Portify as we fortify: maritime & resiliency, MARAD & FEMA

Portify as we fortify: maritime & resiliency, MARAD & FEMA

I am concerned that superstorm Sandy could drown a good idea. By that I mean, that the focus on protecting NYC from water could prevent NYC from "activating the waterways" with greater and more diverse uses such as advocated by Vision 2020, the city's second comprehensive (and great) waterfront plan. "Activation" is urban planner speak for use them more.

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"Boats block the view" & other odd & boat-unfriendly NYC concepts

PortSide was founded to bring change to NYC’s waterfront, to make the waterways better used, to bring boats to communities, to change NYC policy. 

Via our visiting vessel program, and by inventing Kayak Valet, we have brought many boats to Brooklyn, but getting the permits and the access was crushingly tough (except for Kayak Valet which was a breeze, and we are thrilled that the term and practice is now common in NYC.)

Thanks to our eight-year real estate search to create a place called PortSide NewYork, a home for our MARY A. WHALEN and visting vessels of all types, we have studied and/or negotiated with over 20 sites in NYC.  This means we know where the opportunities - and the obstacles - are.  We are funneling what we’ve learned to policy makers, and will soon start a public awareness campaign.

The city has piers that are designated for boats that were not built well for boats.  The city has rules that add other layers of impediments. 

Did you know that historic houses in NYC Parks have resident housekeepers, but New York City policy often prohibits resident shipkeepers who would similarly protect and maintain historic ships?

Did you know that NYC has a policy that states “boats block the view”? Buildings face no such absolute prohibition. Building zoning is calibrated to building function, size, location.  “Boats block the view” has kept our MARY A. WHALEN off several piers. We’re out to change that rule, and others.

NYC has a reputation on the eastern seaboard for being a boat-unfriendly town. The thrust of NYC's first 20 years of waterfront revitalization, before Vision 2020, was getting people to the water's edge NOT onto, into or using the water itself.

The impediments prevent non-profit and commercial marine operators alike. They prevent major maritime festivals and single historic ships from visiting NYC, and prevent NYC's own historic ships from easily moving around the city to serve the public.  Such impediments limit dinner, charter and excursion boat options, community sailing programs, marinas, kayaking programs and the workboat sector of the industrial waterfront.

Would you like more boats in your community? Summer ship camp? After school programs afloat?  More maritime jobs? The chance to take a dinner cruise or leave on fly fishing cruise from your own neighborhood?  Activity on a dormant pier in your neighborhood?  Do you have a boat, boating program or business looking for a space in NYC?  Leave us a comment below to let us know.

Help us continue this work and grow our programs

Support our fundraiser on Tuesday 10/28/14Resiliency is our HOOK.” Buy a ticket. Become a sponsor. Join the Host Committee and help sell tickets before the event. It will be a fun event with the rollicking Dixieland jazz of the Red Hook Ramblers and the great food and casual ambiance of Hometown Bar-B-Que restaurant.  We greatly appreciate your support!   As do the people and businesses who benefit from our resiliency work!

Red Hook's Valentino Park - Comfort Station 9-24-14 community meeting

January 2018 update

DOT has approved a sidewalk toilet.   Red Hook, we have been heard! Remember all those meetings about a big, expensive "comfort station" proposed for our charming waterfront park Valentino Park? That concept was defeated, and a small, sidewalk toilet is coming via the DOT. Thanks to everyone for participating in public meetings, on-line discussions with us, and other modes. Community action worked! A special shout out to Anne Griepenburg who researched the Portland Loo which presented an alternative that appealed to many and may have swung government decision around to that kind of solution. Toilet Party any one? It has the great acronym of TP. We hear that there is a spring installation expected, but we are still waiting on confirmation.

September 25, 2014

Our Director Carolina Salguero attended the following meeting last night and wrote the following summary. Notes were taken by others, and we will make them available as we get them

From Parks Department PDF. See link at left for full PDF.

From Parks Department PDF. See link at left for full PDF.

Wed 9/24 7:30pm, 351 Van Brunt St.
Carolina Salguero notes

Here is a PDF with Parks proposal for the comfort station


A meeting of about 40 people was held over about two hours. The meeting was designed as a community conversation meaning Community Board 6, Parks, elected officials or media were not invited. The Red Hook Star Revue was asked to leave.  However, Peterson Napoleon, a staffer from NYS Assemblyman Felix Ortiz office was there which was only made clear after he spoke up midway through the meeting. He stayed.  Given the request for the media to leave and some of the passions in the room,  we do not mention names of speakers below when describing proposals, questions or statements people made.

