Sunday, July 6, 2008

Seeing the Hidden Harbor

The new apartment buildings on the old dockside streets of Lower Manhattan, and the opening of an Ikea on the site of a dry dock in Brooklyn, create the impression that New York is no longer a port city. In fact, the working waterfront hasn't vanished so much as moved--primarily to shipping facilities in Newark and Elizabeth, N.J. For a great look at the new face of the port, and what remains of the old one in Brooklyn and Staten Island, I highly recommend the Working Waterfront Committee's "Hidden Harbor" tours, which depart Tuesdays from the South Street Seaport.

I recently took one of the tours, led by Capt. John Doswell. We cruised south along the Brooklyn waterfront, across to Staten Island, into the Kill Van Kull and all the way to Port Newark. The trip was an up-close introduction to the working areas of the waterfront that most people only glimpse from a distance. We saw the barges and tugs of the old Erie Basin in Brooklyn (once the southern terminus for the Erie Canal) and the massive container facilities of Port Newark that have transformed New York shipping since the 1960s. I enjoyed peering at sights through my binoculars, and the photographers on board found great photo opportunities.

A "Hidden Harbor" tour introduces you to the 19th century waterfront and helps you understand what is at stake in the construction of the 21st century waterfront. It also reminds you that the waterfront is still a source of working-class jobs.

As Congressional representatives Nydia Velazquez and Jerry Nadler have both pointed out, waterfront development that emphasizes luxury housing destroys opportunities to create more blue collar maritime jobs. In a city that is increasingly transformed with the interests of the rich in mind, that's a big mistake.

"Hidden Harbor" tours, which run two hours aboard a large and comfortable luxury yacht, cost $29. Discounts are offered for senior citizens, children, and members of the Working Harbor Committee.

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