Tending the Edge
Making sense of New York City’s Waterfront is not an easy task. How does one find meaning in the 520 miles of coastline that surround the city, and its ever-changing neighborhoods, histories, cultures, and issues? Then, how does one convince mayoral candidates to pay attention to a 10-year plan that maps out conceptual structures, priorities, and policies for this complex space...and commit to act on it.
That was the charge for Tending the Edge artists. They were asked to respond to the New York City Department of City Planning’s (DCP) draft of the 2020-2030 Comprehensive Waterfront Plan (CWP), the city’s roadmap for managing, developing, and caring for its waterfront, with a work that addressed candidates and the public. The DCP’s research and development process for the CWP began in 2019, with weekly public outreach, including school visits, community meetings and tabling at weekend community events. Their research continued in 2020 on Zoom meetings and through Walking the Edge, a collaborative project with Works on Water and Culture Push that encouraged New Yorkers to explore their waterways safely during the pandemic lockdown.
Tending the Edge artists approached the breadth of the task through the lenses of their practices and their localities—each focused on a small area of the waterfront that they know well. Their projects form a portrait of the city’s waterfront today, and the intersectional urgencies resulting from histories of systemic oppression, industrialization, privatization, and the emergency of a rapidly changing climate.
All 22 Mayoral candidates (one of the largest fields in recent history), as well as some City Council candidates, were invited to participate in Tending the Edge artist projects. Those who accepted experienced a wild variety of approaches to understanding and stewarding the New York City waterfront. For Exmple, Nancy Nowacek—in consideration of the breadth and depth of the waterways’ roles in the civic life of the city—offered a ceremonial key made from all the waters to NYC in return for their commitment to the waterfront.
Focusing on specific waterways and ecological features, Ray Jordan Achan began a journey of understanding Newtown Creek. Cody Ann Herrman immersed City Council hopefuls in the complex environment of Flushing Bay and Creek; and Sunk Shore brought visitors to Flushing Creek on a journey to two alternative futures. Simone Johnson brought awareness to the city’s surviving wetlands. Focusing on the increasing impacts of climate change, Sarah Cameron Sunde brought attention, with local community partners, to sunny day flooding in the Rockaways.
Other projects illuminated various intersectional issues of our waterways: Dennis RedMoon Darkeem created a flag that honored Black and Indigenous water stewardship. Elizabeth Velazquez and her community partners investigated the relationship between practices of worship and the practice of caring for the waterways. Zoey Hart created a map that highlighted the need for a new understanding of “accessibility”; and Moira Williams gathered her disability community to advocate for a waterfront that is accessible to all bodies and created an all-bodies celebration of the waterfront.
Giving voice to the more than human world, Dylan Gauthier developed an augmented reality work that allows New Yorkers to see the land of the city in new contexts; and Andrea Haenggi gave voices to non-human creatures and plants along the waterfront. Focusing on their local communities, Rejin Leys invited Queens residents to connect today’s waterways to the past through papermaking, while Ella Mahoney created a large scale painting based on the concerns of denizens of Rockaway Beach and immersed it in the waters that inspired her.
— Clarinda Mac Low and Nancy Nowacek
In spring 2021, as the city considered who would become its next mayor, NYC Department of City Planning (DCP), Culture Push (CP), and Works on Water (WoW), collaborated, with support from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs through the Mayor's Grant for Cultural Initiative. to consider how New Yorers will collectively tend to the edges of otheir vulnerable coastal archipelago.
Artists from across the five boroughs, who each have deep roots in New York City’s coastal communities, spent May and June 2021 with the water’s edge, offering points of engagement and weaving relationships across the shoreline, through districts, wetlands, rivers, and boroughs, all the way to city hall.
Tending the Edge coincided, intentionally, with the Democratice primary election and the release of the next Comprehensive Waterfront Plan (CWP) which will define the city’s waterfront goals for the next ten years. Collectively, Tending the Edge emphasized that the CWP is not just a document, but a reflection of lived experiences and aspirations for New York City and aimed to bring the CWP into the public discourse during this critical moment. Most importantly, Tending the Edge addressed future leaders of the city to act with urgency, to uphold the CWP, and to prioritize issues of climate adaptation and resiliency planning.
This program was supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and the Department of City Planning (DCP)