One of the things that struck me this week was that for over a hundred years Brooklyn was a community that depended on the waterfront where very few people could actually see the water. The view has traditionally been an instrument of power and plays a large role in plans to develop in the future
The Past: The view as power or lack thereof
Interestingly, being able to see the water marked you as probably either among the most or the least powerful figures in Brooklyn society for the last hundred years. The merchants of old Brooklyn Heights built there houses in areas where they could observe ships approaching the harbor. There houses then and now are among the most expensive and sought after housing in the area.
As the economy grew more complex and and buildings became larger, the view from the top of the buildings was the view from the top of society as well.
Ironically, the other group that had the greatest access to the view of the water were the workers on the docks, arguably the weakest members of society. For everyone else, the view was something gained informally or commercially. Informally through accidental gaps in the wall of buildings that flanked the river.
Commercially, the relatively isolated outpost of Coney Island became available to the mass of people. Individuals who lived within blocks of the water traveled up to an hour to actually see it.
In contemporary Brooklyn, the view of the water has become more consciously recognized as being valuable. Public authorities have begun to incorporate the view into urban planning through instruments such as the Brooklyn Promenade and the Brooklyn Bridge Park.
However, older traditions of control by wealth and subversion through informal means continue. New residential developments sell views and access to the water to those who can afford it.
Others though slip through the cracks to use the water for their own purposes.
Older traditions of workers enjoying the view also continue.
And the birds can also dig it.