Welcome back to Camera Obscura, Curbed's series of photo essays by Nathan Kensinger. This week, as part of an ongoing series on soon-to-change neighborhoods, Kensinger visits Arverne East on the Rockaway peninsula of Queens.
[Arverne East, an 81-acre city property that has been abandoned for decades, may soon be redeveloped]
The Rockaway neighborhood of Edgemere is home to one of New York City's last great wastelands, an 81-acre stretch of oceanfront property that has sat abandoned for over 40 years. Now known as Arverne East, this city owned, man-made wilderness has a long history dating back to the 1800's, when its landscape was dominated by summer bungalows and beachside resorts. By the 1970's, a failed urban renewal scheme had left the area empty, and its crumbling sidewalks and empty building foundations were overtaken by nature. Today, the neighborhood is covered in forests and meadows which hide elaborate homeless camps, communal dump sites, oyster middens, and torched cars.
Onto this blank and lawless canvas, many have projected their ideas for a new community. Failed redevelopment plans have come from groups including Forest City Ratner and the Reichmann family, which once proposed to build Destination Technodome atop the wasteland. The latest proposal to redevelop Arverne East was recently put forward by a group called FAR ROC (For a Resilient Rockaway), which announced the winner of a design contest for the neighborhood on October 23rd. The plan, called Small Means and Great Ends, proposes a housing and park complex based on "the Scandinavian Model of economic efficiency and welfare state benefits," to be superimposed over the existing landscape, which is one of the most unique in New York City. Like the Iron Triangle and the SPURA, years of abandonment and neglect have warped Arverne East into a strange and singular environment which may soon be erased.
The streets in southern Edgemere are ghostly shadows of their former selves, with sidewalks fading into sand and overgrowth.
Though owned by the city, neighborhood roads are not maintained. Any project created here will have to build new "roadways, water mains, sanitary and storm sewers, utilities, smart grids, etc.," according to FAR ROC.
Arverne East's open land stretches for over 20 city blocks. This area, near a public school, has been slated to be replaced by housing and a wetland park by FAR ROC's winning development proposal.
The community playgrounds have been long abandoned. The proposal, by Swedish firm White Arkitekter, plans to create a pair of "storm water parks" and a nature preserve with a birdwatching tower.
The neighborhood is currently used as a communal dumping sites. Entire households have been emptied into the overgrowth.
Numerous homeless camps are located in the middle of city blocks, with walkways beaten into the bushes and reeds. The White proposal claims it will create "a new home for the community of Arverne East."
Discarded sofas, mattresses, and dressers are common finds on sidewalks and in streets. Many are undisturbed for weeks on end.
This abandoned bathtub sat roadside for over a month. This entire area was completely submerged during Hurricane Sandy.
A household emptied into a street that has been overgrown by a forest. A nature preserve managed by the Parks Department is proposed for this section of Arverne East.
Household debris blocking a road. Aside from a scattering of street signs, the city does little to maintain south Edgemere.
New curb cuts were installed several years ago, and they are slowly being overtaken by nature and sand. New sidewalks were not installed.
An out of service fire department call box, located close to a torched car. The nearby neighborhood in north Edgemere has a long history of violent crime.
An impromptu chop shop in the bushes, located across from one of the many abandoned fire hydrants in the neighborhood. A new town square is proposed for this section of Arverne East.
The city has recently replaced some fire hydrant caps, like the one seen here, which had a 10-year warranty tag still attached. A destroyed section of boardwalk sits in the background.
Much of the old wooden boardwalk in the neighborhood was washed into the wasteland by Hurricane Sandy, and large sections have yet to be replaced. The proposal by White architects includes several ideas for mitigating storm surges and flooding in the area.
Down the boardwalk to the west of Edgemere, Arverne By The Sea has slowly replaced another great wasteland in the Arverne Urban Renewal area with a new community.
Homes are still being built and sold in Arverne By The Sea, despite the ongoing recovery process in the Rockaways from severe flood and storm damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.
The future of these new oceanfront developments are difficult to predict, as sea levels continue to rise. A concrete boardwalk along the Arverne waterfront survived Hurricane Sandy, but if Small Means and Great Ends is ever built, will it survive the next superstorm?
· Camera Obscura archives [Curbed]
· FAR ROC coverage [Curbed]