This weekend: explore Newtown Creek at the helm of a motorized toy boat

A unique nau­ti­cal adven­ture begins this week­end, and you can par­tic­i­pate: it’s the launch of the New­town Creek Armada, an ‘inter­ac­tive mod­el boat pond.’

After two cen­turies of heavy use by sur­round­ing indus­tries, New­town Creek — at the bor­der of Brook­lyn and Queens — is deep in the process of renewal through mul­ti-mil­lion dol­lar cleanup efforts led by fed­er­al and state agen­cies. It will like­ly be decades before the water is again pristine, but that hasn’t stopped cre­ative New York­ers from invent­ing ways to tell the sto­ry of the creek, which in many ways match­es the chang­ing eco­log­i­cal his­to­ry of the city.

To let the pub­lic get closer to the creek, a team of local artists has con­struct­ed a fleet of remote-con­trolled boats out­fit­ted with under­wa­ter high-def cam­eras that you can pilot (from the shore). The boats allow peo­ple to doc­u­ment the con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed waters of the creek, which is a Super­fund site (the offi­cial des­ig­na­tion for aban­doned haz­ardous waste site), and is one of the most pol­lut­ed bod­ies of water in the Unit­ed States, yet still retains traces of nat­u­ral beau­ty. On-site video port­holes will offer a unique glimpse at the state of the water­way (notice the per­plexed rac­coon at 00:52 in the accom­pa­ny­ing video…just after a crab that has seen its demise).

The Armada is just one exam­ple of NYC pub­lic art that com­bi­nes ques­tions of pol­i­tics, urban devel­op­ment, and sus­tain­abil­i­ty while also chal­leng­ing us all to con­front our under­stand­ing of the human impact on the envi­ron­ment. Artist George Trakas and New­town Creek Alliance Direc­tor Kate Zidar will be the first pilots at the open­ing cer­e­mony this Sat­ur­day, Sept 8 at Paidge Avenue in Green­point, Brook­lyn. The Armada is free and open to the pub­lic from 1–4 pm on Sep­tem­ber 8, 9, 15, 22, 29, and 30. For direc­tions and more infor­ma­tion about access­ing the exhibit, please vis­it the New­town Creek Armada web­site. While you’re in the area, make a day out of it and include some of the New­town Creek Nature Walk in your plans. Or, just check out this pho­to essay. Image: New­town Creek Armada