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Place and exclusion in New York City’s Jamaica Bay

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New York City’s Jamaica Bay estuary, part of the National Park Service’s Gateway National Recreation Area, sits along the outer edge of the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. Along the shores of Jamaica Bay, many residents have developed strong attachments to their neighborhoods, in large part because of the Bay’s folklore as a fishing and tourist spot. Several families of German, Irish, and Italian heritage claim generational attachments to the Bay, while more recent newcomers stake their claim to the Bay through their hard work in New York City’s blue-collar workforce and their wise investment in private property. Although these place attachments have been important for cultivating residents’ relationships to nature along the Bay, the idea of “place” often rests, either intentionally or not, on the exclusion of “others.” Racial tensions and sentiments are largely rooted in the fear that “outsiders” might destroy the character and benefits of “their place.” Although residential segregation is no longer a legitimate means for excluding others, local residents and government officials have mobilized National Park Service land management policies in such a way as to reinforce a sense of belonging, or exclusion, along Jamaica Bay.  In so doing, local residents reinforce the relationship bewteen otherness and pollution and create a sense that certain groups, particularly Hindu practitioners, do not belong in “their place.” The exclusionary potential of place, coupled with the legacy of residential segregation and urban infrastructure development, has meant that local residents are able to maintain their access to the waters of Jamaica Bay by erecting and enforcing social distance. Even those residents and visitors not actively engaged in exclusion still benefit, as fewer people feel welcomed to exploring the “National Park experience” at Gateway.

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  1. For an in-depth discussion of the social construction of race, see Omi and Winant (1994).

  2. For a history of racial change in Brownsville, see Wendell Pritchett’s (2002) Brownsville Brooklyn: Blacks, Jews, and the Changing Face of the Ghetto. For an excellent account of racial transition and tension in Canarsie, see Jonathan Reider’s (1985) Canarsie: The Jews and Italians of Brooklyn Against Liberalism. For a discussion of Robert Moses’ role in urban renewal and development in New York City, see Caro (1975) The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York.


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Research was funded, in part, by the National Park Service’s Jamaica Bay Institute Fellowship. Many thanks to Christine Doran, Anna Sorensen, Libbie Freed, Jason Cons, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.

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Correspondence to Kristen Van Hooreweghe.

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Van Hooreweghe, K. Place and exclusion in New York City’s Jamaica Bay. J Environ Stud Sci 6, 753–758 (2016).

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