An Atlas of Endangered Surfaces identifies and categorizes a range anthropogenic, naturally occurring, and hybrid surfaces in the area known as Hunter’s Point South in Long Island City, Queens. In collaboration with artist Ellie Irons, the project is a part of Chance Ecologies, a platform for documenting, learning from, and commemorating naturally occurring ecosystems in NYC and articulating contemporary readings of and new forms of relating to (urban) wilderness.
The site chosen for the first iteration of the project, Hunter’s Point South, has a long and sordid history. The land was once an “almost-island” surrounded by a great salt marsh, transformed into an active homestead in the mid 1800s, industrialized at the turn of the 20 Century, and then left dormant for the past 20 years. In the wake of constant redevelopment a lush rewilded landscape has emerged; a thick forest bordering the East River, and a prairie like ecosystem growing at the heart of the site. In a matter of months the site is destined to be “redeveloped” into 11 high density luxury condominiums, redefining an already gentrified Queens waterfront.
The Atlas was created in the months before the current transformation of Hunter’s Point South began, when the overlaps, edges and frictions between man-made park infrastructure and long re-wilded landscapes of Hunter’s Point South were still intact. It provides a comparative study between the spontaneous, un-designed spaces of the former Hunter’s Point, and the textures and structures that will take its place as redevelopment and gentrification continue.
A collection of surfaces from each place was archived through a four month investigation exploring trails, paths and desire lines built by consensus and those defined by park design (taking the form of photographs, videos, rubbings and physical samples). A novel classification system was created to accommodate hybridized and newly identified surfaces — evidence of historical and ecological transformations that a soil sample, archeological dig, or plant identification alone could not provide. For instance, taxonomic distinctions like “Impervious Landfill Rubble” (see p. 11) identify a specific kind of transitional construction debri that defined the perimeter of the site. The collection of brick, cement chunks, sidewalk wreckage, and other composite materials point to the site’s history, ecological reclamation, and a literal/metaphoric process of weatherization and decay. This category in particular is one that will be locally extinct when the redevelopment of Hunter’s Point South is complete.
As unassuming as these surfaces may appear, they nonetheless offer a glimpse into the ongoing transformation reshaping New York City, and places like it. The surfaces act as vital touchstone, an exterior skin, a bio-cultural indicator of urban decay, supposed renewal, and waves of gentrification yet to come.