Another Side of New York City in the 1970s, Before a Three-Decade-Long Environmental Clean-Up

Beginning in November 1971, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) embarked on a massive project called DOCUMERICA to document pollution and its effects in America. Over a hundred photographers contributed to the project. The result was more than 20,000 photographs that led to three decades of environmental revolution in the country. One of the project’s subjects was America’s cultural and financial hub, New York City. Danny Lyon, Arthur Tress, Gary Miller, Chester Higgins, Wil Blanche, and Erik Calonius were some of the photographers who documented the state of New York City in the 1970s before it became the beautiful city we now know it to be.

Manhattan Bridge Tower as seen framed by nearby buildings in Brooklyn, New York City. The borough remains one of the best surviving examples of 19th century American architecture, June 1974. 

Manhattan Bridge Tower in Brooklyn, New York City
Image Source: Danny Lyon

New York subway passing above the ground as it crosses the Jamaica Bay area, June 1973.

Subway Is Above Ground When It Crosses Jamaica Bay Area
Image Source: Arthur Tress

An abandoned car in the waters of Jamaica Bay, June 1973.

Abandoned Car in Jamaica Bay
Image Source: Arthur Tress

An illegal dumping area near the New Jersey Turnpike, facing Manhattan across the Hudson River. In the background is the World Trade Center and to the South is the landfill area of the proposed Liberty State Park, March 1973.

Illegal Dumping Area Off the New Jersey Turnpike
Image Source: Gary Miller

A large area of oil slick around Liberty Island in New York Harbor.

Oil Slick Surrounds Statue of Liberty
Image Source: Chester Higgins

A building across Lynch Park in Brooklyn that was partially gutted by fire and yet still inhabited, June 1974.

Building Partially Gutted by Fire Across From Lynch Park in Brooklyn
Image Source: Danny Lyon

The New York City Incinerator Plant in Gravesend Bay with a lot of household trash dumped in the front, May 1973. 

New York City Incinerator Plant at Gravesend Bay
Image Source: Arthur Tress

Garbage problem faced by Great Kills Park Marina on Staten Island, May 1973. 

Great Kills Park Marina on Staten Island Creates a Garbage Problem
Image Source: Arthur Tress

Old refrigerators dumped in front of an incomplete apartment building at Breezy Point Highrise. Construction was stopped by the city in order to preserve the area for public recreation, May 1973. 

Old Refrigerators and Shell of Highrise at Breezy Point Highrise
Image Source: Arthur Tress

An abandoned car and another unfinished apartment building in Breezy Point Peninsula, May 1973.

Abandoned Car and Unfinished Apartment House
Image Source: Arthur Tress

The skeleton of one of the several highrise apartments, May 1973. 

One of Several Highrise Apartments
Image Source: Arthur Tress

Sand covers an abandoned car on the beach at Breezy Point, south of Jamaica Bay, May 1973. 

Abandoned Car on Beach at Breezy Point
Image Source: Arthur Tress

The parachute jump tower at Steeplechase Amusement Park on Coney Island that was abandoned, May 1973.

Abandoned Parachute Jump at Steepleehase Amusement Park
Image Source: Arthur Tress

An abandoned car on Plum Beach in Sheepshead Bay, May 1973.

Plum Beach on Sheepshead Bay
Image Source: Arthur Tress

The trash and debris are strewn about along the road to Jamaica Bay from JFK Airport, May 1973. 

Road to Jamaica Bay from John F. Kennedy Airport
Image Source: Arthur Tress

Heavy smog fills the air over George Washington Bridge, and a view toward the New Jersey side of Hudson River, May 1973. 

The George Washington Bridge in Heavy Smog
Image Source: Chester Higgins

A building set on fire by Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute to test wires and insulation, June 1974. 

Fire Set by the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute to Test Wires and Insulation
Image Source: Danny Lyon

Among the shoreline debris at the JFK Airport is this abandoned car, May 1973. 

Shoreline Debris at the John F. Kennedy Airport
Image Source: Arthur Tress

A creek at Hunter’s Point near the JFK Airport with debris and trash floating around. The houses had no sewers and the community suffered severe pollution problems, May 1973. 

Debris-Laden Creek at Hunter's Point near the John F. Kennedy Airport
Image Source: Arthur Tress

Construction work on Lower Manhattan’s West Side. The World Trade Center can be seen in the background, May 1973. 

Construction on Lower Manhattan's West Side
Image Source: Wil Blanche

Many of the subway cars in New York City were vandalized with spray paint, May 1973. 

Many Subway Cars in New York City Have Been Spray-Painted by Vandals
Image Source: Erik Calonius

Another photograph of a subway car’s interior with graffiti, May 1973. 

Subway Car
Image Source: Erik Calonius

Abandoned car and tires were strewn around in the land owned by the JFK Airport at Jamaica Bay, June 1973. 

Land Along Jamaica Bay
Image Source: Erik Calonius

Debris floating on Hudson River near the newly constructed World Trade Center, June 1973.

Debris Floating on the Hudson River near the Newly Constructed World Trade Center
Image Source: Wil Blanche

Houses at Hunter’s Point, Jamaica Bay, June 1973.

Housing at Hunter's Point, Jamaica Bay
Image Source: Arthur Tress

A barge loaded with ashes from the Gravesend Bay Incineration Plant, May 1973.

Barge Loaded with Ashes from Gravesend Bay Incineration Plant
Image Source: Arthur Tress
[sources: Archivesflickr]
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