New York City encompasses 33 islands, including 13 in the Bronx (the best known being City Island and Rikers, but also Rat Island, a favorite resting place for escaping prisoners). NYC's other islands include 3 in Brooklyn (among them the tropical-sounding Mau Mau Island); 9 in Manhattan, including the burrough itself; 2 in Queens; and 6 that collectively make up Staten Island.
Given the fact that New Yorkers consume about a billion gallons of water each day, and that water surrounds and, on occasion, inundates the city, it seems appropriate to highlight nine water-based events from among the more than 200 properties that Open House New York will present during the upcoming OHNY Weekend. (Please note: Many of the OHNY events require reservations and are already sold out. But read further because independent outings are very often possible.)
VILLAGE COMMUNITY BOATHOUSE
353 West Street (on the south side of Pier 40 along the West Side Highway), in the West Village
Saturday & Sunday: 12 – 5 p.m. (Open access on a first come, first served basis; reservations not required)
This community organization, dedicated to reviving small-boat seamanship, invites visitors to see its boat-building and storage facilities and to join in rowing a traditional Whitehall gig (a 25-foot wooden rowboat), captained by an experienced New York Harbor coxswain. The rides are free and open to all; no experience is necessary.
NOBLE MARITIME COLLECTION
100 Richmond Terrace, Building D at Tysen Street, Sailors’ Snug Harbor, Staten Island
Saturday & Sunday: 12 – 5 p.m.; tours at 2:00 & 4:00 on both days. (Open access; no reservations required)
Housed in a beautifully restored Greek Revival building that was the former mariner’s dormitory at Sailors’ Snug Harbor, this collection preserves and interprets the art, writings, and historical maritime artifacts of the noted maritime artist, John A. Noble, in the centennial of his birth. Also notable is Robbins Reef Light Station, one of the few lighthouses operated by a woman. Katie Walker took over following her husband’s death in 1894 and remained in charge until 1919. In between caretaking the lighthouse and saving at least 50 lives, she found time to row her children to and from school on Staten Island.
GOWANUS CANAL SUPERFUND SITE CANOE TRIP
2nd Street near Bond Street, Brooklyn
Saturday: 1:00 – 5:00 p.m.; self-guided tours every half hour (Reservations required; sold out)
Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club is a volunteer organization that advocates revitalization, provides waterfront access, and educates the public about what was previously one of the most polluted waterways in the nation, infamously known as “black mayonnaise” for its contamination by cargo ship oil spillage and raw sewage. Designated a Superfund site in 2010, full clean-up will take years. Meanwhile enthusiasts can explore the bulkhead shorelines, post-industrial buildings, and wildlife of this key waterway in an environmentally friendly manner. (In addition to OHNY's canoeing tours, which are fully booked, free self-guided walking and bicycle tours are offered. The Canoe Club’s facilities are available to launch canoes, kayaks, and rowboats).
LAKESIDE AT PROSPECT PARK
Parkside Avenue, Brooklyn
Sunday 1:00, 3:00 open dialogue with Prospect Park Alliance (Reservations required. Sold out)
A sneak preview and open discussion of the new 26-acre Lakeside project by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien with Prospect Park Alliance. The project restores and augments historic Prospect Park, one of the finest works of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, recreating Music Island, the waterfront esplanade, a new skating rink and a green 4-seasons building. OHNY's open chat session is fully booked, but take heart: the project is scheduled to be complete in just a couple of months. Meanwhile, visiting Prospect Park is a splendid way to spend an afternoon.
LOWER MANHATTAN WATERFRONT TOUR
Saturday: 3:00. (Reservations required. Sold out)
OHNY’s fast-paced walking tour with licensed NYC guide Bruce Bernstein is fully booked, but it is still possible to visit the waterfront on your own for a glimpse of New York’s early history right through to recent riverside developments. Visit historic Castle Clinton, the dramatic American Merchant Marines Memorial and the Irish Hunger Memorial as well as beautiful and stirring, if less well-known, commemorations like the Wireless Operators Monument (1915). Visiting Battery Park, filled with sculpture and rich plantings, is a great way to spend a day.
