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