Parks and public plazas are typically urban escapes you’d expect to find at street level, but when your neighborhood hosts a league of industrial warehouses, wastewater treatment plants, and sits along one of the most polluted estuaries in the country, it’s time to look up. While environmental groups toil to clean up the Newton Creek river, community leaders decided to create the Newton Creek Wildflower Roof as a luscious green space that helps support local wildlife and brings nature back to the area.
Newtown Creek hardly flows, but rather rests between New York City’s boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens with a toxic combo of spilled oil, city sewage and other sludge. Thankfully, community groups are fighting to clean up the mess below and others are beautifying the spaces above. The seeds for the Newtown Creek Wildflower Roof were first planted in 2015 when Marni Majorelle and her landscape design company Alive Structures, the Newtown Creek Alliance, and the New York City Audubon applied for funding from the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund. Their goal: to cultivate native flora that will support birds and insects in the neighborhood.
“I have lived and worked in Greenpoint since 2002 and have been involved in local environmental issues while also running Alive Structures with my husband,” Majorelle said. “We had often imagined one day working on a landscaping project in Greenpoint that would help reduce the pollution in this industrial neighborhood, and create open green space for people and pollinators to use.”
The group’s funding request was approved for a 22,000-square-foot green roof atop Broadway Stage’s building on 520 Kingsland Avenue along Newtown Creek and in 2016, the first 10,000 square feet of green roof were installed. Today, the wildflower roof is covered with Prairie Dropseed grass and over twenty different native flowers species, including Orange Butterfly Weed, Tall Tickseed, Purple Coneflower, and Bee Balm. Busy bees can be seen pollinating the garden, buzzing from one bloom to the next while the massive silver “digester eggs” of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant loom in the distance. A spherical water fountain sculpture, the Aqualens by British artist Allison Armour, was installed this spring and serves as the center piece for the wildflower roof.
“I saw her work in a British garden design magazine and thought it would be perfect on our roof,” Majorelle said. “One of the main environmental benefits of green roofs is reducing water pollution. So I thought that Ms. Armour’s piece was a simple but powerful statement, which would help visitors reflect on the importance of water and our local environment.”
Alive Structures is also working with Broadway Stages to introduce green roofs on its other buildings and using its funding to host workshops, festivals and educational lectures that get community members involved in the neighborhood’s revitalization. The upcoming Kingsland Wildflowers Sensorium (August 19 1pm–7pm) will be a celebration of the Greenpoint community and expose residents to ecology preservation through sensory stimulation, crafts and more. The 2nd Annual Kingsland Wildflowers Festival (September 23 12pm–4pm) invites all to explore the green roof and hopefully spark environmental activism in North Brooklyn.
The Newtown Creek Wildflower Roof is still a project in progress with another 10,000 square feet currently being installed, but what currently exists is already a mini neighborhood oasis in a neglected pocket of industrial sites and gritty corners.
All images by Dorkys Ramos for Inhabitat