Newtown Creek: A Photographic Survey of New York's Industrial Waterway
By Anthony Hamboussi
Newtown Creek is a tributary of New York's East River that forms part of the border between the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. Before the mid-1800s, this three-and-a-half-mile-long meandering creek flowed through wetlands and marshes rich in herbs, grasses, fish, waterfowl, and oysters. During the Industrial Revolution, when its volume of commercial shipping traffic exceeded that of the Mississippi River, the creek was widened, deepened, and bulkheaded to accommodate bigger barges, destroying all its freshwater sources. As one of the oldest continuous industrial areas in the nation, it is now one of the most polluted. The creek water contains hundreds of years of discarded toxins; an estimated thirty million gallons of spilled oil; raw sewage; and a fifteen-foot-thick layer of congealed sludge on its bottom. It is a dead waterway—desolate in spots, disgusting in others, but far from abandoned. At the heart of the city's industrial backyard, Newtown Creek hosts many uses critical to the functioning of an enormous metropolis—sewage treatment, waste transfer, scrap yards, tow pounds, warehousing, manufacturing, and acres of heavy infrastructure. Yet, despite its role in the functioning of New York's complex urban machinery, itswaterfront is largely unknown to residents and visitors alike.
Newtown Creek is the first extensive documentation of this forgotten landscape. Anthony Hamboussi's five-year photographic survey captures the creek at a critical moment when gentrification and revitalization are just starting to change the area. From the ruins of Morgan Oil Company and the Newtown Metal Corporation to the footprints of the former Maspeth gasholders, Newtown Creek is a lost chapter in the visual history of industrial New York framed at the moment of its disappearance and transformation. An insightful essay by urban planner Paul Parkhill puts Hamboussi's work into context.
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