Ruffle Bar via Frogma
Today, when most New Yorkers think of oysters it has to do with the latest happy hour offering the underwater delicacies for $1, but back in the 19th century oysters were big business in New York City, as residents ate about a million a year. In fact, oyster reefs once covered more than 220,000 acres of the Hudson River estuary and it was estimated that the New York Harbor was home to half of the world’s oysters. Not only were they tasty treats, but they filtered water and provided shelter for other marine species. They were sold from street carts as well as restaurants, and even the poorest New Yorkers enjoyed them regularly.
Though we know the shores of Manhattan, especially along today’s Meatpacking District and in the Financial District near aptly named Pearl Street, were chock full of oysters, there were also a couple of islands that played a part in New York’s oyster culture, namely Ruffle Bar, a sandbar in Jamaica Bay, and Robbins Reef, a reef off Staten Island marked with a lighthouse.
Find out about these two forgotten islands
Image courtesy of SCAPE / LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE PLLC
We know what you’re thinking: what is oyster-tecture, anyway? Just ask Kate Orff, landscape architect and the founding principal of SCAPE Studio. SCAPE is a landscape architecture and urban design office based in Manhattan and specializing in urban ecology, site design, and strategic planning. Kate is also an associate professor of architecture and urban design at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, where she founded the Urban Landscape Lab, which is dedicated to affecting positive social and ecological change in the joint built-natural environment.
But the Living Breakwaters project may be the SCAPE team’s most impactful yet. The “Oyster-tecture” concept was developed as part of the MoMA Rising Currents Exhibition in 2010, with the idea of an oyster hatchery/eco-park in the Gowanus interior that would eventually generate a wave-attenuating reef in the Gowanus Bay. Describing the project as, “a process for generating new cultural and environmental narratives,” Kate envisioned a new “reef culture” functioning both as ecological sanctuary and public recreation space.
Find out more about what oysters and other creatures can do for NYC