There was little interest in the meeting in the idea that one would be able to see the Statue of Liberty from the proposed Comfort Station as shown in this rendering. Saving the lawn was a far greater priority.

There was little interest in the meeting in the idea that one would be able to see the Statue of Liberty from the proposed Comfort Station as shown in this rendering. Saving the lawn was a far greater priority.

A significant portion of the beginning of the meeting was spent venting frustration with Parks, CB6, the City, etc for not being sensitive to Red Hook.  This was intertwined with discussion about how do we discuss this? Who moderates? Passions ran high.

Things settled down and discussion got into various aspects of the Parks planning and outreach process, the status and amount of the whopping $2.4MM for the comfort station, who wants toilets and not, who is represented at the meeting and not, etc.

Towards the end of meeting, there was a lot of discussion about how to capture the points in the meeting, share the info about the meeting and the Parks proposal with the community, whether to have another prep meeting before a meeting with Carlos Menchaca on 10/8 or 10/9; and discussion, pro and con, about the way Red Hook tackles planning issues and when to use anger or not.

(correction added 9/27/14. It was decided to write a press release. Once we get that, we will post it here.)

Toilets yes or no

There was a lot of concern that the Parks plan took up alot of popular lawn space with the building, the access ramps and with the landscaping

There was a lot of concern that the Parks plan took up alot of popular lawn space with the building, the access ramps and with the landscaping

Early in the meeting there was a show of hands vote which showed that about half the room, maybe a tad more, was for no toilets at all, the other half for some toilet but not this version in this location.  (correction, first draft here omitted that there was a later vote that came out in  favor of a smaller toilet in a different location so there was some evolution in the course of the meeting.)

Criticism of the toilet form (as opposed to its planning process):

Too big, too expensive, in the wrong place in the park, bad for taking away green space, ugly, not sensitive to 19th Century buildings.

Specific Points for Follow Up:

Questions about Parks Process

View from the ADA ramp or Ferris Street side

View from the ADA ramp or Ferris Street side

What are the stages of this process? Meaning what happens moving forward so RH community can understand how we can or how much we can influence?  “Can CB6 rubber stamp this without RH involvement?” was asked in various ways.

There were many questions about how did this come about? Is there a documented request? What metrics does Parks use to prove need for toilets? (Comparisons were made to Red Hook Ballfields and Central Park that are much larger and have more visitors and would have a lower toilet-tovisitor ratio than Valentino would have if this 4-stall comfort station were built.)

There was some discussion about whether it was locals or visitors who needed toilets. Some people were of the “who cares about the visitors” persuasion, others not.

Can a survey be conducted of the park users to see how many want toilets? This was a popular question.

Finance questions

How locked in is the $1.4MM? Is it locked into that park? That project?

View from the stair side or western side.

View from the stair side or western side.

$50,000 to use for Valentino Park is paid annually by Hughes Marine (a give back for the Police evidence lot on the Erie Basin breakwater).  We were told this is supposed to be for Valentino Park but has been put in Parks general fund. It was suggested, too much agreement, that we need to get that pulled out of general and applied to Valentino.

There was general, strong agreement that the price tag for this thing was too high.

Planning parameters

Design criteria: what are they for this design (from FEMA, to DEC, zoning, building code, etc) so we can propose informed alternates.

Portapotties: Can seasonal portapotties be used rather than anything permanent?

Property lines:

  • There needs to be more clarity about where street end and private property lines are on the Van Dyke Street side.

  • Is there anything that can be used in that asphalt area or is that all private property?

  • [Note: the DOT, at least under Bloomberg, had a Street End program that supports public uses; and if the street end abuts the park, there might be some way to use DOT space as public open space.]

Love the lawn: The room was strongly for protecting the green and either wanted an absolute “don’t build on the green” or had a strong primary interest in avoiding building on the green. Those two points covered just about everyone there.

There was strong appreciation for “natural” plantings and style of the park.

Heavily used site wiped out by toilets There was a strong sense that Parks did not understand how heavily used the section where they’ve placed the comfort station is.  It was referred to as a children’s play area, BBQ area, area heavily used by “poor people who are not represented here.”

DEC Do they have jurisdiction here or not? One speaker said that DEC has signed off,  and that they did not.

