Rejected Landscapes for Flushing Meadows

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.

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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?

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Wreath Interpretations: A Look Back

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.

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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

Bush Terminal Park, Brooklyn

On the industrial waterfront of Brooklyn’s Industry city is a new park with two obscure entrances that offers sweeping views of New York Harbor. Bush Terminal Park opened in 2014 on a reclaimed stretch of shoreline that previously operated as a seaport.

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The park offers a naturalistic scene on a harbor ringed by piers and warehouses in a corner of Brooklyn that is lacking in sizable parks.

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Slepianka, Minsk

The capital city of Belarus is a textbook example of Soviet city planning with its lengthy boulevards, modernist architecture, and rows of apartments on superblocks. Lost in the rubble of the Second World War and postwar rebuilding is the city’s natural history that includes more than a dozen streams that have been consigned beneath the surface.

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The Svislach River bisects Minsk as its main waterway. Under the Soviets this river was dammed, and its banks have been set in concrete. But its oxbow turns have been preserved in a manner resembling the Moscow River. On the city’s eastern side, the second longest stream, the swampy Slepianka River was transformed into set of connected waterways with concrete waterfalls, embankments, islands, and terraces. The waterfall near the Agat Hotel is of particular interest as it allows visitors to walk behind the stream’s veil of water. Continue reading

Bloessers Pond, Staten Island

In the Prince’s Bay section of Staten Island is a parcel preserved amid the tract houses that interrupts the local street grid. It is one of 15 designated natural areas on the island that are under the purview of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

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Not much to see here but the signage is clear: this is Bloessers Pond, a 14-acre Wildlife Management Area that is a remnant of Sandy Brook, which drains into nearby Lemon Creek.

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Sylvan Water, Brooklyn

The largest cemetery in Brooklyn lies atop a knob-and-kettle terrain shaped by the last ice age, with dramatic views of New York Harbor and Manhattan. Like its contemporary Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx and the Evergreens cemetery on the Queens border, Green-Wood Cemetery has a landscape that respects topography with winding roads and four natural ponds that predate the cemetery.

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The largest of the cemetery’s ponds is Sylvan Water, as seen here in a 2007 Forgotten-NY tour. Each of the lakes is ringed by the resting places of some of the city’s most famous individuals, an calm view for their admirers, and those who visit to observe birds, architecture, and nature.

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Woodlawn Lake, Bronx

Near the northern border of Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx is a natural lake that shares its name with the cemetery and the surrounding neighborhood. It is a pleasant feature in the park-like graveyard that contains the remains and monuments for some of New York’s most famous people.

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This water feature and the cemetery itself are contemporaries of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood and Evergreens cemeteries, which also have the appearances of a “burial park.” And like any distinguished park, they preserved their ponds while the surrounding landscape filled up with bodies and monuments.

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Gabler’s Creek, Queens

In the hilly terrain separating Douglaston and Little Neck neighborhoods, Gabler’s Creek runs through a ravine on its way to Little Neck Bay at Udalls Cove. The marsh at the stream’s mouth straddles the city line. Thanks to determined local residents, the stream runs undisturbed within the Udalls Cove Park Preserve.

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Although the history of Udall’s Cove since 1969 appears to be a success story, it is not resolved. With 15 privately owned lots remaining within the ravine, development remains a threat to the cohesion of the preserve. Over the past half century, the city and state have acquired private parcels in a piecemeal manner.

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Murray Hill Distributing Reservoir, Manhattan

In the heart of Midtown the New York Public Library’s main branch is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. Prior to its construction in 1900 the  Murray Hill Distributing Reservoir stood on the site of the library. For 19th century New Yorkers the Egyptian Revival walls of the reservoir also appeared in contemporary guidebooks, attracting tourist crowds.

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Between 1842 and 1900, the four-acre reservoir held 20 million gallons of water for the growing island metropolis. Its previous sources at Collect Pond and various springs across town were running dry and becoming polluted from urbanization. Water contained at Murray Hill originated from Croton Reservoir in Westchester County.

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Huatanay, Cusco

The highest city that has hidden urban streams is the former imperial capital of the Incas. At more than 11,000 feet above sea level, Cusco, Peru is a magnet for tourism and home to a thriving Native culture deep in the Andean Mountains. The main river flowing through this city is the Huatanay. A trickle in comparison to the Amazon, but that’s what its water will eventually become.

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Within the city are nearly a dozen tributaries that date back to the Inca period, some of them running as ditches and other covered by modern streets.

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