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, Red Hook's Erie Basin Park.
[Erie Basin Park, which opened in 2008 in Red Hook, Brooklyn, is a poorly maintained privately owned public park. All photos by Nathan Kensinger.]
Erie Basin Park, a tree-lined ribbon of asphalt at the edge of Red Hook, Brooklyn, was opened in 2008. The park is owned and operated by Ikea, and was a requirement demanded by the NYC Planning Commission when it allowed the furniture chain to build on the city's waterfront. To construct its park and store, Ikea demolished the Todd Shipyard, an active ship repair facility dating back to the Civil War. The resulting park features several industrial elements salvaged from the shipyard, along with a series of waterfront esplanades and seating areas. The most popular feature of the park is its Water Taxi pier, where crowds of shoppers run to catch the free ferry back to Manhattan.
Erie Basin Park's current condition raises questions about the city's public/private park partnerships. Last month, DNAinfo exposed the park as "an illicit al fresco hook-up spot for neighborhood teens," and its bushes are still littered with used condoms, beer bottles, cigarillo wrappers and empty dime bags from nighttime visitors. Even during the daytime, the park feels unsupervised, with children pulling paving stones from pathways to throw into the water and a family picnicking on a lawn dotted with pesticide warnings. Although police patrols are a common sight, graffiti covers many park surfaces and several historical placards and signs have been destroyed by vandals. In 2008, the park's designer Lee Weintraub told The Architects Newspaper, "you have to make a judgment whether Brooklyn has gotten equal value for the zoning change that yielded the blue box." That question remains unanswered.
The park's waterfront esplanades and iconic cranes are popular with visiting shoppers
The esplanades offer panoramic views of Red Hook's industrial and post-industrial landscape.
The esplanades are also lined with a variety of semi-private seating areas.
In the daytime, shoppers use the park's benches to recover.
At night, the more secluded lounging areas are reportedly used by local teens as a lover's lane.
One Red Hook resident told DNAinfo "It's condom central. The lawn chairs are a bordello." Used condoms and empty dime bags litter the bushes and ground.
Further into the park, piers jut out into the bay, straddled by cranes that remind visitors of its past as a shipyard.
The demolition of the shipyard and its graving dock was dubbed "a $1B blunder" by the NY Post in 2008, when it was revealed that the city would need 3 more graving docks by 2016.
The graving dock was filled in for a parking lot, and its outline has been traced into the asphalt with paving stones. The parking lot is rarely (if ever) full.
Other reminders of the park's industrial past are bolted down inside several pens.
Most shoppers rush by these pens on their way to catch the free Water Taxi service back to Manhattan.
The Water Taxi departs, passing one of several incorrectly installed elements. This signpost locates Buffalo in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and puts Havana in Canada.