In June of last year, the empty lot in front of 10 Jay Street, Brooklyn, was deemed an eye sore to the community. Something had to be done. The Neighborhood Improvement District met, and drafted a proposal to install wooden benches and umbrellas. Planters would flank the benches for added greenery, and the unused space that butts up against the East River would be transformed into a shared common area for recreation. The proposal passed, and two weeks later, the benches and umbrellas arrived along with an odd retaining structure about three inches tall, that was formed, roughly, into the shape of a diseased kidney. Speculation said the embankment would be top-soiled and filled with flowers, bushes, and hearty grasses. Speculation was wrong. A few days later, a truck bed filled with sand dumped its contents into the embankment. The next day, the sand had a few tall, sparse blades of pitiful grass poking up, more than likely intended to mimic the dunes and grasses of Jones Beach on the south shore of Long Island. By August, DUMBO had been graced with its first artificial beach.
Our little beach was ill-fated from the start. Some how, the community had managed to build a public place for relaxation that was hostile to idleness. If the day was nice, no person in their right mind would sit on those benches—better to walk the two blocks to the hilly green of the Brooklyn Bridge Park, enjoy the bridge views, and smell the freshly cut grass, than to suffer the hard benches of 10 Jay, witness the Con Edison electricity plant across the street, and smell the latent, tangy scent of sewage from the East River that wafted over the lot as the water churned. The imitation beach, reasonably enough, sat empty, unused. At least the lot was no longer used for parking.
Six months on, in the dregs of winter, the rainbow umbrellas are packed up for the season, but the god forsaken dune remains, albeit at a third of its original size. The wind whips over the East River, picks up the sand, and carries it off on a whim, distributing it around the block like an arid sneeze. The intersection of John and Jay Street is the only place in America to experience a blizzard and sandstorm at the same time. As I weave my way through the benches, I mumble to myself about how I miss the vacant lot.
Sometimes in the excitement of making new things, it becomes easy to lose sight of how it will mature. What is it going to look like in six months? What will happen to it as the world around it changes? Often, doing nothing is better than the wrong thing. And as I walk by that dune each morning, with my heavy coat, cap, and scarf, I ask myself, “Who will ever clean this up?” Kicking over another deposit of sand, I realize I don’t have to do anything. The wind will eventually take care of it.