Future Waters Shanty Boat Proposal

The Future Waters Shanty Boat is a project to catalyze a new form of ecological community using the concept of living-of-a-watershed as a model to foster a multi-species environmental urbanism that stitches together currently disparate communities. Our planet is increasingly urban, with most of us living at the intersection of oceans and rivers in zones of astonishing pollution and remarkable ecological diversity. This convergence of forces has meant that while these zones are critical for discovering resilience in the face of global warming and sea level rise, few of us currently have any meaningful connection to the waters that will underpin our future. We believe that community evolves across species and systems and that this can only happen from a deep, direct re-entangling of people and places. Thus we need to live in, on, with and of our watersheds in wholly new and as yet unimagined manners. Our site is the confluence of the Hackensack and Passaic rivers in NJ, one of the most intensely polluted, bio-diverse, critical, contested and densely populated zones in North America (a triangle roughly defined by North Arlington, East Rutherford, and Secaucus). For over a decade, SPURSE has been engaging the critical juncture of water, food, urban ecosystems, and the commons from a multi-species perspective in projects including: Working Waters, where we sailed the coast of Maine working with communities to co-develop new economies/ecologies and policies; OCEA(N), where we collaboratively developed methodologies with the North Atlantic Marine Alliance to connect communities, scientists, fishermen and fish in new eco-social networks; and in Live Feeds with the BMW Guggenheim Lab, where we closely investigated the Hackensack watershed, building strong community partnerships.


Resurrecting a depression era river-boat typology — the “Shanty Boat” — we propose to work with community groups and the NJ Meadowlands Center for Environmental and Scientific Education to design and build a future utopian canal boat + community hub + remediation research vessel + off the grid squatters cabin. The construction will take place at the NJMC River Barge Park boathouse on the Hackensack using reclaimed materials (secured). Once constructed, we will work with the Passaic River Institute at MSU and the Hackensack Riverkeepers, (previous collaborators), to embed into community life.

Our goal is both modest and far reaching: to get early eco-adapters (families, community groups, individuals) to live with/on/of the river, from weekends to weeks at a time — documenting and sharing their experiences, research and ideas. Working with these groups we will co-develop a set of transformative proposals to be shared regionally to catalyze larger initiatives. The building procedures, research, and watershed living methods will be collected and distributed as part of a global urban aquatic resilience open-source tool-kit. The issues we address will emerge out of the watershed community’s deep engagements with/of the ecosystem. We imagine a modern-day urban aquatic “Walden”/problem catalyzer that will provoke a type of interspecies commons/research forum for engaging watershed ecologies and proposing/testing new ways of being-of-an-ecosystem.