Wish list:

There was considerable discussion covering “If we could spend this money on what we want, or get money for what we want.”  This was held partly in the hope that some of the $2.4MM could be directed elsewhere but also to be able to make Parks better understand the community use and needs relative to this park:

Garbage cans.  More of them and cans for recyclables. One person said could those be bundled with toilets under category “waste” as a way to use the allocated funds for things other than bathrooms.

Hose: Some way to wash down the fish guts etc on end of the pier left by fisherman. A hand-pump was proposed that used salt water to cut down cost (and disruption to park) of installing a line connected to City water mains.

Beach: A way to make the beach more suitable for toddlers/small children. How was not clearly defined; the comment was that it seemed iffy for little ones.

BoatBox  PortSide’s BoatBox plans to turn the container used by the Red Hook Boaters into a better amenity for all park users, visiting kayakers, and the Boaters themselves. The current container came to service the park via work done by PortSide and the Red Hook Boaters; and the agreement was that Boaters had use of the inside and that PortSide’s program space was the outside of the container and that PortSide would take the lead there, consulting with the Boaters during the process.


Bush Terminal Piers Park in Sunset Park toilets were mentioned a few times at tonight's meeting.The architects site for them is here

Est4te Four – there was a proposal to approach them and ask them to build the comfort station solution. There was a variation whereby someone proposed that, when Est4te Fou asked for their variance to build, that the community demand that they build bathrooms as their give back in the way that O'Connell had to provide public access to the waterfront and an esplanade.

Brooklyn Bridge Park toilets by Jane’s Carousel  These photos were requested but for some reason Benjamin Peikes photos posted on the Facebook page for Mary A. Whalen  were not visible on the iPad or a phone.  They are in this two-photo slide show.

That concludes our notes from the meeting

With the goal of informing the discussion, here are some links from comments on our Facebook page about existing small-footprint, lower-cost toilets

The City of Portland, Oregon has had a public toilet design process. Here are several links. Thank you Anne Griepenberg for the info about Portland's work posted to our Mary A. Whalen Facebook page.

City of Portland Parks & Recreation public loo webpage

A blogpost describes the design and reveals that there is a public restroom competition in Canada, a source of more info, though the Portland unit won, they say.  The Portland Loo

Tech specs for Portland Loo

Tips for making Loos that Last - Blogpost
 Article revealing that they cost $60,000 each

More on FEMA Given some discussion about whether the comfort station could be wetproofed rather than raised Here is FEMA ino on wet floodproofing

Other groups discussing public toilet design

PHLUSH is also out of Portland. "PHLUSH believes that toilet availability is a human right and that well-designed sanitation facilities restore health to our cities, our waters and our soils."

The Poop Project

American Restroom Association

NYC's own public toilet design


Report on Red Hook meeting about Valentino Park hosted by Carlos Menchaca with the Parks Department

Valentino Park, Red Hook, Brooklyn. The little park with the big view. 

Valentino Park, Red Hook, Brooklyn. The little park with the big view. 

Red Hook, Brooklyn has a small jewel with a big view in the Louis J. Valentino Park and Pier.  The place inspired an August uproar due to unannounced renovation project by the Parks Department.

To set the scene, this park is heavily used by old-timers and newbies, dog walkers, fishermen, sunbathers, kids, seniors, an occasional croquet game, the outdoor movie series Red Hook Flicks and the Red Hook Boaters who offer free kayaking and conduct beach clean ups. 

The use of the park has ramped up due to a great food and activity scene which sprang up post hurricane Sandy on the Van Dyke Street end on the parks southeast side with the Steve's Key Lime Pie and Hometown BBQ setting up outdoor eating areas. Brooklyn Motor Works is running a cool motorcycle biz next door, and there is a forge across the street at She-Weld and Pier 44 Antiques auction house (they also sell retail) next to that. In short, a Red Hook scene.

2005 renovation of Valentino Park

2005 renovation of Valentino Park

So.... not surprisingly, when fences went up around Valentino Park recently without any prior notice from the Parks department, there was community concern - concerns heightened by the fact that Red Hook's Coffey Park was shut down for renovations without notice this year, and Valentino Park underwent a similar surprise lockdown for renovations in 2005. 

