Billion Oyster Project

What is Paerdegat Basin Designed For?


What's Your Stake in Paerdegat Basin?



Class Periods




Subject Areas

Science, Social Studies


Students use several maps to begin their research on people's relationships with the land- and water-forms around Paerdegat Basin (and the creek that used to exist where the basin is now).  Based on the evidence they collect, they develop a provisional answer to the question: what is Paerdegat Basin designed for? 


  • recognize major local geographic features on maps: Jamaica Bay, Canarsie, Paerdegat Basin, Fresh Creek.

  • use 'warp' and 'transparency' functions on NYPL digital maps to compare past and present maps.

  • think critically about the land and water forms around them, alert to the possibilities of past and present human interventions.

  • close-read a map as a primary source, considering its author/cartographer, audience, and purpose.

Materials and Resources


  • Each student needs a computer with internet access
  • A way to project a live web page for the whole class to view the same time
  • Tracing paper (optional)

Before you get started


  • If you like, examine Extended Library of Maps of Paerdegat Basin.  It provides a dozen or so additional geographic images of Canarsie and Paerdegat Basin. Depending on the questions your students come up with, you might choose to introduce some of this material for them to continue their research.


Paerdegat 'Basin', a human invention, was built around the mouth of Paerdegat Creek (aka Bedford Creek), which once originated at a freshwater spring that was near today's Newkirk Avenue 2/5 subway station.  For years, the Town of Flatbush got its drinking water from a water works at that spring.  In the period under study in this lesson, 1890-the present, real estate developers and city planners transformed this creek and its surrounding marshlands into the paved, sewered, linear and angular landscape and waterscape we recognize today.  

Since the 1990s, environmental regulators, local residents and their civic associations and politicians, and nonprofits like Sebago Canoe Club and Billion Oyster Project have proposed, debated, and in some cases enacted changes to Paerdegat Basin and the way people can use it.

The change continues to this day, as, for example, you and your students help steward the oyster reef at Sebago Canoe Club, and as sea level rise changes the boundaries between land and water.  

By witnessing some key moments in this story of change via maps, and by close-reading historical and contemporary maps of the area, students can begin to develop informed answers to the question: what is Paerdegat Basin designed for? 

Especially in concert with other lessons from the unit, your students' inquiry-driven research can help them identify their personal stake in Paerdegat Basin.

In chronological order, the maps in this lesson are:
  1. Robinson's 1890 Map of King's County, which New York Public Library has digitally 'warped' (overlaid) onto a contemporary map.

  2. one of two Plans for a Jamaica Bay Port (see Lesson Library of Paerdegat Basin Maps for more on the two versions).
    Some powerful New Yorkers pushed this plan from about 1905 through the 1930s, and then gave up on the idea.

  3. Parkway Map from 1938
    Robert Moses built the Belt Parkway, which traverses Paerdegat Basin.  In the process, he also changed land use surrounding the highway.

  4. Sewershed Map from the 2006 Paerdegat Basin Combined Sewer Oveflow (CSO) Long-Term Control Plan, published by NYC Department of Environmental Protection, shows which parts of Brooklyn direct raw sewage toward Paerdegat Basin.  
    Much of this raw sewage can go straight into the basin, untreated, whenever rain overwhelms the area's combined sewer system.  That happens much less often since 2014, when DEP started operating a 50 million-gallon holding tank to store the sewage until the rain stops, .  In dry weather, the Owl's Head and Coney Island sewage treatment plants can then receive and treat it the stored sewage.

  5. Riparian Improvements Map from the 2006 Paerdegat Basin Combined Sewer Oveflow (CSO) Long-Term Control Plan shows DEP's plans for Paerdegat Basin Park.  The park runs along the two long sides of the basin.
    The land at the head of the basin is not parkland.  It consists of a DEP facility, most of which consists of that holding tank, and a Department of Transportation (DOT) facility.  According to city planning records from 1997, DOT was supposed to move that facility and leave that stretch of waterfront for parks.  So far none of that has happened.

  6. Satellite Image of Paerdegat Basin from June 2018 (or the latest Google Satellite image, but you won't know the date of the image, and it may be older than June 2018).

