NY, NJ Waterways Contend with Future

December 10, 2008 at 3:36 pm Leave a comment

Event: Port Authority Speaker Series: On the Waterfront: Finding the Balance for Development and Communities
Location: The New School, 12.02.08
Speakers: Susan Bass Levin — Deputy Executive Director, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; Carl Biers — Education Director, International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1588; Carter Craft — Former Director of Programs, Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance; Venetia Lannon — Senior Vice President, Maritime Division, NYC Economic Development Corporation; Joshua Muss — President, Muss Development Company; Elizabeth Yeampierre — Executive Director, United Puerto Rican Organization of Sunset Park
Moderator: Greg David — Editorial Director, Crain’s New York Business
Organizers: Center for NYC Affairs; Milano The New School for Management and Urban Policy

During the 19th century, New York and New Jersey waged so many disputes over their shared harbor that state police exchanged shots in the middle of the Hudson River. Since its inception in 1921, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), has administered the common waterways and waterfront interests of both states. It’s been a 50/50 partnership. For “On the Waterfront,” the program’s title derived from the classic film, Susan Bass Levin, deputy executive director of PANYNJ, did her best Brando stating, “I coulda been a contender.” She was referring to the gritty 1950s followed by the rapid decline of the city’s piers. In fact, it was the river crossings built by the PANYNJ that helped hasten their downfall as the population moved away from manufacturing, leaving an abandoned waterfront.

The longshoreman’s struggles against corrupt union bosses, which drove the plot of the movie, may be over, but longshoremen and the unions are still fighting to save their jobs. Carl Biers of the International Longshoremen’s Local 1588 in Bayonne and Jersey City is campaigning to save blue collar jobs on a former army base that has been targeted for high-end residential developments. Biers wondered why the Federal Government isn’t aiding ailing ports.

The PANYNJ’s $8.7 billion investment program is upgrading and improving the region’s infrastructure. Initiatives include the temporary and permanent PATH station at the World Trade Center; developing a WTC transportation hub; the AirTrain JFK; improvements at LaGuardia, Kennedy International, and Newark airports; expanding ferry service; redeveloping and expanding Howland Hook Marine Terminal in Staten Island; deepening river channels to accommodate deep-draft container ships; and advancing facility security.

“Nobody in this economic climate is going to be putting new projects into the ground in the near future,” said Joshua Muss of Muss Development Company. He sees the economic downturn as an opportunity for the development community to address which areas are appropriate to develop. But it takes years to get a project underway. For example, Muss has been developing Sky View Parc for Flushing on the Flushing River for 27 years. Originally a 14-acre brownfield, the mixed-use development designed by Perkins Eastman will include 800,000 square feet of retail space, six condo and rental buildings, a parking facility, and a 55-foot-wide river esplanade.

Waterfront activist Carter Craft’s hopes for the waterfront are less grand. He thinks of waterways as extensions of green spaces on land, echoing sentiments of his mentor Mike Davis, the recently deceased founder of the Floating the Apple organization. Davis fought to reclaim the Hudson, Harlem, and East Rivers for recreational use and “universal public access.” Craft noted that in addition to the Floating Pool in the summer, swimming in the rivers is a year-round activity. With decreased pollution, pilings are becoming homes for mussels, marshes and wetlands are being reclaimed, and piers are being transformed for recreational and commercial use.

Elizabeth Yeampierre, the executive director of the United Puerto Rican Organization of Sunset Park, encouraged waterfront communities to get involved with its development. The people of her community want to preserve manufacturing, maintaining their homes as well as their livelihoods. High on her wish list is to spread out green spaces, from the waterfront inland, to places that can’t immediately enjoy the waterfront.
By Linda G. Miller

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