land to complete a large riverside park, it seems the wheels are finally starting to turn on the waterfront’s conversion to parkland, a process that began in response to a 2005 Williamsburg-Greenpoint rezoning that produced more luxury condos than public space.
Maker Park—which its creators stress is in its ideas stage—adapts the infrastructure on an isolated slice of the East River into performance venues, gardens, and open space, an adventure playground writ large for longtime residents and visitors alike. The idea, its creators say, honors the neighborhood’s creative types through a guiding ethos of exploration influenced by the city’s maker scene, a technology-infused offshoot of DIY culture that stresses interdisciplinary collaboration.
The park is one vision for a waterfront green space that is more than a decade in the making. Last week the city announced a deal that brings a park—Maker Park, a competing vision, or a blend of stakeholders’ ideas—one step closer to completion. City officials say $160 million will be spent to acquire the last remaining parcel in a necklace of city-owned land that runs along Kent Avenue from North 14th to North 9th streets (a seven-acre state park occupies two blocks to the south on the same strip).
The Maker Park vision for that 27-acre expanse—which is officially called Bushwick Inlet Park—has precedent in the citizen-led efforts that gave birth to the High Line and now spur parks like the QueensWay. A grassroots team led by three young New Yorkers—Zac Waldman, who works in advertising, Karen Zabarsky, the creative director at Kushner Companies, and Stacey Anderson, director of public programs at the Municipal Arts Society (MAS)—has partnered with a team of architects and designers to reimagine the city-owned site’s otherworldly white fuel containers, the remnants of Bayside Fuel Oil Depot, as galleries, stages, reflecting pools, art galleries, and hanging gardens.
In collaboration with New York–based firms STUDIO V Architecture and Ken Smith Workshop, the group officially unveiled its vision for the ruins in May. In the renderings, Maker Park would stretch from Bushwick Inlet (at North 14th Street and Kent Avenue) south to North 12th Street, right across the street from present-day Bushwick Inlet Park.
“Most of the developments on the Williamsburg-Greenpoint waterfront have made it anonymous,” said Jay Valgora, founding principal of STUDIO V. “Much of the waterfront is kind of generic, and that’s a shame, because the neighborhood is not. We think the park has to be as special as the community it’s going to support.”
Initial renderings deliver on that promise. In dialogue with the cylindrical oil storage tanks, a curved boardwalk sweeps visitors over the inlet and back to shore in a terraced open lawn. The inlet would be planted with native grasses to create a wetland—and natural flood barrier, and a former Bayside building that fronts North 12th Street could be converted to green-roofed galleries or an events space.
Maker Park’s do-it-yourself ethos isn’t meant to override community input. “These renderings are meant to inspire, not to prescribe,” said Zabarsky. “The reason they’re so magical and have these different elements is to bring about new ideas.” Anderson added that community stakeholders have worked with the city for more than ten years to realize the park and that “this is alternate design vision for one portion of the park” grounded architecturally in adaptive reuse.
Though they have detailed renderings and site plans, the team says their ideas are a stake in the ground—it is up to the neighborhood, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, and other agencies to conceive and execute a final plan. To that end, Maker Park is hosting a design exhibition in Greenpoint next week to solicit ideas from neighbors on how to develop the designs moving forward (more information on the event can be found here).
The group has drafted ten guiding principles—centered on transparency, public input, and the preservation of open space along the river—to follow in its work. The street-facing green space adheres to the Parks Department’s Parks Without Borders, a new initiative that opens up the edge conditions of the city’s many gated parks, while a soccer field on the southern edge mirrors an adjacent space in Bushwick Inlet Park.
Despite their ambition, the plans should work “within a typical park budget,” said Valgora, but it’s ultimately up to the city to allocate funds. One component that could cost more is the reuse of the Bayside building, though he said Maker Park is doing a financial feasibility analysis right now to get a clearer idea of those costs.
Outside the group, the conservation of the industrial heritage is anathema to the neighborhood’s progress and public image. Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park (FBIP), an advocacy group instrumental in the creation of its namesake green space, have been vocal in their distaste for the “glorification of oil tanks.” It sees Maker Park as a spiteful gesture to a community that has borne a disproportionate share of environmental hazards over the course of the city’s industrial history. Not surprisingly, FBIP supports the city’s open space master plan, which does not include plans to preserve the fuel tanks.
The Maker Park team is keenly aware of the site’s environmental challenges. One guiding principal is the safe remediation of the site’s environmental hazards, and the group has recruited landscape experts to develop a mitigation strategy.
The contamination on site is not unusual for waterfront development in New York, said Michael Bogin, environmental lawyer and principal at Sive, Paget & Riesel P.C. There are other ways to contain toxins—recovery wells, barrier walls, and clean-fill—besides destroying the infrastructure to ensure that mobile contaminants do not escape from the soil or water. “If you take the tanks down, then put in two feet of clean-fill material, then all you’ve really done is destroyed the architectural value of those tanks. You haven’t created a different remedy.”
Landscape is crucial to the remediation strategy. Ken Smith, founding principal of Ken Smith Workshop, said that the sculpted topography of the site would be built on two to three feet of clean-fill material. Capping the site, which itself is a hundred-year-old landfill, also raises it out of “high frequency” floodzones, he said. Wetlands, planted with native grasses, would be accessible via the boardwalk and cross-hatched waterside beds, and the great lawn, a counterpoint to the contextual native flora, is encircled by trees and could host large events.
Both men signed onto the pro bono project to secure the city’s ever-threatened manufacturing legacy. “The East River is the heart of the city, the focal point of 21st-century New York City,” Bogin said. He has worked for clients who, in his view, have degraded the historic quality of the waterfront or blocked access to the shore. “We’re losing the history of the river. I don’t want Brooklyn’s waterfront to become Times Square. Let’s save something.”