Nature Walk at Newtown Creek Water Pollution Control Plant

Quennell Rothschild & Partners has provided landscape architectural services for over 13 years for the multi-billion dollar upgrade of this water treatment plant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Starting with master planning for the entire site we went on to develop detailed landscape designs for each phase of construction, including two major Percent for Art projects, for each of which we worked closely with the site artists – Vito Acconci on a street front project and George Trakas on a waterfront park -collaboratively translating their visions into feasible designs and preparing fully detailed contract documents. Both of these projects allow community access to parts of the plant perimeter and provide neighborhood green spaces with landscaping to soften the edges of the facility, integrating the site with the neighborhood.

The first of these projects involved a collaboration with site artist George Trakas on the design of the nature walk – a linear waterfront walkway and an entry garden at the street access point. The first phase of the Nature Walk, completed in 2007 for NYC DEP, is a linear park and entrance garden that provides public waterfront access to Newtown creek and Whale Creek Canal, and will soon be extended to provide a continuous link around the edge of the water treatment plant.

The landscape elements are designed to enhance the characteristics of the site, using natural and marine related materials, such as wood, stone, unpainted metal, and native plant materials adapted to the tough environmental realities of the site. The site is designed to infiltrate storm water into the creek, and due to the low elevation of the Nature walk, the site materials and plant species were selected to withstand periods in inundation. The landscaped areas begin at the sidewalk, bringing the themes and elements of the waterfront walkway outside the site boundaries and into the neighborhood

The walkway and creek edge design provides a variety of close range water experiences with small pockets of stepped-down seating cut into the bulkhead edge, and an expanse of broad granite steps descending to the water where visitors can take in views city skyline and the boats and waterfowl in the creek. An informal pathway of crushed stone meanders along the creek edge, interspersed with native plantings, boulders and massive stone seating elements.

Many birds and butterflies have made a home here and provide a stark contrast to the surrounding industrial landscape. The Nature Walk provides a greener view of the treatment plant and allows visitors access to the Newtown Creek shoreline. The water quality has significantly improved in recent years, and fishing and kayaking in the creek have become popular around the site.

The Nature Walk also fulfills an educational role, and George Trakas designed signage to become part of the experience. Names of plants, animal and fish species are etched into rocks and boulders, as well as geological eras and Native American place names. Many of the plant species are identified by stainless steel plaques that also provide information on the wildlife and medicinal value of the plants.

Quennell Rothschild & Partners is currently working for NYC DDC to extend the Nature Walk to form a complete link around the northern portion of the site. We are leading a team of engineers and other specialists including ongoing collaboration with George Trakas. The new portions of the Nature Walk  will extend the park over Whale Creek Canal via a series of boat-shaped pile supported decks and a new bridge, and a new land based portion of the park will be constructed on a demapped street on the opposite bank of the Creek. The over-water connector will provide an experience unique to the neighborhood where visitors can walk across the creek and observe the water at close range.

At the land-based portion a former dead end street will be transformed into a green open space that extends the themes of the first phase, with native waterfront plantings and permeable paving materials, as well as shade structures designed by George Trakas. The park is designed with a curving stone swale that bisects the park, forming a spine that collects and channels water to rain garden planted areas, a suggests the streams that flowed through the area when it was undeveloped marshland.

The project challenge was to create a soft, planted, naturalistic landscape from the ground up in a constrained heavily industrial site. Quennell Rothschild & Partners developed soil profiles and subsurface drainage that would provide a suitable growing environment. We researched native plants that would survive in this environment, only a few feet above the Creek elevation, and selected wide variety of different plant species to showcase plants that would naturally occur along the upper banks of a Brooklyn creek.

The landscape design work makes a significant impact to the Greenpoint neighborhood – providing green space and recreational amenities for the community where none previously existed. The work has involved extensive permitting that includes approvals from NYC City Planning, NYS DEC, DEP, Army Corps of Engineers and Coast Guard, as well as liaison with the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee, the group that oversees the plant’s renovation, who have enthusiastically adopted the proposals and see the renovation as a source of neighborhood pride.

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