Near the meeting of the French, Swiss, and German borders is the city of Basel, straddling the Rhine River. Regarded as one of the best cities in which to live, it has a long history as a venue for international gatherings, and a healthy economy as a center for banking and pharmaceuticals. Growing around a Celtic settlement that became a Roman fort, and then as a semi-independent bishopric, Basel expanded its walls and built markets atop the Rhine’s urban tributary, the Birsig River.
The river flows in a park-lined channel through the city, descending into darkness for its final miles beneath the city’s historic center. Above is the tunnel portal at Birsigstrasse, high enough for a small vehicle to enter when the water is low. Continue reading
One of the major north-south routes on Staten Island is Richmond Avenue, which crosses Fresh Kills at the point where the stream leaves LaTourette Park and enters the former landfill that is Freshkills Park. The bridge here has a long history, going through four phases in design.
The stretch of Richmond Avenue at Fresh Kills resembles a highway and the bridge is easy to miss as one speeds through the salt marsh. The current bridge was built in the 1980s, a concrete and steel fixed crossing. Some maps have the stream here as Richmond Creek, the name used for Fresh Kills further upstream where it descends from the hills of the Staten Island Greenbelt. Continue reading
As its name suggests, Springfield Boulevard in southern Queens used to run past a field with a spring from which a stream originated. That stream is Thurston Creek, which its had its source near Springfield Boulevard and 121st Avenue, across from Montefiore Cemetery in the neighborhood of Springfield Gardens. It flowed south along Springfield Boulevard for nearly three miles, emptying into Jamaica Bay.
The creek emerges to the surface in Springfield Park, a 24-acre green space where the creek flows through a brick channel, widening into Cornell’s Pond before continuing south into the Idlewild marshes.
As the hidden brook titled Valley Stream flows through the suburban New York village of Valley Stream, I could not title this essay as “Valley Stream, Valley Stream.” This brook also runs through a state park that shares its name, behind backyards, beneath parking lots, through two former millponds before emptying into Jamaica Bay.
The stream flows for four miles from its source in Franklin Square to its confluence with Hook Creek. Along the course are a handful of picturesque parks, such as Village Green Park, seen above.
Bordering on the campus of the College of Staten Island is a 215-acre woodland with a lake that is part of the larger set of connected parks, the Staten Island Greenbelt. Willowbrook Lake shares its name with the surrounding park and has a rustic log cabin-style boathouse that is used as the park’s office.
The lake appears natural but was carved out of the landscape after the city acquired Willowbrook Park. It is the most visible section of Willow Brook, a hidden waterway that flows across central Staten Island.
On the northeast tip of Queens is a 249-acre peninsula that was the last military base in the borough prior to its closing in 1995. A favorite haunt of urban explorers, Fort Totten Park may not receive as many tourists as Governors Island, but the story of this base-turned-park has been documented by many writers. For the purposes of my book, I’ve focused on the two ponds separating the fort from mainland Queens.
They are nearly impossible to access, as the larger pond is on the part of Fort Totten that has been retained by the army for its reserves, and the other is enveloped by marshes off the shoulder of Cross Island Parkway. Continue reading
When I’m not documenting the city’s waterfront parks and hidden waterways, I make art about the city’s history. In this year’s NYC Parks’ 36th annual Wreath Interpretations winter holiday art show, I have a wreath titled 721 Fifth Avenue. The piece depicts one of the most newsworthy addresses in Midtown Manhattan.
The wreath depicts elements form the demolished Bonwit Teller department store and the Trump Tower that succeeded it.
When I thought that I knew all that there is to know about a particular waterway, I stumble upon drawings of unrealized visions for such streams. On Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay one can walk on the longest pedestrian-only bridge across a waterway that is inside a borough, the Ocean Avenue Footbridge. On the mainland side of the bridge, Ocean Avenue is very wide as one of Brooklyn’s major north-south routes, running for 5.5 miles north to Prospect Park.
In reality the bridge is a block to the west of Ocean Avenue. But the real question here is why is the three-block Manhattan Beach segment of Ocean Avenue so wide if it does not connect to any other major roads?
The radiating boulevards of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park have been a defining feature of the park since they were proposed in 1937 by Gilmore Clarke and Charles Rapuano as part of the great transformation of a former ash dump into a thousand-acre World’s Fair site and park. At the time, the flat and barren terrain gave Flushing Meadows the look of a blank slate, open to any ideas that would shape its future as a park.
From the Cornell University archives, a 1936 Fairchild Aerial survey shows Meadow Lake beginning to take its form. The core of the park to the north of the lake is the subject of this essay. Had the Versailles-inspired boulevards not been selected, what would have been the park’s appearance?
Taking a break from documenting the city’s waterfront parks and hidden waterways, I would like to share an artwork that I made last year for the NYC Parks’ 35th annual Wreath Interpretations winter holiday art show. Titled NYC Parks Now and Then, my wreath depicts some of New York’s best-known parks from the oldest to the newest.
In a photo taken by agency photographer Malcolm Pinckney, I stand with my work which has NYC Parks’ maple leaf logo in its center. Now let’s take a closer look at its details. Click on the bold names for their histories as I take you on a citywide tour. Continue reading