NEWTOWN CREEK ALLIANCE WALKING AND CANOE TOURS
Greenpoint Avenue, Brooklyn
Saturday: 3:00 tours. Reservations required. Sold out.
Newtown Creek, between Brooklyn and Queens, was one of New York’s most heavily trafficked waterways and among the most polluted industrial sites in the country. Designated a Superfund clean-up site in 2010, Newtown Creek now offers a quarter-mile nature walk near the water’s edge, designed by environmental sculptor George Trakas (open to the public from dawn to dusk) and a Visitor Center with lots of engaging educational programs (open by appointment; call 718-595-5140). Although OHNY’s tours are fully booked, the Newtown Creek Alliance frequently sponsors independent boating, biking and walking tours.
NEWTOWN CREEK WASTEWATER TREATMENT PLANT
Saturday: 3:00, 4:30, 6:00 p.m. tours. (Reservations required. Sold out.)
The largest of New York’s 14 wastewater treatment plants, this distinctive landmark with its 8 giant steel-clad digester eggs, combines art, architecture and engineering in the processing of over a million gallons of sludge every day. Designed by Ennead with lighting designer Hervé Descottes. Although the OHNY tours are fully booked, the city conducts public tours once a month. Due to popularity and limited space, reservations are recommended. (E-mail email@example.com)
OLD CROTON AQUEDUCT WALK
Upper West Side, Brookyn
Sunday: 9:30 a.m. (Reservations required. Sold Out.)
A walking tour on the north side of High Bridge, in Manhattan, follows the various routes of the Old Croton Aqueduct. The OHNY tour, conducted by Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct, is fully booked but visitors are welcome to independently enjoy the scenic and immensely varied 26-mile long Old Croton Aqueduct trail. The footpath atop the water tunnel or “tube” is open to pedestrians, joggers, cyclists, cross-country skiers, and equestrians. Free maps and information are available.
SANDY: A ONE YEAR RETROSPECTIVE
Saturday: 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. tours. (Reservations required. Sold out.)
A walking tour led by engineers from Thornton Tomasetti offers a technical perspective on the impact Sandy has had on building codes, flood mapping, and the future design of cities like Manhattan. OHNY’s tour is fully booked but visitors can still see the results of Sandy by walking around places like South Street Seaport (likely to be closed for another two years). Also, upcoming exhibitions mark the 1-year anniversary of the hurricane: a 100,000-square-foot show entitled “Come Together: Surviving Sandy, Year 1” will be on view from October 20 to December 15, 2013 at Industry City, 220 36th Street in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The Museum of the City of New York will also present "Rising Waters: Photographs of Hurricane Sandy" from October 29, 2013 thru March 2, 2014.
URBAN POST-DISASTER HOUSING PROTOTYPE
165 Cadman Plaza at Red Cross Place, Brooklyn Heights
Saturday & Sunday (Open access; reservations not required)
New York's Office of Emergency Management and Department of Design and Construction staged a post-disaster provisional housing competition for NYC residents who may lose their homes in catastrophic storms. One solution, on view in Cadman Plaza, is a prefab 3-story, multi-family prototype with two 3-bedroom units and one 1-bedroom unit. An information center about the project is located on the ground floor. The project reflects a new higher-density approach to post-disaster housing than the previously standard single-family home or trailer. The prototype will remain on view though autumn of 2014.
Chelsea Pier at 23rd Street, Manhattan
Although not part of the OHNY Weekend, the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) offers a series of terrific boat tours around Manhattan. The tours are conducted virtually every day, several times a day, aboard Classic Harbor Line's 1920s-style yachts, the Manhattan and the Kingston. Knowledgable architects and architectural historians point out key landmarks and explain the different stages of New York's continuing development. The tours are for anyone interested in New York, not just architects. They're knockouts.