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Environmental Issues and the Future of the Harbor

Industrial Map of New York City Showing Manufacturing Industries. [New York]: Merchants’ Association of New York, 1922. NYPL, The Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division. Digital ID 1691410.

From Rye Beach to Sandy Hook, the shoreline offers a touch of nature to balance our urban experience, and a place to enjoy fishing, nature walks, swimming, and other playtime activities. With the renewal of the Hudson River, even kayaking has become safe and popular.

But the news is not all good. Oysters the size of dinner plates disappeared from the harbor long ago. Whales are no longer seen in the Hudson, and most fish claimed from its waters are not fit to be eaten in quantity, if at all. Pollution, worn-out piers and aging infrastructure, chemical and sewage spills, all have taken their toll.

What is being done, and what is still to be done, to save and improve this grand entrance to the nation? Newtown Creek has been an environmental disaster since the mid-19th century, as articles, reports, and maps well document. Today, an activist community works toward its restoration and its future as a community asset. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Coney Island was a wonderland of Ferris wheels, whiplashing rides, restaurants, hotels, and more. Currently, this resort and respite from city life faces pressure for new development.

A colorful example of the renewable spirit of the shoreline and the city closes the exhibition: recycled beach glass is arranged as a memento in mosaic form to the 400-year-old Dutch city below the wall, Nieuw Amsterdam. Perhaps our participation in respecting and saving our river and harbor environments will add to the optimism we all hold about this great Port of New York and New Jersey. We hope visitors take away from this exhibition both the wonder of the port’s history and a commitment to its future.


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