Sunday, July 19, 2009

A kind of a rant about the river

The walk down into DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights, combined with my usual walks home from work over the Williamsburg Bridge have caused an idea to fester in my mind for a while. Why doesn’t Brooklyn have the kind of linked riverside park/path system along the East River that Manhattan does? Why don’t the neighborhoods along the East River have even the kind of riverside path that our friends and neighbors in Bay Ridge and Fort Hamilton have?

As I mentioned in a previous post, I walked down to Bay Ridge over Memorial Day and discovered the walking/cycling/running/sitting path that runs along the Upper Bay north and south of the Verrazano Bridge. In the words of Brooklyn’s own poet, I loafed and I invited my soul. After a long, hot walk along 4th Avenue and then through the warehouses and dusty streets along 2nd Avenue, I felt my soul was refreshed when I came upon that walk along the bay.

Why are our souls not refreshed in Williamsburg or Greenpoint or along the shore around the Navy Yard? We are handed piddling little pocket parks that most people probably don’t even know about, anyway, unless they stumble upon them accidentally, and we’re expected to be grateful like poor Oliver Twist with one helping of gruel. Meanwhile the high-rise co-ops shoot up blocking what view of the river we might have had as the "mid-towning" of the riverfront continues.

Kent Avenue is beginning to look more like 6th Avenue in Chelsea every day with the glass and steel and brick behemoths lining the roadside. These days one of the few places you can get a decent view of that stretch of the river is from the Williamsburg Bridge and the city has made certain you can’t enjoy that by enclosing you in a wire cage

from one side to the other. Don’t think about trying to take a picture of the Manhattan skyline or the Williamsburg shore from the Williamsburg Bridge unless you want your photo to look like something produced by the Futurists or Constructivists: Lower Manhattan through a Mesh Screen.

For anyone wishing to taste the delights of the riverfront there are always the large attractive parks between and around the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges (above), including a state park, but this is a long walk from Williamsburg or Greenpoint; there is a small park behind a new apartment building on Kent Avenue(co-op or condo or whatever) just south of Broadway (below) (if you don't miss the small gate or mistake it for private property since the park sign isn't too visible, or if you're even walking along Kent Avenue at all), and Williamsburg’s sop, the riverfront park on Kent Avenue north of Grand Street (along with the vest pocket park at the foot of Grand Street). I hear they are planning a sliver in Greenpoint, too. But these are insignificant compared to the length of the river's shoreline.

And don’t let me start on the Navy Yard. One would have thought that when the federal government relinquished control of the Navy Yard to New York City, the city might have found something better to do with it (or even additional to do with it) than immediately hand it over to a private group for a gated business/industrial park. I wouldn’t be surprised if the security in place there now is stricter than when the Navy occupied the place.

Just think of walking from Williamsburg to Prospect Park or the central library at Grand Army Plaza as I do on a weekly basis, or even a walk over to Fort Greene or Clinton Hill. You descend Clymer Street and see across the street an inviting open gate and a roadway. On city maps this is shown as Washington Street, the same Washington Street that goes through Clinton Hill on its way to Eastern Parkway and the Brooklyn Library and Brooklyn Museum. You walk to the gatehouse and inquire if you can walk through. No, I’m sorry but you must have proper ID to go in. So you turn back and trudge your weary way down Kent Avenue along the sun baked sidewalk to the BQE and turn to walk down Williamsburg Street and then Park Avenue until you come to Washington Street once again. And you look back through that gate at the apartment house at Clymer Street and think, if only. But we only pay the taxes, right? And no doubt there is a latter day Manhattan Project underway that demands the strictest security. Maybe guard dogs and razor wire next.

P.S. Speaking of loafing and inviting our souls, I would recommend a copy of Leaves of Grass to anyone wanting to wander the streets of Brooklyn. It gives one perspective.

Almost There

As I suspected, most of this blog is going to consist of re-walks, but that’s okay. I started on my project of walking the borough of Brooklyn back in March; at least the genesis of the idea was my walk of March 14 down Prospect Park West to Windsor Terrace, Green-Wood Cemetery, and the top of the hill at McDonald Avenue. Simply put, everything else comes from my curiosity about what was at the bottom of that hill.

