The cyclical history of Hudson and East River piers in New York City works in a sort of stylistic parallel with neighborhoods. Generations ago, the piers were actually used according to their original conception: stevedores hauled things off arriving boats; nearby warehouses and factories stored and processed them. Then comes the period of decline: the industries and the jobs they supported dry up and blow away, leaving the docks to either get weird while the city looks the other way — as with the cruisy mustache-pasture that was once lower Manhattan’s Hudson River piers — or simply recede from view beneath the ravages of disuse and, like, mollusks. And then the life-after-death part: as once-industrial neighborhoods are reinvented as posh places to live, what’s left of the piers is belatedly recognized as a part of the neighborhood. Recently, the city has stepped in to ensure that once-derelict riverfront property in Brooklyn and Manhattan is becoming both kind of cool and surprisingly green. The new, turbocharged Brooklyn Bridge Park is an example of one (excellent) thing that can happen to this sort of space, but piers — the actual wood or concrete things jutting out into the river — are a trickier prospect. With all due respect to Brooklyn Bridge Park, it’s a lot easier to develop a green space with astonishing Manhattan views into a park people want to visit than it is to turn a sagging, soggy pier into something other than an eyesore. And yet that’s the task that’s being met, with varying degrees of success, in both Brooklyn and Manhattan right now.
Curbed reports that, on the Hudson River, the city is building a striking $11 million new home for the Fire Department’s Marine One boat at Pier 53. “It’s being built tall so that the mechanicals are up high, well above any rising flood waters,” Curbed’s Pete Davies writes. “The facade will be wrapped in a skin of zinc, designed to be both durable and low-maintenance.” All very cool (that’s a picture of it above) but, as the website of designers CR Studio reports, also very sustainable. While CR Studio’s official copy makes no mention of pursuing third-party certification, the enumerated uses of recycled materials, ultra-efficient HVAC system and optimized wind and solar orientation suggest that it was at least designed with sustainability in mind. The project was slated for a February 2010 move-in, and it’s not nearly there yet, but it’s clearly on its way.
In Brooklyn, an attempt to green-up some piers has run into a different problem — rather than being derelict, Red Hook’s piers remain very much in use. Which is kind of the problem, as Gary Buiso reports in the Brooklyn Paper. “American Stevedoring International said last Monday that it will proceed with a plan that will enable docked cargo ships to cut their on-board motors and plug into the mainland power grid — a process known as cold ironing,” Buiso writes. “Cargo ships will typically idle for as much as six hours while their goods are unloaded on the Columbia Street waterfront — and that befouls the neighborhood air.” The issue, here, is the intransigence of the Port Authority, which owns the docks and has announced that it plans to pursue “cold ironing” only with the cruise ships that dock in Red Hook. Which is noteworthy because there’s only one slip for cruise ships in Brooklyn, and it’s only in use between April and October. So maybe not as much of a difference-maker.
And not as much of a sense-maker, either, given that Buiso reports that it would be far easier to implement green operations for commercial ships than for Carnival Cruise Lines (the Red Hook piers’ tacky-floating-hotel tenant). Brooklyn’s Community Board 6 is into it, and American Stevedoring believes cold ironing would be a relative snap at the commercial piers. What that means for the eventual outcome in Red Hook remains to be seen, but we’ll keep an eye on both, obviously.