Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ruining Nature, Then Beating it at its Own Game

Nature has a way of purifying itself, but then we come along and make of mess of things and throw nature off its game. Then we realize how much we screwed things up and devise ingenious ways of replicating natural systems with technology. It's a bit of a hopeless cycle, but it brings me to the topic of this post: water pollution control plants.

Water pollution control plants use physical and biological processes to closely duplicate how wetlands, rivers, streams and lakes naturally purify water. In the natural environment, this process can take weeks; at water pollution control plants, it takes only seven hours.

At New York City's 14 treatment plants, wastewater (i.e. whatever is flushed down the toilet or washed down the drain) undergoes processing to eliminate roughly 85% to 95% of pollutants before the treated wastewater is disinfected and discharged into local waterways. The "sludge" that is the byproduct of the treatment process is stabilized by converting it into biosolids, which can be utilized as a fertilizer, water, carbon dioxide and methane gas.

I had the unique opportunity to visit the Newtown Creek Water Pollution Plant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and it is really the coolest place I've ever been. The design of the plant, established by Polshek Partnership, makes an (admittedly) icky process
positively chic. Keep an eye out for the huge metal domes (these beauties are literally full of shit) when driving on the BQE or flying into Laguardia Airport.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Nature vs. Pavement: Round 2

This tree has seemingly eaten the remnants of the long-ago vanquished cobblestone tree pit treatment. It has actually grown around the stone blocks to the point where they cannot be removed.

Greene Avenue and Clinton Avenue, Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Into the Woods: Shakespeare in the Park

To me, the Delacort Theater in Central Park is the absolute perfect place to see Shakespeare. Set against the backdrop of the Turtle Pond and Belvedere Castle and enclosed with a scrim of trees, this open-air stage epitomizes the transition and balance between the urban zone and the woods, a dichotomy that Shakespeare frequently explored and, after all, the subject of this blog.

To attend Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacort is to cast yourself in a Shakespearean comedy. New York City can easily be aligned with Athens in A Midsummer Night's Dream or Milan in The Tempest, cities where obligation and law reign, where passion is restricted by culture and power is worth killing for. The C train ride uptown to 81st Street is clearly a shipwreck (akin to Viola’s in Twelfth Night) that leaves you gasping for air and thankful that you arrived unharmed at such an idyllic locale. The park is a world of freedom, magic and romance. And hotdogs. I really love those hotdogs... but I digress.

Shakespeare in the Park is always a cathartic experience for me, "converting all [my] sounds of woe/into hey, nonny, nonny!"* At least until I get back on the subway.

*William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, Act II, Scene iii

Sunday, July 5, 2009

America the Beautiful, Manhattan the Sweet?

Independence Day weekend seems like a good time to write a bit about the ecological history of New York City. The city is situated on an estuary, a semi-enclosed coastal body of water with rivers and streams flowing into it, where saltwater and freshwater meet, creating a diverse ecosystem. Early European visitors to Manhattan describe it as an Eden with fresh air, verdant landscapes and an abundance of wild fruit, fowl, fish and oysters (more on those bivalves in later posts).

I’ve always been amused that many of these early written accounts speak of Manhattan as having a "sweet smell." Anyone who is familiar with the unique putridity left behind after a rainy-day garbage collection in Manhattan, can attest to the seeming absurdity of the idea of this place ever smelling "sweet." Some time ago, I had the extreme misfortune of slipping and landing in a puddle of this muck. After three washes, my jeans still reeked of garbage, and I ended up throwing them out.

I find this dramatic juxtaposition fascinating, and cannot wait to see the exhibition Mannahatta/Manhattan: A Natural History of New York City, currently at the Museum of the City of New York. The show recreates Manhattan as it was when Europeans first arrived and explores the balance of nature and urban development over time.