The Accidental Playground: Brooklyn Waterfront Narratives of the Undesigned and Unplanned

The Accidental Playground: Brooklyn Waterfront Narratives of the Undesigned and Unplanned

Daniel Campo

Language: English

Pages: 304

ISBN: 0823251861

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Highly illustrated and artfully researched, the book will draw readers into a unique space in one of New York City's most popular boroughs.

The Accidental Playground explores the remarkable landscape created by individuals and small groups who occupied and rebuilt an abandoned Brooklyn waterfront. While local residents, activists, garbage haulers, real estate developers, speculators, and two city administrations fought over the fate of the former Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal (BEDT), others simply took to this decaying edge, transforming it into a unique venue for leisure, creative, and everyday practices. These occupiers and do-it-yourself builders created their own waterfront parks and civic spaces absent every resource needed for successful urban development, including plans, designs, capital, professional assistance, consensus, and permission from the waterfront's owners. Amid trash, ruins, weeds, homeless encampments, and the operation of an active garbage transfer station, they inadvertently created the "Brooklyn Riviera" and made this waterfront a destination that offered much more than its panoramic vistas of the Manhattan skyline. The terminal evolved into the home turf for unusual and sometimes spectacular recreational, social, and creative subcultures, including the skateboarders who built a short-lived but nationally renowned skatepark, a twenty-five-piece "public" marching band, fire performance troupes, artists, photographers, and filmmakers. At the same time it served the basic recreational needs of local residents. Collapsing piers became great places to catch fish, sunbathe, or take in the views; the foundation of a demolished warehouse became an ideal place to picnic, practice music, or do an art project; rubble-strewn earth became a compelling setting for film and fashion shoots; a broken bulkhead became a beach; and thick patches of weeds dotted by ailanthus trees became a jungle. These reclamations, all but ignored by city and state governments and property interests that were set to transform this waterfront, momentarily added to the distinctive cultural landscape of the city's most bohemian and rapidly changing neighborhood.

Drawing on a rich mix of documentary strategies, including observation, ethnography, photography, and first-person narrative, Daniel Campo probes this accidental playground, allowing those who created it to share and examine their own narratives, perspectives, and conflicts. The multiple constituencies of this waterfront were surprisingly diverse, their stories colorful and provocative. When taken together, Campo argues, they suggest a radical reimagining of urban parks and public spaces, and the practices by which they are created and maintained.

The Accidental Playground, which treats readers to an utterly compelling story, is an exciting and distinctive contribution to the growing literature on unplanned spaces and practices in cities today.




















mostly appropriated by adjacent property owners and businesses, denying residents of all but a glimpse of the water, often from hundreds of feet inland. The irony of being denied access to the water was downright cruel. The decline of shipping and waterfront industries beginning in the mid–twentieth century had robbed these working-class neighborhoods of jobs and wealth. But even after industry had left, residents found that their waterfront was often less accessible than before, with port

Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, internal document (June 28, 2007). 3. With funding from a J. M. Kaplan fund grant, the Friends of BEDT State Park and Brooklyn Architects Collective sponsored a design competition that generated a few submissions. The Friends and BAC ultimately asked the various submitters to collaborate on a single plan. The resulting plan, “East River State Park: From Public Process to Public Space,” completed in 2006, was sustainability-themed and won an American

surfaces. But tucked behind the terminal’s only remaining building were two long expanses of concrete, each slightly pitched toward the water. These were the one-time foundations of freight houses into which bulk materials were unloaded from rail cars that ran on flanking tracks. While concrete is the preferred medium for skateboarders, these surfaces were covered with so much garbage, debris, and weeds that they hardly suggested a potential skateboarder’s paradise.1 But in late 1999,

southwest corner of the Slab. I waited with them. Toto said the others would be there soon, but a half hour passed and still no one had showed. I asked if they were sure that the others were coming; had the session had been canceled? Toto reassured me—this was their regular practice gig; it had definitely not been canceled. The band had been practicing here every Sunday almost since its inception more than three years earlier. By 2000, coming down to the waterfront on Sundays was not something

loft. In exchange for performing there regularly on Friday and Saturday nights, they were allowed to practice free of charge on evenings when there was no other scheduled programming. While lacking a public, outdoor dynamic, the Lunatarium was in some respects like BEDT, with its share of eclectic events and parties that sometimes included the spinners or HMB, as well as the works of some of the artists discussed in the next chapter. The 1337 Collective was in fact part of its famed Burning Man

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