Demolition of industrial tanks in Brooklyn raises protests

A petition to save 10 relict industrial tanks has failed in favour of a public park on Brooklyn’s waterfront. What option should have been pursued?

Despite a petition and alternative proposals made over the course of the past months, ten industrial oil tanks set on a small piece of coastal land in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, are going to be demolished and replaced by a public park (the Bushwick Inlet Park).

Even if it doesn’t sound that outrageous considering New York’s tradition of replacing architectural heritage with real estate skyscrapers, questions on different possible approaches emerged, more akin with attitudes a la High Line – so far the best known reuse project of an industrial archaeology in the Big Apple.

“The demolition of the tanks is estimated at a cost of $22.1 million and risks releasing toxic fumes into the air” stated the two main activist for the preservation of the tanks, Karen Zabarsky and Stacey Anderson. “Adaptive reuse would have been safe, sustainable, and—by preserving some of New York’s irreplaceable civic history—ensured that future generations would have had a place to learn and discover their shared past.”

The alternative proposal was as simple as reusing the structures as public amenities for the local creative community, with vertical gardens, theatres, performance spaces and so on.

The Tanks, video by PLANE–SITE

The main criticism brought forward by the activists was that of not giving enough space for a proper debate on the future of the tanks: as far as the petition reveals, more than a thousand people signed in favour of the reuse scenario.

“The Tanks team determined that preserving the structures would not only give the chance to create a dynamic, interactive, and educational public space, but would have been the more affordable, safe, practical and sustainable option,” continue Zabarsky and Anderson in an email sent to architecture magazines worldwide.

This is not the first time an industrial skyline is torn down in Brooklyn: also the Maspeth Holders have undergone the same fate in 2001, leaving a sense of nostalgia to many of the inhabitants of the area.

If the struggle to preserve the tanks has been lost, it is to say that the Bushwick Inlet Park is the result of yet another, bigger, battle – won successfully – to preserve the waterfront from massive high-rise construction and gentrification.

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