Future Water Commons


This project uses a locally-based, storm-resilient, ADA compliant floating classroom to deliver a hands-on environmental education program to underserved youth in the environmental justice areas along the Hudson River.. Through consultation with community partners, the project will create a series of high-profile exhibits at multiple venues in Hudson, Kingston, Poughkeepsie, and Newburgh.



How can we catalytically support environmentally marginalized communities to engage deeply and actively with the Hudson River in a time of ever increasing ecological urgencies – from increased storms, sea-level rise, infrastructure collapse, and ongoing economic precarity? How can we work with these communities so that they can gain meaningful access to the river and develop their own ecological voice and vision?


The Future Water Commons project seeks to catalyze this with designated environmental justice areas who have suffered  limited access to the Hudson River due to exclusionary infrastructure, environmental racism, and pollution.


Using a custom built boat, Future Water Commons will foster direct communing with the river and collective speculation for alternative ecological futures. Gathering in intimate groups on the water, immersing in cultural ecological histories, sharing diverse food traditions, and indigenous truths provides a powerful space for change. Learning and speculating directly on the river can catalyze new, deep and meaningful ties between communities, their historical foodways, the river, its ecology, and alternative regional futures. By collectively exploring shared dependencies on the Hudson for ecological sustenance, food and deep belonging, communities can connect to the complex realities of history, stewardship and positively develop speculative futures. These newly developed ties between people, place and history can give communities a new sense of belonging, understanding, and agency to be stewards, advocates, and powerful agents of their own and the river’s ecological change and resilience.


This project is a proposed collaboration between multiple communities and community groups along the Hudson river including Kite’s Nest, a center for liberatory education; Hudson City Hall; SPURSE, an ecological design group; Hudson Riverkeeper; and the faculty and students from SUNY New Paltz. 


Our plan is to work with the youth communities of Hudson, Kingston, Poughkeepsie, and Newburgh, to develop a series of workshops that explore ecological interdependence through embodied and pleasurable activities centered around being on the river. We will adapt a previously funded beautifully designed pontoon boat to become an ADA compliant floating all weather gathering space to support these activities. 


We will introduce participants to the lived ecology of the river. These trips will serve as the basis for a series of community meals hosted with the Palestine Heirloom Seed Library, where the role of watersheds as a source of belonging, sustenance and migration will be explored. Participants and their families will be invited to share their histories and collectively imagine a new and vibrant future for the Hudson River. These speculative futures will become part of an exhibit that utilizes the logic of urban planning signage to articulate in the public realm powerful alternative futures.


Additionally, sustainability studies will be provided by SUNY faculty and partners covering topics such as pollution remediation, climate change education, marine wildlife identification and co-management strategies. Direct student engagement will be supported via paid internships and selected participants will receive hands-on professional training in monitoring and identification. These workshops will culminate in multiple venues in Kingston, Hudson, Poughkeepsie, Newburgh, and participation in the “A Day in the Life of the Hudson”. 


Some historical background:

The dense pleats and folds of the Hudson River hide a number of marginal fishing communities whose unique form of vernacular architecture evolved as an adaptive partnership with the river and its nonhuman communities. Situated within the intersection of global warming, industrial pollution and crumbling infrastructure these self-governing communities, and the unique potentials they represent, is being effaced by the demands of public infrastructure and the enclosure of the commons. 


Marginalized provisional fishing villages, like the Furgary in Hudson New York, lie in opposition to the contemporary home, the epitome of the spatial inscription of individual freedom. Their architecture, made from repurposed waste, existed in a state of constant transformation as it adapted to the changing dynamic of the watershed ecology. Properly conceived, the boundaries of fishing villages extend out beyond its shacks, docks and boats, to encompass changing tides, schools of fish and shifting sandbars. Construction, maintenance and daily function of these villages did not occur through the normative models of private ownership, but were negotiated through the social practice of the commons. People, but in a very real sense, the river itself, are vibrant actors in this mutual affiliation. Similarly, we cannot approach the infrastructure of these fishing villages in the traditional sense: as the deployment of man-made facilities for the public; the infrastructure of the fishing villages is the river.


Resurrecting the “Shanty Boat”, a depression era river-boat typology, we have created an off the grid platform that allows us to dwell in immediate proximity to these communities. The mobility of our research vessel is a critical component for understanding the architectural dynamics of the fishing villages, which can only be understood as extensions of a larger entangled ecology. The orientation of a dock, direction of the current, proximity of a shad spawning ground, upstream location of sewage outflow, exchange of tools, sharing of fishing grounds, erosion of a river bank are vital and necessary components of fishing village architecture. Our research boat allows us to physically navigate these features with the residents from these villages, recording their precarious generational knowledge.