Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Different Senses of Æsthetic

Do you know the term brownfields? The US EPA defines it as:

Brownfields are real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.

They are not quite toxic waste sites... Just semi toxic.
They are often areas where, there was previously commercial development of industries that create pollution—places like:
Glass manufacturing... (Not usually toxic) unless they specialize in mercury glass—and then there is often mercury contamination. Perhaps not in lethal amounts—but...
Paint manufacturing—Lead, chromium, and a plethora of heavy metals –Plus a bunch of toxic solvents—but again not lethal quantities—but more than are healthy.

NYC has  lots of these—as manufacturing leaves both NYC and the US-- what are left behind are brownfields.

Just across the road (and creek!) from the new Mets stadium, (and, actually just across the street from the stadium) –were Industrial and commercial sites.  These sites are slowly but surely being abandon by manufactoring. 

A good number  of them on the shores of Flushing Creek.
Flushing Creek is a misnomer.
Long ago (400 years) there was a meadow—the Dutch arrived and called the area near the meadow Flushing. The meadow became Flushing Meadow.

As a city kid, I was late to knowing what a meadow was.
A meadow is low lying wet land. It’s drier than a marsh— and it’s often laced with small streams. Meadows, like bottom lands are the first to flood (and flood in light rain!) but they dry out—eventually… but the grounds are soft and boggy for many months of the year

The wet ground inhibits the growth of most trees, so meadows tend to be treeless open grasslands.

I am sure you know of Flushing Meadow.

Perhaps from the Simpson’s--when Homer, in NYC, is desperately seeking the relief of a bathroom and sees (a non existent!) bus with its destination “Flushing Meadows” and imagines commodes and urinals by thousands.
Or perhaps you know it from King of Queens, (the opening credits) or from Men in Black-- the scene of a major battle for earth.
Or if you are bit older, from the Worlds Fair --both the 1963 and 1937 NY Worlds Fairs-- were at Flushing Meadows.
Both the new and old Shea stadium where at the edge of the meadow, as is the Arthur Ashe stadium.
If you have a literary bent, you might know Flushing Meadows as the field of ashes that the Great Gatsby passes through--Because for many years—before it morphed into a park, it was the city dump for coal ashes.
The Meadow was ‘improved’ by filling it up with ashes, and coxing the many springs and natural streams into a single waterway –the Flushing creek.

This is a bit of Flushing Creek, as seen from the service road of the I-495—at the junction of I-495 and I-278 (AKA the Long Island Expressway and the van Wyck Expressway.  The van Wyck is a major access road to JFK airport.) The Creek runs parallel to the van Wyck.

Flushing Creek is brackish—the water in the creek rose and fell with the tides.

For a while, (YEARS actually), raw sewerage was discharged into the creek—the theory being the tidal flow would ‘flush’ the waste out to the sea –which was not really the sea, but Long Island Sound, not far from La Guardia Airport!

When I was a child, (during those years!) parts of Flushing Creek smelled like an open sewer.

Well-- the past 20 years have been good for Flushing meadow.
NYC has build treatment plants, and all effluent from the sewers goes into a treatment plant, not into the local waterways—and a pumping station makes sure the water in the creek doesn't become stagnant.   The number of day each year that the creek stinks are fewer and fewer –and the stink is just that a stink, not a stench!  It's a huge improvement--but still less than ideal.

Manufacturing has left the city (this is a mixed blessing--when it left, it took jobs) and this source of pollution is also a thing of the past.

And at the same time, Flushing, long a shopping and transportation hub in Queens, has become home to NYC new China town --another misnomer. Flushing is really a pan Asian community--with Japanese, Korean, Thai, Laos, and Indian sub-continent nationals, as well as many Chinese—as residents. The ethnic groups change almost block by block!---and there remnants of the long established middle class that remain.  3rd and 4th generations Irish, Italian, and Germans--there are even some of the original settlers--families that have lived in Flushing going on 400 years!

But it has  changed!  In my lifetime, Flushing has gone from area with farms (as late as the 1960's!) to low rise apartment building, to high rise apartment building. 

The gracious old frame homes of my childhood, on large plots with many trees, are being replaced with 2 and 3 family row homes with 2 or 3 row homes replacing on each lot,  what was once a single family home. 

The population density is one of the highest in the city.
The good news is, there is a demand for new housing—everything from cramped studios, to luxury digs. This is a vibrant area, with lots of appeal.  
How does this all relate –the brownfield, the meadowlands, and the development?  Well...

On College Point Boulevard, just out side of Flushing Meadow park, close to central Flushing –there are new luxury building going up... Along the shores of the Flushing Creek.  
As brownfield redevelopment projects.I guess I just have a different æsthetic—to me, Brownfields (semi toxic waste lands) and luxury housing just don’t go together!

(a link to sign image) 


FuguesStateKnits said...

My Dad was born in NY and lived for his first seven years in Flushing. I remember Flushing Meadows from the World's Fair (1964-65) and later a picnic at Flushing Meadow State Park (even though we lived in Oyster Bay, if you can believe it). I think the metro area has cleaned up a lot since I was a kid in the 60s and 70s - but there are still those lovely "cancer pockets" not far from where I grew up. We had sort of a weird perspective - we moved around a lot between '58 and '61 when dear old Dad started working at wabc. Heaven only knows what we ingested/swam in/came into contact with! I actually used to swim in Oyster Bay - the water was black - with my eyes open! LI Sound and the Hudson are a lot cleaner than they used to be - but you still couldn't pay me to swim in either now.
How do you like the new stadium? Have to admit closing Yankee stadium made me kinda said - but I'm not a big sports nut.
Brownfields and luxury condos - what a hoot!

Anonymous said...

An interesting article on Flushing, as nearly recession-proof

I love that they are making the brownfields into luxury apartments, but I worry about the subway - high rise apartments mean more commuters. But the development of the area has reduced the toxic stench of low tide considerably.