Places that Matter

Riverbank State Park

click on image for slideshow
Aviva Stampfer, 2010
Aviva Stampfer, 2010
Aviva Stampfer, 2010
Aviva Stampfer, 2010
Aviva Stampfer, 2010
Aviva Stampfer, 2010
Popular park atop a wastewater treatment plant
Place Details »

Place Matters Profile

Underneath a skating rink, two pools, an amphitheater, garden plots and all manner of playing fields, a giant plant processes a million Manhattanites’ waste water before discharging it into the Hudson. Riverbank State Park is both the site of a decades-long struggle for environmental justice, and New York’s second most popular state park.

Riverbank’s 28.5 acres, hosting almost four million visitors a year, offers dozens of activities and commanding views of the Hudson, all atop the North River Water Treatment Plant, which cleans up after a million New Yorkers. The park turns a necessary eyesore into a community asset. But this clever compromise was hard to come by and remains tenuous, as concerns over the health effects of the plant’s operations persist.

In 1965, raw sewage produced by hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of Manhattan’s West Side still poured directly into the Hudson River. Like the city’s polluted air, water quality was disastrous. As people become more aware of the sorry and unsanitary state of the urban environment—in New York City and across the country—they successfully pushed for new laws that would dictate tighter environmental standards.

In the early 1960s, plans called for a wastewater treatment plant serving all of Manhattan’s West Side to be located between 70th and 72nd Street and the Hudson River, but such a small site for so much waste would require a double-decked, and more expensive to build, plant. Perhaps more importantly, a plant was deemed “incompatible” with plans for the immediate area, where new housing and a cruise ship terminal were envisioned behind Lincoln Center.