  7. Sea Level Rise Viewer from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Instruction Plan


  1. Project the 1890 Robinson's Map of King's County warp view, and set the transparency at 0.  (This makes the 1890 map completely transparent, so you are looking at the contemporary map behind it.)  Choose a view that you think your students can recognize.  Ask: "What do you recognize on this map?"

  2. Zoom in on Paerdegat Basin.  Once students are oriented, ask: "What do you think this place looked like in 1890?"

  3. Introduce the 1890 map by raising the transparency setting to 100.  (This makes the 1890 map completely opaque, so you can't see the contemporary map behind it.) Play with the transparency so that students can understand that they are seeing an old map overlaid onto a contemporary map.  Ask: "According to these two maps, what are some of the things that have changed since 1890? What are some of the things that have stayed the same?"
    • Solicit observations, inferences, and questions.
    • Distribute one copy of Observation / Inference / Questions for Maps to each student.
    • Students write down their initial notes.

  4. Distribute Key to Robinson's 1890 Map of King's County and Title Page from Robinson's 1890 Atlas of King's County
    • Discuss the Key and Title Page.
    • Students write additional notes.


Provide digital access to the maps you have chosen for your class from Lesson Library of Maps of Paerdegat Basin.  Students manipulate the 1890 Robinson map in warp view, and complete their note-taking on it.  


Students first write their responses, and then discuss as a class:

  • Based on the evidence you have gathered so far, what do you think Paerdegat Basin was designed for?  What is your evidence?  
  • What additional information would you need, in order to better answer the question?
  • {for students who write more quickly, while others are still answering the other questions} Does it seem accurate to say that Paerdegat Basin was or is 'designed'?  Why or why not?  What's your evidence?  It's an unusual way to describe a body of water connected to the ocean.


Introduce other maps you have chosen from Lesson Library of Maps of Paerdegat Basin, and distribute a copy of Observation / Inference / Questions for Maps to each student for each map.  Students continue their note-taking in search of better answers to the question: what is Paerdegat Basin designed for?


Based on the new evidence they have collected, students revise their written responses, and then discuss as a class:

  • Based on the evidence you have gathered so far, what do you think Paerdegat Basin was designed for?  What is your evidence?  
  • What additional information would you need, in order to better answer the question?
  • {for students who write more quickly, while others are still answering the other questions} Who do you think designed Paerdegat Basin?  What's your evidence?  Where could you look for more evidence?


  1. Students choose two of the maps from the lesson, and compare and contrast the purposes of the different map-makers.

    • What information about the map-maker's purpose is available on the map or with the map?

    • What can you infer by examining what is emphasized in and what is left out of each map?

  2. Another extension (could be homework): using tracing paper and today’s map, students create a plan that shows something they wish existed, but doesn’t.  Everything else on the plan should be accurately traced.


CCLS - ELA Science & Technical Subjects

    • Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
    • Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.

NGSS - Cross-Cutting Concepts

  • Influence of Engineering, Technology, and Science on Society and the Natural World

    • All human activity draws on natural resources and has both short and long-term consequences, positive as well as negative, for the health of people and the natural environment.

NGSS - Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • ESS3.C: Human Impacts on Earth Systems

    • Typically as human populations and per-capita consumption of natural resources increase, so do the negative impacts on Earth unless the activities and technologies involved are engineered otherwise.

NGSS - Science and Engineering Practices

  • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

    • Gather, read, and synthesize information from multiple appropriate sources and assess the credibility, accuracy, and possible bias of each publication and methods used, and describe how they are supported or not supported by evidence.

NYC Science Scope & Sequence - Units

  • Grade 8, Unit 4

    • Humans and the Environment: Needs and Tradeoffs

NYS Science Standards - Key Ideas

  • LE Key Idea 7

    • Human decisions and activities have had a profound impact on the physical and living environment

NYS Science Standards - Major Understandings

    • Overpopulation by any species impacts the environment due to the increased use of resources. Human activities can bring about environmental degradation through resource acquisition, urban growth, land-use decisions, waste disposal, etc.
    • Since the Industrial Revolution, human activities have resulted in major pollution of air, water, and soil. Pollution has cumulative ecological effects such as acid rain, global warming, or ozone depletion. The survival of living things on our planet depends on the conservation and protection of Earth’s resources.

NYS Science Standards - MST

    • Students will access, generate, process, and transfer information using appropriate technologies.