City Tech Conference Focuses on the Changing Nature of the Brooklyn Waterfront

Major players in Brooklyn waterfront development, academics and policy-makers turned out for a conference sponsored by City Tech’s Brooklyn Waterfront Research Center (BWRC) and City College’s University Transportation Research Center on March 21 at Brooklyn Borough Hall.

“Has the Brooklyn Waterfront Gone Global—Again?” focused on the waterfront’s rich history and, in particular, the ways the global reach of the waterfront has changed over time. City Tech professor Richard Hanley, conference co-organizer and director of the BWRC, presented the question of the conference as past, present and future: the global role before the Civil War and during the Industrial Revolution, the recovering waterfront today, and the challenge of sea-level rise and climate change in the future.

“Container ships almost killed the Brooklyn waterfront. But now that Brooklyn is a global brand, and the borough has experienced a renaissance, it is an open question whether its reborn waterfront will once again have a global reach—and if it does, what will that look like?” said Hanley.

Dr. Russell Hotzler, president of City Tech, presented opening remarks and described the BWRC as a place that produces research that “inspires an expanded view of the world in which we live,” and where coursework has been developed for students not only at City Tech but at institutions across the country.

Conference speakers included Marc Levinson, author of The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger; Prithi Kanakamedala, curator, Brooklyn Historical Society; Philip Orton, Stevens Institute of Technology; Mary Habstritt, industrial and maritime historian; and Michael Marrella, NYC Department of Planning. Roland Lewis, Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, moderated panel discussions with Regina Myer, Brooklyn Bridge Park; Thomas Epting, Uncommon Goods; Thomas Outerbridge, SIMS Metal Management Municipal Recycling; Christopher Tepper, Industry City; Alan Washington, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership; Elizabeth Yeampierre, Uprose; Andrew Genn, NYC Economic Development Corporation; and John Liantonio, Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.

From the slave trade to the industrial age and the introduction of the shipping container, historians and an economist described the Brooklyn waterfront’s early global impact. With the focus on how the Brooklyn waterfront has changed over time, Michael Marrella suggested we not only consider the physical changes but also the conceptual changes resulting from the evolution of the waterfront. “People all over the world are looking at Brooklyn differently,” claimed Marrella, citing the NY Times article about Parisian teenagers using the term “très Brooklyn” to describe something as “cool.”

Panelists represented a range of public and private development interests as well as a community-based perspective that advocated for the needs of residents who live in the newly developed waterfront areas. Professor Orton made concluding remarks based on his research on climate change, coastal ecosystem health and coastal flooding—all relevant to the future of the Brooklyn waterfront and an increasing part of city planning.

The Brooklyn Waterfront Research Center aims to raise awareness about critical issues facing Brooklyn’s waterfront through research, teaching, and public programming.

Richard Hanley, City Tech/BWRC and Daniella Romano, Brooklyn Navy Yard

Richard Hanley, City Tech/BWRC and Daniella Romano, Brooklyn Navy Yard

City Tech (New York City College of Technology), of The City University of New York, is the largest four-year public college of technology in New York State and a national model for technological education. City Tech has an enrollment of nearly 17,000 students in 65 baccalaureate, associate, and specialized certificate programs.