THE PULL: WILD GARDENS AT PAERDEGAT
“The Pull: wild gardens at paerdegat” addresses the rejuvenation of the natural, technological, and cultural systems at Paerdegat Basin, a barren 60-acre site in Brooklyn at the edge of the Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The New York Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is planning improvements in water quality and habitat diversity for the basins’s degraded ecosystems. The Public Art Fund commissioned the artist to consult with DEP and to develop a proposal for reclaiming the basin as part of a city-wide initiative called “Urban Paradise: Gardens in the City.“
Paerdegat Basin started out as a tidal estuary fed by a creek; was subsequently used for agriculture; and was finally dredged in anticipation of its development as a port facility. The port never materialized and a sewage treatment pump station was finally located at its head. Small scale marinas as well as odd bits of public access link the surrounding development with the water’s edge. However, the intervening area remains a no-person’s-land with fragments of ecosystems struggling to reassert a viable order. Efforts to improve the basin are especially important because of its connection to the diverse habitat of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, an important wintering and breeding area for egrets, herons, and ibises.
Approach: Historically, the garden has represented the interrelationship of nature and culture and has served as a balancing point between wilderness and cultivation. For the disturbed ecosystems of Paerdegat Basin, the garden is used as a framework for restoring nature through human efforts. This is expressed with a primary metaphor enriched with intertwining elements.
Metaphor: The site is anchored by an observation deck shaped like a horseshoe magnet, which represents the forces needed to pull nature back into the city. The planting, grading, shoreline, and garden spaces express the environment’s dynamic response as the symbolic magnet sweeps over the site. In the basin’s waters, a series of tethered floating islands reflects the movement of the tides.
Intertwining Elements: “Technological Forces” The garden reinforces the DEP’s efforts to improve degraded ecosystems by treating stormwater. In reference to the creek that once fed the basin before it was dredged in the early part of this century, stormwater from the surrounding neighborhood grid is captured from the street ends, passed through an oil/water separator, purified in natural streams, and released into the basin
“Natural Forces” The shoreline of the tidal wetlands is curvilinear, enhancing habitat and providing waterside gardens for canoeists. The south bank of the basin contains a natural laboratory in which to study the process of rejuvenating a damaged ecosystem. On the north bank, there is a limited-access public garden defined within a progression of large-scale outdoor rooms. Each room is planted with one stage of plant succession and is then left to find its natural balance. The successional environments are forest, lowland forest, shrub, grassland, and marsh.
“Cultural Forces” Historically, successive waves of peoples have passed through east Brooklyn; this phenomenon is expressed as a series of five circular “garden folly” spaces conceived as metaphorical stepping-stones. Located within the larger-scale outdoor successional rooms on the basin’s north bank, these provide an intimate experience of ordered plantings representative of the five different stages of plant succession. Each tended garden is emblematic of the struggle between the cultivated landscape and natural succession patterns.
PROJECT CREDITS: Lorna Jordan, Artist & Lead Designer With assistance from the Portico Group
Commissioned by The Public Art Fund in cooperation with the NY Dept of Environmental Protection A Restoration Plan for Paerdegat Basin near the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge