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Exploring the Second Stage of Queens' Gantry Plaza State Park

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Welcome back to Camera Obscura, Curbed's series of photo essays by Nathan Kensinger. Every other week, Kensinger will explore one of the city's less-known corners, beginning with the new parks built during the Bloomberg administration. Up now, Gantry Plaza State Park in Queens.


[The newest sections of Gantry Plaza State Park mirror the generic feel of the glass towers which surround it. All photos by Nathan Kensinger.]

When the first section of Gantry Plaza State Park opened in 1998, it was hailed as a "spectacular" addition to New York's post-industrial waterfront that "packed lots of variety into a confined space" via a creative mix of new piers and dead tech. The ensuing years have not been kind to the original park, which has suffered both from neglect and from lackluster new additions. The second stage of the park, which opened in 2009, expanded its total size to 12 acres, but presented a significantly less creative landscape, mirroring the generic glass-box condominiums that are being constructed around it as part of Queens West Stage II.

Gantry Plaza State Park's newer sections contain few unique elements. There is an informational plaque placed in a corner, a lone binocular station, a large empty lawn, and the ubiquitous waterfront esplanade, seemingly designed to keep the public as far from the water as possible. In this case, the esplanade is lined with a series of cookie-cutter benches that provide views across the East River to the United Nations. Instead of offering a new vision of how the city's waterfront could be engaged, these sections of the park feel like something from a corporate mall. The next stages of the park, which are currently being constructed to the north and south, do not appear to reveal any new ideas for this increasingly homogenized stretch of Long Island City waterfront.

The streets in this section of Long Island City are dominated by ceaseless construction.

New condo towers in the area advertise the benefits of Gantry Plaza State Park.

Several stages of the park are currently under construction, creating temporary access points.

The north end of the park will extend a concrete esplanade along the waterfront.

This section of the esplanade features a utilitarian strip of benches, and trees with trunks wrapped in metal grates.

A randomly placed collection of unmovable concrete chess stumps sits near the park's iconic Pepsi-Cola sign.

The sign also provides a questionable backdrop for a public school's Nutritional Teaching Garden, located within the park.

A large, empty lawn dominates the center of this section of the park, which was designed by Abel Bainnson Butz, LLP.

Perhaps the most striking feature of this empty lawn is a large vent attached to an off-limits bunker built beneath the park.

A plastic playground with synthetic turf sits near the lawn, its unnatural materials matching in tone with the nearby condo towers.

Several beach chairs are bolted down to platforms adjacent to the lawn.

An explanatory text helps identify one of the waterfront elements in the park.

The cove features a large mound of rocks, and is inaccessible to the public.

The unique first phase of the park, designed by Thomas Balsley Associates, has fallen on hard times.

Benches and railings in the park's earlier sections are carved over with a dense layer of graffiti dating back to 2008.

The south end of the park will extend out towards yet another waterfront tower.

?Nathan Kensinger
· Official site: Gantry Plaza State Park [NYSParks]
· Official site: Nathan Kensinger Photography [kensinger.blogspot.com]
· Nathan Kensinger archive [Curbed]