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Riverbank State Park

About this listing

Popular park atop a wastewater treatment plant

Place Details

Borough : Manhattan
Neighborhood : Hamilton Heights
Infrastructure, Play

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...

Read More


Richard Dattner. Civil Architecture: The New Public Infrastructure. New York: McGraw Hill, 1995.

Vernice D. Miller. “Planning, Power and Politics: A Case Study of the Land Use and Siting History of the North River Water Pollution Control Plant.” Fordham Urban Law Journal Spring 1994 (21 Fordham Urb.L.J. 707)

Julie Sze. Noxious New York: The Racial Politics of Urban Health and Environmental Justice. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006.

On The Web

Riverbank State Park - NYS Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation
North River Wastewater Treatment Plant
WE ACT for Environmental Justice
Totally Kid Carousel
Save Riverbank


Nate Harris

This park shows how urban infrastructure may be designed to do double duty. All these amenities are built on top of a functioning water treatment plant. As the population of the city expands and demand for public recreational spaces increases, this park could serve as a model for making necessary city infrastructure inhabitable. Also the place is a magnet for kids. On a recent visit to the park, I had to wind my way through a thicket of strollers and toddlers to get to the soccer field. Teenagers and young adults also use the park heavily, attracted by a number of organized arts and sports programs for kids and teens. In spite of being somewhat removed from the city fabric, this park seems very well used. (June 2009)

Johan Sanmartin

Riverbank State Park is entirely focused on providing safe and fun activities for kids in the Hamilton Heights community. One of its main activity areas, the skating rink, is the main draw for children trying to entertain through sport or simple leisure. (June 2009)

Christopher Drobny, Kari Williams

Within the tight-knit skateboard community in New York City, Riverbank State Park ranks among the best skate spots in Harlem. This might seem surprising as there are no sites officially designated for the sport within the park. However, skateboarders have demonstrated their creativity by commandeering three specific sites in and around the park. These skateboarding scavengers, comprised of primarily young males of all races and ethnicities, have carved out secondary uses that are not readily seen by the untrained eye. Directly across the 138th Street pedestrian entrance is the first space of mention within this skate-cluster. This overpass is a popular congregating spot for youths and teens, and also heavily used by skateboarders. The wax residue, present on the stair edges, is testimony; skateboarders use wax to make it easier to slide, or grind on certain built-structures. The second space within this triad is located mid-park, behind the track and field, and is known as the Sprinkler or Water Play Area. Splashing and laughing kids and families make this site very busy in the hot summer months. This space has an additional, unplanned use. When it would otherwise be empty, skateboarders do manual tricks on the concrete blocks. Because this step material is not grindable even with the application of wax, it is used for manuals—balancing on the front or back set of wheels while in motion. A series of brick wedges located along the westerly edge of the park overlooking the Hudson has also found favor in the skateboarders' eyes. This rounds out this skate-trio as the third and final spot. Here, skateboarders have created a use for an otherwise useless brick incline by rolling up and down these embankments (i.e. banks) like concrete waves. Sometimes tricks are performed on the top (i.e. lip) of the bank. (June 2009)

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