February 23, 2011 -
In winter, the Brooklyn shores of the Newtown Creek are a desolate industrial wasteland. Large swaths of shoreline sit empty, dead zones with toxic chemicals beneath. Scrap yards, gas refineries and truck depots line the streets. Sidewalks are covered in icy mounds of debris, hibernating in the snow, waiting for a thaw to rot. Near a shiny new sewage treatment plant, a lonely memorial is strapped to tree trunk. Cars missing doors sit under bridges. Dirt roads, electric fences, barbed wire and graffiti are prevalent.
Gaining access to the waters of the Newtown Creek can be difficult on the Brooklyn side. A new boat launch and a nature walk are located near the creek's mouth, but the remaining length of the waterway is closed off by heavy industry. Security guards shout at pedestrians who walk too close to the water, while large signs warn "No Trespassing" towards the creek. It is not until the very end of the Newtown Creek that the waterfront is easily accessible once again. At this frozen terminus, train tracks travel over bruised, dark black waters.
The Newtown Creek was declared a Superfund Site in 2010 by the Environmental Protection Agency, which described it as "one of the nation’s most polluted waterways." The creek is home to one of the United States largest oil spills. Despite this, several year round residents live on its banks. An active homeless camp is situated on a dead-end spur of the waterway. Nearby, residents live aboard the "urban pirate" ferry boat. Life clings stubbornly to the edges of the water, even in the harshest conditions.
For other photo essays from the Newtown Creek, visit Secret Parties (2009), The Dutch Kills (2008) and Linden Hill Tracks (2007).