In 2016, the Naval Cemetery Landscape opened at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, in a portion of the facility closed off to the public for ninety years. The new public space was developed by the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, a nonprofit organization committed to the development, establishment and long-term stewardship of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, a 26-mile landscaped and protected route that is still under underway. The 1.7 acre contemplative memorial landscape has transformed dramatically since opening, becoming a lush, natural habitat for bees, monarch butterflies, and many species of birds. Danielle Knott, the Naval Cemetery Landscape Associate and beekeeper tells us that they have documented the presence of the “American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, Northern Cardinal, Blue Jay, Chimney Swift, several species of warblers, and regularly observe a family of Northern Kestrels and Red Tailed Hawks perching and flying above the meadow, just to name a few!” A curved, undulating boardwalk encircles a wildflower meadow that is now home to fifty native plants and serves as a pollinator habitat. But the space is also a place for people, with a sacred grove and amphitheater anchoring the interior of the meadow, encouraging contemplation and immersion with nature.

Photo by Greg Topscher, Naval Cemetery Landscape staff

For the recent Open House New York Weekend, the Naval Cemetery Landscape was programmed with two artist installations, selected from an open submission process. Birdhouse by Caylee Shimizu was a site-specific dance piece that architecturally mirrored the site. Lisa Hein and Robert Seng’s ROW was an audio installation beneath the boardwalk featuring the sound of a wooden boat plying the waters. It pays tribute to the unknown solders still buried in this landscape, along with others from the past and present traversing through time and space, including Revolutionary captives bound for British prison ships,
international migrants, and Seng’s compatriots in the US Navy.

Nina Bowers, Program Associate at the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative who calls the landscape a “secret gem,” tells us, “We managed to get a record number of visitors to the Naval Cemetery Landscape on Open House New York weekend in large part due to the artists from our Open Call who engaged with the space. We hope to continue to cultivate these opportunities and provide more diverse programming for our public as we make enhancements to the site in the next couple years.”

Photo by Greg Topscher, Naval Cemetery Landscape staff

The Naval Cemetery Landscape team is also actively documenting the evolving natural environment through programs like eBird, Cornell University’s citizen science platform for collecting data on bird populations around the world, and through a grant from the TKF Foundation to research health benefits connected to nature. Specifically, the research led by Denise Milstein, PhD, Director of Columbia University’s Masters Program in Sociology, looks at how the “expansion of biodiversity and quality of natural life will impact the physical and mental well-being of high school students and community housing residents” who live nearby.

Birdhouse by Caylee Shimizu performance. Photo by by Nina Bowers, Naval Cemetery Landscape

You can enter the Naval Cemetery Landscape from the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway at Williamsburg St West between Kent and Flushing Avenues. When complete, the 26-mile Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway will stretch from Greenpoint to East New York, connecting Brooklyn’s storied and iconic waterfront, parks and open space, commercial and cultural corridors, and new tech and innovation hubs for 2.65 million Brooklyn residents, over 1.1 million employees in Brooklyn, and 15 million annual visitors from across the City and around the world. 18 miles are currently in use, with segments currently in progress in Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Clinton Hill/Fort Greene, Bay Ridge and Gravesend, and new sections projected to break grown in Gowanus and Sunset Park in 2020. And in exciting news, the City of New York just committed to connect the full route by 2021.

On November 14th, The Brooklyn Greenway Initiative will be hosting its annual Greenway + Industry gala and party honoring Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams and Steve Hindy, co-founder of Brooklyn Brewery a 2019 Building Connections Award for their extraordinary contributions to connecting Brooklyn communities through their support of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway.

Tickets for the desserts, drinks and dancing portion which begins at 8:30 PM are $75 and a portion of the tickets are considered a tax-deductible donation. Even if you are unable to make the event, you can make a tax-deductible donation to the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative to support their efforts.