Category Archives: New York City

Harbor Water Wheels, Decorative and Practical

By Vladimir Brezina

As we paddle along the Hudson River Long Timepast the piers on Manhattan’s West Side, we pass there, on Pier 66, a large water wheel. Sometimes it is slowly turning as its blades dip into the tidal current that is streaming past. It is a work of art.

Long Time

It is in fact Long Time, by Paul Ramirez Jonas. The concept is simple: The wheel is connected to an odometer that counts the wheel’s rotations. But the piece has large ambitions. The artist is quoted as saying he wanted to create a piece to represent human existence. “It was created with the improbable goal of marking the duration of our lives, species, civilizations and even the planet… [but] its more immediate intent is to place human existence within a geologic time frame… The wheel will rotate indefinitely until it breaks down, or the river changes course, or the seas rise, or other unpredictable circumstances stop it.”

And those unpredictable circumstances have already occurred. After only 67,293 rotations since the wheel was installed in 2007, in 2011 the floodwaters of Hurricane  Sandy stopped the odometer. Repairs are not high on the priority list.

However, the wheel itself “is pretty darn sturdy. It was actually happy during Sandy, because it likes the deeper water. You should’ve seen it spinning.”

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The Long Time wheel had to be made sturdy enough to resist, among other things, the impact of trash floating in the water. So why not go a step further, and use the rotation of the wheel to pick up the trash?

Last weekend, we visited Baltimore, Maryland. And, walking around the Inner Harbor, we spied from a distance a familiar shape—a water wheel. At first we thought that, like Long Time, it was an artwork of some kind. But when we came closer, we realized that it was something more practical.

Baltimore water wheel 1
Baltimore water wheel 2

This water wheel is a trash collector.

It’s mounted on a floating platform moored at the point where Jones Falls, a river that drains quite a large watershed to the north of the city—and brings down a corresponding amount of floating trash—empties out into the Inner Harbor. The river current drives the water wheel. (There is also solar power for days when the river current is too weak.) The wheel in turn drives a series of rakes and a conveyor belt. The rakes rake the trash, already concentrated by floating booms, up onto the conveyor belt, which deposits the trash into a floating dumpster. Simple!

And yes, it is also a work of art.

More detailed photos of the trash collector are here, and here is a video of it in operation:

The trash collector can collect up to 50,000 lbs of trash per day. By all accounts, although it hasn’t been operating long yet, it’s already made a very promising contribution toward solving Baltimore Harbor’s trash problem. It’s been much more effective, at any rate, than the old way of picking up the floating trash with nets from small boats. “After a rainstorm, we could get a lot of trash in Baltimore Harbor. Sometimes the trash was so bad it looked like you could walk across the harbor on nothing but trash.” Last weekend, as we walked around it, the harbor looked remarkably clean.

Much cleaner, in fact, that some parts of New York Harbor. And we can think of a number of rivers draining into New York Harbor where such a trash collector could be ideally positioned.

Google Maps: Skim Boom in the Bronx RiverTake the Bronx River, for instance. It already has a floating boom to hold back the huge amount of trash that floats down the river—trash that must be periodically removed. A water wheel would do the job effortlessly.

Skim boom in the Bronx River

So, let’s hope there are more water wheels, not merely decorative but also practical, in New York’s future!

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More details about Baltimore’s water wheel can be found here:

City Sunset Silhouettes

By Vladimir Brezina

In the middle of the city, you don’t see the horizon. Well before sunset, the sun dips behind a dark palisade of silhouettes

Central Park sunset 1
Central Park sunset 2
Central Park sunset 3

To see the sun touch the horizon, you must climb very high

Manhattan vista at sunset

or, down below, wait for a very special day

Manhattanhenge 500(Manhattanhenge 2014)

Or, of course, watch from your kayak on the river!

Hudson River sunset 1
Hudson River sunset 2

A response to this week’s Photo Challenge, Silhouette, and Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge, Horizons.

