John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Here's where you really don't want to swim in the Big Apple.
Unless they have a mental disease or are Cosmo Kramer, most people don't need to be told not to swim in New York's waterways. But for a reminder why that's the case, have a look at this odious map showing the fecal material floating in the Rotten Apple's streams, creeks, and sludgy rivers.
This crappy cartography was made by Ben Wellington, a visiting assistant professor at Brooklyn's Pratt Institute and the brain behind the fascinating open-data site I Quant NY. (Wellington made the map in the fall, but it's now getting its ignoble due in Revaluate's "Best New York City Maps of 2014.") His accounting relies on reports of fecal coliform from the city's environmental-protection department; this nasty bacterium, often washed into the water during combined-sewer overflows, can close down beaches when it reaches a certain feculence.
In Wellington's Poo Land, larger red circles indicate places with more-frequent unsafe levels of fecal coliform. Zoom in and click on one to get info on bacteria count and the percentage of days it's inadvisable to swim in. Here's the Gowanus, for instance, where it's "safe" to take a dip an amazing 62 percent of the time (well, if you disregard all the other toxic crud in there):
And this is the smelly situation in Brooklyn and Staten Island:
And the other boroughs:
So where's the No. 1 spot to do nose-searing, flesh-consuming toilet laps? That would be a soiled ribbon near everyone's favorite spot for freak shows and hot dog-eating contests, says Wellington:
The dirtiest water? Coney Island Creek, which sits between Coney Island and the rest of Brooklyn. Not far behind it is Bergen Basin, near JFK. These two are at the top of the list by the mean measurement as well. The Bronx River is number 3, Alley Creek is 4 and Bergen Basin comes back for number 5. At all five of these spots, samples came in as having too much fecal coliform to swim in more than half the time!
An image search backs up the advice that Coney Island Creek is definitely not a great place for a beach picnic: