Backhoe Gulch: Periphery at the Center
The confluence where the BQE merges with the Gowanus Expressway, the Prospect Expressway, Hamilton Avenue, and several side streets is a spectacular cluster-fuck. The intricacy of this monstrous intersection is breathtaking, in part because it’s less than 100 yards from actual residences. (I can only imagine the calloused psyches that have had to adapt their sleeping and dreaming habits to this auto-saturated environment. To call the traffic relentless is an understatement.)
In the middle of this triangle-shaped juncture sits the grassy knoll called Backhoe Gulch. At first glance—from a passing car most likely—it looks like nothing more than a grubby little traffic island, a swath of negative space that is simply a by-product of the roads that surround it. It’s true that Backhoe Gulch is a mean and trashy place, but it’s also an officially designated park, which means it’s open to the public. I’ve been there a few times, but I couldn’t imagine seeing anyone else there. (Given the location, and its aura as a body-dumping ground, I think I’d be wary if I did.)
For all its crusty insignificance, Backhoe Gulch is one of the most exhilarating places I know. That’s because of the noise, the strange feeling of being somewhere that’s obscure yet congested and centrally located, and especially the unique vantage points. Backhoe Gulch affords a view of the city drivers might get if time froze and they could blithely stroll down the highway on foot. At the top of the hill, you can safely stand right beside the Prospect Expressway, just a few feet from the passing cars. The layered views of Gowanus, Brooklyn Heights, and Manhattan are like no others. The southern direction offers an ideal view of the bizarre structure that connects the Gowanus Expressway with the Prospect Expressway and the BQE. It’s a brutalist masterpiece as well as a feat of highway engineering.
There’s always a place for pastoral retreat—to flee the city’s onslaught and commune with nature. Backhoe Gulch, though, is another park experience. It provides an opportunity to become one with the flow of massive intertwining traffic arteries and to pulse with that distinctly urban lifeblood of accelerated kinetic frenzy.