Travel Theme: Meeting Places

By Vladimir Brezina

Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge this week is Meeting Places.

Bethesda Terrace and Fountain in NYC’s Central Park—

Bethesda Fountain

where you can blow bubbles

Blow bubbles

get married

Get married

have a conversation

Have a conversation

row on the lake

Row on the lake

and dance discreetly

Dance discreetly

or not so discreetly

Dance not so discreetly

Cardboard Kayak Race, Redux

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

Cardboard-kayak-race-100

Last year, I wrote about the first annual Cardboard Kayak Race, held on City of Water Day at Governors Island.  This year, I was in it!

No, it’s not what you’re thinking. We didn’t build a boat out of cardboard and then race it. But others did! And I was part of a fleet of “safety kayaks” whose job it was to rescue paddlers whose cardboard boats sank (and fish out the sodden detritus).

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Celebrity Sun

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

Manhattanhenge 17

In Manhattan we get our share of celebrities. Some live here year-round. Many zoom by in a blaze of flashbulbs and applause.

And some show up reliably every day, unapplauded, but make a celebrity entrance a few minutes out of the year. That’s what happens at Manhattanhenge. Twice a year, roughly three weeks before and after the summer solstice, the setting sun lines up precisely with the east-west streets of Manhattan’s street grid.

It’s  a well-known phenomenon, and has become more so with each passing year. Photographers gather at major intersections, awaiting that perfect moment when the sun touches the horizon, framed precisely between buildings on either side. For a moment or two, the sun is a celebrity.

I’ve heard about it, and Vlad has taken pictures of it many times. But this year was the first time I’d actually experienced it.

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Travel Theme: Decoration

By Vladimir Brezina

Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge this week is Decoration.

Inspecting the decorations at the 2012 and 2013 Tugboat Races—

Tattoo decorations 1
Tattoo decorations 2
Tattoo decorations 3
Tattoo decorations 4

We look forward to this year’s North River Tugboat Race & Competition!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Relic

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Relic.

Kayaking around New York Harbor, we pass many relics of its maritime past—

Binghamton

Binghamton 1
Binghamton 2

Major General William H. Hart

Major General William H. Hart

— the Yellow Submarine, Quester I

Yellow Submarine 1
Yellow Submarine 2

— and, of course, the celebrated Graveyard of Ships

Graveyard of Ships 1
Graveyard of Ships 2

Independence Day Spectacular

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

DSC_0701 cropped small

“A ticket to see fireworks? Don’t you just, uh, look up?” That was my friend Kathy’s comment when I mentioned Vlad had made the long, hot trip downtown in a thunderstorm to pick up our tickets for the fireworks.

Normally, she’d be right: For the past few Independence Days, we’d gone up on the roof, or just looked out from our window on the 17th floor. Even in New York, some things are free!

But these weren’t just any fireworks.  This was the first time ever they’d be in the lower East River—even be launched from the Brooklyn Bridge! And our friend John, who, like Vlad, is a photographer, would be in town expressly to take photos, and we needed to find an uncrowded location for them to set up their tripods.

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Twist in the Sky for a Happy Fourth of July!

By Vladimir Brezina

Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge today is Twist. Just in time for the Fourth of July!

Happy Fourth!

These were last year’s fireworks (more photos are here). We’ll see what tonight will bring!

Here‘s another kind of Twist, in response to The Daily Post’s Photo Challenge, which also had Twist as its theme only a month ago.

Storm, Saved to Disk

By Vladimir Brezina

6:00 PM

Yesterday in the early evening a line of strong thunderstorms rumbled through New York City. This happens often in the summer and the sight can be awe-inspiring. But I was working all afternoon in a windowless room, and later, when I got to a window, it was too late to discern much. The building was already submerged in thick green fog. Lightning flashed and thunder cracked directly overhead.

What to do under those circumstances? Let’s go to the video replay!

And from where better to observe the arrival of the storm over New York Harbor and the Manhattan skyline than the Statue of Liberty?

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