Last night, Councilman Carlos Menchaca convened and ran a great meeting with the Parks Department and the community, and THE COMMUNITY WAS HEARD

Hats off to Carlos Menchaca for organizing this meeting and running it so well. Thank you, Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Jeffrey for coming out, for apologizing for lack of notice to the community about the project, for committing to do better and change the process, and for being willing to take input on some design issues regarding proposed repair near a bulkhead.

The community and CM Carlos Menchaca conveyed that there needs to be more communication from Parks in the future and more opportunity for community input. People expressed concerns about process and design. Great comments by Victoria Hagman, Dan Daniel Wiley, Lillie Marshall, Danella Johnson, Tony Schloss, and many others.

In sum, the Parks work plan is the following

  • This is, in Parks' terms, a small $118,000 project that should be completed within a month.
  • Most of the park will stay open during the work.
  • Access to the pier and the beach will remain open during the work.
  • Work needs to finish well before winter weather because asphalt plants close when temperatures drop below 45 degrees.
Red Hook Boaters in action!

Red Hook Boaters in action!

The work is occurring because Parks wanted to fix the broken water fountain over near Coffey Street and in order to make that project large enough for a capital project, they bundled that work with some other repairs, - all of this happening because they have some discretionary money in the budget.

Those "other repairs" are fixing the walkways parallel to the water (NOT the central walkway to the pier) through the park in the following ways: The smaller walks near the water are "aggregate" (gravel in plain English) bounded by low steel rails; the problem with this design is that the aggregate has "migrated" (or spread in plain English) far from the walkways. This means that the walkways are now lower than the steel rails, and those rails are now a tripping hazard.

Another walkway issue is the 8-9" step from walkway up to the pier on the SE (or Steve's Key Lime Pie) side of the pier walkway, and that's tough on seniors and the disabled and a trip-n-fall hazard to all us distracted folks.

Short term band aid vs long term resiliency

Lastly, and this is were the big focus and passion of the discussion about the renovation design centered, was how and why Parks proposed to deal with a zone on that same SE side of the pier where salt water comes over the bulkhead, puddles, and then drains back out to sea - in the process, killing vegetation and taking the soil with it, eg leading to a situation that at some point will create sinkholes and a collapsed bulkhead.

The difference of opinion here was that Parks wanted to do a quick repair to prevent a big future job and the hazard of sinkholes by raising the land so that it was level with the bulkhead and putting an asphalt cap (with sand and cement below) over PART of the area there so that water would drain from the asphalt back to sea.

Parks could have brought a better rendering showing what would become asphalt and what would be planting in this new domed better-drained hump of park - there was a lot of confusion about what was staying green and not.

At the meeting last night, many community members asked the Parks department for more green and less asphalt. There is heavy use of the small green space in Valentino Park.

At the meeting last night, many community members asked the Parks department for more green and less asphalt. There is heavy use of the small green space in Valentino Park.

Many community members did not want more asphalt in the park. Victoria Hagman suggested that Parks seek input on more green and resilient design practices, citing Gita Nandan as one possible contributor.  Dan Wiley from Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez office mentioned that the $200MM integrated flood protection plan coming to Red Hook might replace or better what Parks is proposing. (In the after-meeting chatter, some questioned whether the $200MM plan would be built long after that spot has a major sinkhole.)

Parks pointed out that they don't have budget now to re-design or use more costly materials.

Landscape architects vs BLUEspace architects

As waterfront advocates, we want to interject, supporting what Commissioner Jeffrey admitted last night,  that this salt-spray, sinkhole-prone section of the park was NOT well designed from the outset. (PS, its surface treatment of plantings etc was installed during the 2005 renovation.)

Somewhere in our files is a photo of salt spray heavily dousing newly planted "beach roses" which soon died in that spot.

In our opinion, it was typical of how NYC waterfront park design is dominated by landscape architects and not water people. Where are the BLUEspace architects? Piers designed for boats?

PortSide offering line throwing activity at Red Hook Fest in Valentino Park 2011

PortSide offering line throwing activity at Red Hook Fest in Valentino Park 2011

Breaking down the silos

PortSide Director Carolina Salguero picked up on Dan Wiley's comment about NY Rising resiliency work. She was on the NY Rising committee, and PortSide has done a lot of recovery and resiliency planning work since Hurricane Sandy.  Salguero asked if the collapsed water line under Coffey Street to the drinking fountain was related to the frequent HUGE puddle that sits on the west end of Coffey Street after a rain.

Storm drain problems were a big focus of the NY Rising effort. Parks could not answer that on the spot, and said they would ask their engineer for info.

