Luc Vrolijks and Ashley Spatafore - Urban Progress Design
New York, USA
The island at the center of the world is at risk. Flood risks in parts of Manhattan, Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island are rising to unsustainable levels. Action is needed, but how can New York tame the rising tides and hold back the surging waves?
‘GROWING SAFE’ proposes to make New York safe by reimagining New York’s lower bay as a safety valve for the city; an area transforming in tune with the changing sea level and hurricane threats, in order to safeguard the city in a changing climate.
Over the next half century, the rubble from obsolete buildings, the excavated materials from new metro lines and other underground structures, and the redistribution of sands in the Hudson basin, are deployed to enhance the safety of the city. Not to extend the city, but to make it safe.
In tune with the speed of sea level rise, and using obsolete rubble and sand from New York, new dams, levees, islands, marshlands and coastal dunes are formed through a constant and gradual process. The annual production is limited, but the change over time is considerable; it will transform New York’s lower bay into a protective bay, a place that reduces wave impact and controls storm damage.
The water use plan for New York’s lower bay is a mixed-use plan. It maintains safe shipping corridors for Port bound traffic, and increasingly combines that with coastline protection, recreation, education, fisheries and energy production. The bay is big enough to allow these uses to be combined.
A 1:500 year flood would inundate New York’s low-lying areas including Coney Island, JFK, parts of the harbor, most of Red Hook, the shoreline of Staten Island and parts of lower Manhattan. Such a flood would cause considerable environmental damage. But the current 1:500 year flood will become much more likely when the sea level rises – estimates are that the current 1:500 year flood will be the 1:100 year flood within the coming century. When exactly is not known, but it is clear that the odds are changing.
‘GROWING SAFE’ is a resilient city strategy that can keep the city at par with its changing risk. The first decade, interventions may be limited to creating protective sand dunes for Staten Island and some strategically placed dams and islands to contain wave impact. But over time, more islands, wetlands, sand dunes and storm dams may be constructed, transforming the lower bay into a wave impact reduction device for New York. Over time, even storm surge barriers may be added to seal the lower Bay altogether. But if the risk remains within limits, that may not be needed for half a century or more.
Tourism + Leisure
The emerging new landscape of the lower bay will not only deliver protection but also fun. The new islands, wetlands, sand dunes create a huge recreational opportunity for the people of New York. The Hamptons are brought to the Bay, allowing New Yorkers to find a recreational landscape close to home. The lower bay leisure provides a carbon efficient recreation alternative – and so the bay itself helps to drive down carbon emissions of the city. Choices range from low intensity marshland canoe camping trips to luxury beach villa’s with vistas of Manhattan. And 'GROWING SAFE' will enhance the protection of existing funscapes, including those of Coney Island and Staten Island.
‘GROWING SAFE’ will enhance the ecological diversity of the area. It will deliver a hugely important improvement for bird habitat, practically extending the Jamaica Bay area all over the Lower Bay. It will also improve water conditions, enhance fisheries potential and allow oyster cultures to be revived.
The Lower Bay becomes a real-life lab for living with climate change. In one of the early stages, a learning center for living with climate change will be established on one of the new islands in the bay. The center will enable New York’s school children to grasp the complexities of the changing climate, and see for themselves how the city is working to live with it.
Wind, wave energy, tidal energy, the salt/fresh water divide, seaweed and algae growing potential abound in the lower bay. ‘GROWING SAFE’ proposes to develop this potential in the same way as the protection is developed – gradual, in tune with what is needed, and in the case of energy, with the to-be-expected rise in fuel prices that will necessitate an increasing shift to renewable sources. The energy production will easily stay at par with the increasing use of the area, allowing a ‘carbon-positive’ development.