The Waterpod--"a floating, sculptural, eco-habitat designed for the rising tides"--has docked alongside the South Street Seaport, shoulder to shoulder with Water Taxi Beach. And though they're experiencing "technical difficulties" in opening to the public, I got the chance to climb aboard for a tour.
Mary at her bunk, with view of Brooklyn Bridge
I talked with Waterpod founder Mary Mattingly, an artist formerly living in Queens, and two of her shipmates, Alison Ward and Mira Hunter.
Mary walked me around the barge and showed me their chickens, the gardens planted with edibles like corn, squash, lettuce, and strawberries, along with flowers for attracting bees and other pollinators. She explained how rainwater is cycled through various systems and how the Waterpod might one day be fully sustainable, providing shelter for displaced people.
She's thinking about global warming and over-crowding, the Earth running out of space. But the Waterpod made me think about gentrification.
What if we all lived on Waterpods in the East River? In fact, the Waterpod is a kind of floating New York, hammered together from the odd flotsam of the city.
The cedar planks used to build the structures around the kitchen and shower were recycled from dismantled water towers, those lovely icons of the skyline.
The metal fencing came from the Broadway play Equus. The garden enclosures were cut from wooden crates used to ship art to Chelsea's galleries. The tarp over the geodesic dome, built as a rainwater catchment system, was ripped from advertecture signage. (It's inside-out so the dome is white outside.)
And the retro woodland wallpaper that covers the living quarters came from the TV studio backdrops used on As the World Turns, which has been taped in New York City for half a century.
The Waterpod was built at the Long Island City Boat House and GMD Shipyard at the Brooklyn Navy Yards. It doesn't have an engine, so it gets tugged from site to site by the tugboats of Staten's Island's Miller's Launch. I asked Mary what the reaction has been from the city's salty maritime folks, phrasing my question something like, "Did they give you a hard time, thinking, you know, What are these tree-hugging artist types up to now?"
Mary told me it was quite the opposite. "Seafaring people play by their own rules," she said, "and they're very environmentally conscious. We learned a lot from them. Really, we're catching up to their speed on all of this. They know how to live on the water and deal with waste. Even the dockmasters. They tell us, 'Thank God you're doing this--we've been preaching this stuff for years.'"