At PortSide, we always try and break down silos and develop cross talk, so the hope with this question is that a Parks project could lead to info that would inform a DEP project the Red Hook NY Rising committee hopes to see. Sounds simple, but NYC agency cross-talk and info-share is harder than one would expect.

Next steps

As design-by-community could not solve the "how to cap and drain the proposed dome," it was agreed that the community would do some homework and get ideas to Parks.

Everyone needs to bear in mind that there is not a lot of budget here, so AFFORDABLE concepts need to be submitted. As to whether or how design changes could be made due to city process on how to bid and let a job, over to Carlos and Parks for answer.

Est4te Four, who is developing all the property across Coffey Street from Valentino, will want the Coffey Street Lake resolved, so Red Hook may see a solution due to private development.

NEXT ISSUE for Valentino Park" Parks proposal to install a "comfort station" eg bathrooms over by the Coffey Street side near Ferris. Come to a Brooklyn Community Board 6 meeting on Wed 9/17 6:30pm at the Miccio Center for discussion of that (and Coffey Park) as well as the Columbus Day weekend concert on Pier 9 in the Red Hook Container Term

Waterfront Assets info for NY Rising Community Reconstruction Program (CRP) Red Hook Committee

Our Director Carolina Salguero is on the Red Hook committee of the NYS resiliency planning process "CRP."  That process has stressed that the planning exercise is about more than recovery, or flood prevention and mitigation.  It is supposed to take a long and broad view which includes economic resiliency years into the future.

This emphasis prompted Carolina Salguero to make some suggestions regarding Red Hook's waterfront assets, both their potential and the impediments to reaching their potential. She wrote a document to cover what was not being said in the CRP discussion that seemed essential to get into "Needs and Opportunities" document that was due on 10/28, a document that was first described as "a conceptual plan for Red Hook" and then later as a guide for issues to be discussed.  PortSide shares that document below.

Many of the themes about policy, permits and pier design reflect citywide issues, so this blogpost has relevance beyond Red Hook and beyond Sandy issues.

The document is marked DRAFT as it was done in a rush due to a NYS deadline of 10/28 for that  "Needs and Opportunities" document,. DRAFT signifying that it will be updated. After discussion at PortSide, we decided it was important to get this information out and shared without further delay given the pace of the CRP process -- also given the pace of the Bill de Blasio transition team. 

PortSide, along with many other waterfront operators and advocates hopes that the impediments described will be lifted. NYC created a great road map for activating the waterfront, and the water part of the waterfront, in its new comprehensive waterfront plan "Vision 2020."  Many of the changes proposed here would move the city towards fulfilling the great promise of that plan.

Download document Carolina Salguero waterfront suggestions for Red Hook CRP Committee 10/23/13

Some excerpts

“Understanding Red Hook waterfront options means understanding a lot of arcane regulation and policy, so I have written up the following observations and suggestions to help Red Hook committee members of the CRP who are not waterfront people. “

“Red Hook is a peninsula. Water is therefore our greatest resiliency challenge due to the risk of floods, but water is also the defining feature of this place and our greatest economic asset.”

“If nothing else, consider the clout: the largest land owner in Red Hook looks to be the Port Authority, and Red Hook’s relationship with the Port could be grown and improved. The Committee should be sitting down with the major property owners.”

“Understanding and capturing the potential of Red Hook’s waterfront involves understanding and engaging a constituency that is not usually at the table in Red Hook planning discussions, the maritime community.”

Action Items

Use CRP to improve NYS & NYC policy regarding pier design & use:

1.    Change State Dept of Environmental Conservation (DEC) policy regarding permits to install or repair a pier
2.    Change NYC policy, to go beyond just “access to the waterfront” to promote use of the water itself.
3.    Change NYC policy regarding pier design & management

Longer Term Improvement Opportunities

o    Brooklyn Cruise Terminal Shed
o    Brooklyn Cruise Terminal Parking Lot
o    Atlantic Basin
            Reality Check: limitations on Atlantic Basin waterspace use
o    Valentino Park
o    A Home for PortSide NewYork


A.    A Home for PortSide NewYork
B.    DEC Impediments to pier repair and construction

Testimony to New York City Council
Committee on Waterfronts
Re: 6/15/05 Regulatory Obstacles to Waterfront Development

C.    Frequent impediments to boat use of piers in NYC