On the following weekend—or the nearest following one with decent weather—I went on to the bottom of that hill into the Kensington neighborhood and on successive weekends rambled through the neighborhoods around there, meaning that vast swath of Brooklyn south of Prospect Park. I walked down Ocean Avenue and back up Ocean Parkway. I walked Bedford Avenue from Williamsburg past Brooklyn College into Midwood, over to Coney Island Avenue and back up to the park.

On Memorial Day weekend on two successive days I walked out to Bay Ridge, to the Verrazano Bridge, up into Fort Hamilton, Dyker Heights, and into parts of Bath Beach and Bensonhurst. That weekend, I walked 5th Avenue through Sunset Park and thought Sunset Park would never end. As far as I can tell right now I have walked the entire length of Fort Hamilton Parkway, Bedford Avenue, Eastern Parkway, and all of Flatbush Avenue except the very end from Avenue V to the Belt Parkway, but I will remedy that before summer’s end. I have to, since I believe that Flatbush Avenue is the only roadway that crosses the entire borough of Brooklyn from the East River to the Atlantic Ocean and I would like to say that I’ve walked its entire length. Bedford Avenue comes in a brave 2nd, I believe, but it ends at Manhattan Avenue in the heart of Greenpoint and doesn’t go all the way across that neighborhood to the Queens line. I celebrated the 4th of July by walking Bedford Avenue from it’s end (or beginning) in Sheepshead Bay to my home in Williamsburg.

The 4th of July was also the day I walked out Flatbush Avenue almost to the end, from there wandering through part of Marine Park and into Gerritsen Beach and from there to Sheepshead Bay (and so back home by Bedford Avenue).

For the past two weekends I have walked the neighborhoods off Eastern Parkway. I was going to say “explored” those neighborhoods but I don’t have time for that when, sometimes, I don’t have any idea of exactly where I am going or how long it will take to get there (and back home again). Last weekend I decided to walk out Eastern Parkway to its end, which I knew would be at Broadway Junction. From there I took Broadway back to Williamsburg.

Yesterday (Saturday, July 18), I wandered around Weeksville. Weeksville is a community founded in Brooklyn by black freedmen in the early 19th century. It is in a part of Bed-Stuy between Eastern Parkway and Atlantic Avenue around Utica and Rochester Avenues. I hadn’t time to do much more than walk through the area yesterday to get the lay of the land and will be going back there later. In connection with Weeksville, I just found out that PBS has an online video series on New York City called “The City Concealed,” that I haven’t seen. The link to the Weeksville segment is: I haven’t seen any of them and don’t plan on seeing them at least until I have finished my walks. For the time being I want to discover things for myself. Watch it if you’d like.

Today I took in DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Redhook, and parts of Gowanus and Boerum Hill. That wasn’t as difficult as it sounds because they all lie pretty much next to one another along the East River and Upper Bay. I hadn’t been in Brooklyn Heights in, probably, twenty years and had never been in the other areas. Having lived in Williamsburg for eight years, I was astounded at the quiet in the Heights and Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens. Was it just Sunday or is it always like that? Astonishing. You could almost hear the bees buzzing in the flowers for the silence.

From what I could see today, Redhook looks like it consists of the Redhook Houses, a vast, sprawling complex of redbrick apartment houses; Redhook Park and the Redhook athletic fields, a vast, sprawling complex of baseball fields, soccer fields, handball courts, and parkland; warehouse buildings . . . and Ikea.

From there I walked home by way of Gowanus and Boerum Hill, both the kind of quiet, out of the way neighborhoods that appeal to me.

I am tired from so much typing. I wanted to get in the giglio feast at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel nearby me in Williamsburg and even start adding photos, but I haven’t the energy right now.

I hope to pull this blog together soon. The walking takes up so much energy that there isn’t a lot left over for writing.

Anyway . . . as far as I can tell, I have yet to get to and through Gravesend and Coney Island (and more of Borough Park, which I really just skirted back in May), and also what I guess would be the far eastern end: Flatlands, East Flatbush, and Canarsie.

I’d also like to get down to Floyd Bennett Field and into Mill Basin, for completeness sake if nothing else, and then perhaps spend the autumn filling in the blank spaces.