Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Green Tour of Greenpoint

The name "Greenpoint" is not a relic of the area's industrial past. It dates back further to a time when the whole region was called Bos-ijck (now anglicized to "Bushwick"). The forested Northern tip of Bos-ijck was called the "Green Point". People clearly lacked imagination back then, but "Greenpoint" it is a charming and evocative name which is no doubt why it was retained.

Alas, Greenpoint is no longer particularly "green". Brooklyn is the big city now. Some streets are lined with trees. Some houses have planters in their front yards. Many do not (for example, the photo to the right is the South side of our block of Java Street). Some homes have nice back yards but these are, of course, private. Then there is the industrial zone around the waterfront. With sadly few exceptions the open space in the industrial section of Greenpoint is covered in dirt and detritus.

Take a look at the map of Greenpoint, specifically the part North of Nassau Avenue. It looks a bit depressing. There are only a few green spots (representing parks) and they are mostly paved playgrounds. Playgrounds with more benches than bushes and certainly no grass or flowers. There is something called Transmitter Park but it is not open yet. When it does open much of it will be paved as well. Hopefully not too much.

This is not to suggest that Greenpoint is just one big slab of concrete. There are some parks in Greenpoint. McGolrick Park absolutely stunning, and half of the massive McCarren Park is also within the boundaries of Greenpoint. Yet these are the only two large green spaces in the area and they are both well South of Java Street. Is North Greenpoint really the greyish grid it appears to be on the map?

Parks and playgrounds are a city planning issue. Sometimes with the city's planning leaves something to be desired the solution is community action: adding green space to out community by developing a community garden. The goal of the 596 Acres project is exactly that - to turn empty lots throughout the city into community gardens.

Greenpoint already contains a few community gardens including the Eagle Street Farm, Lentol Garden, and the Greenpoint Church garden. We want to add to that list. In particular we want to create a real public space, a street level garden which is open as frequently as possible.

This is not a trivial goal. We have to get permission from various city departments. We will need more volunteers than the current ten. We will have to fight the weather (snow in October?) Perhaps most importantly we may have to cleanse the soil before we start planting. At some point we will have to start raising funds to buy supplies and seeds. But one step at a time. Getting permission from the city comes first.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Nature vs. Nurture

Wild Growth at 59 Java

Have you ever seen a truly "vacant lot"? One which is literally nothing but dirt or gravel? They are surprisingly hard to find in that state. In the absence of human intervention it seems that plants will grow everywhere.

We see them around Greenpoint not only in the planters and parks but also in the cracks and crevices. Flowering ivy twists and climbs along our fences. Although there are few lawns here there is no shortage of grass; it grows in the gaps in the sidewalk. And of course where there is a large open space something green is sure to grow.

Half of the lot at 59 Java Street is green with wild grasses and flowers. Even from outside the cage which contains them (or perhaps protects them?) some of them are quite lovely (see above). Some are less so. Some conceal a dirty napkin or sit adjacent to a discarded cup. Some of the plants have been crushed into the earth by the wheels of a heavy vehicle. A literal path of destruction can still be seen preserved in the dirt (see below).

Sadly there is rarely an "absence of human intervention" in Brooklyn. The housing complex next door is still under construction. For 59 Java that makes it a source of destruction. Garbage arrives from many sources. It may be blown in by the wind or thrown in by careless passers-by. There was a chunk of sheet metal on the lot the last time I was there, but at least no-one has dumped an old mattress yet.

Worse, the land itself is none too clean. Greenpoint has a long history as an industrial center. A history of shipbuilding, oil refining and storage, textile dyeing, and dry cleaning. A varied and colorful history which has no doubt left the soil with a varied and colorful chemistry.

A pristine parcel is perhaps a bit too much to ask for in the big city. We're going to have to do a little nurturing.

We are called the Java Street Collaborative and we are working with the Green Thumb program and to create a community garden at 59 Java Street. Right now we are in the early stages of the process. We have finished creating our basic media package (a sign for the site, flyers, and of course this blog) and are now working on a presentation for the Parks and Waterfront Committee of Community Board 1. We are also still discussing ideas for the garden. Is composting a possibility? What are our options for remediation of the soil?

If you want to help out we can be reached at Drop us a line!