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Shaping Our 21st Century Waterfront

Today, resiliency and New York City are deeply intertwined. Last week the Waterfront Alliance (WA) (formerly the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance) hosted their annual Waterfront Conference. With speakers and attendees from all sectors, discussions focused on new approaches, ideas, and best practices for waterfront resiliency and development. Our Director of Design, Linda Gumeny, RLA and Associate Landscape Architect, Carl Carlson attended and share their top take-aways.

NYC  Coastal Resiliency

The New York City metropolitan waterfront, with resiliency and development as two of the major themes for this year’s Waterfront Alliance conference.

Key themes throughout the day:

      • Integrating ecology with waterfront design.
      • Enhancing and creating transportation networks.
      • Importance of strong community engagement.
      • Resilience and green vs. gray infrastructure.

Integrating ecology with waterfront design

This has been a growing trend in the landscape architecture field and the basis of Great Ecology’s approach (ecology + design).

      • Earlier this year, the WA released their Waterfront Edge Design Guidelines (WEDG) and have several projects in New York as trial runs for the program.
        • WEDG is a rating system (or scorecard) for properties directly on the waterfront and the result of collaboration between multi-disciplinary waterfront experts and government regulators.
        • The certification program allows projects to earn credits in seven categories including: site selection and planning, public access, resiliency, and ecological health.
        • The goal is to create best-practices for public agencies, communities, and developers for waterfront development nationwide.
        • The trial WEDG projects include: the Brooklyn Bridge Park, Sandy Hook Pilots Association Headquarters, Domino Sugar Site, and Sunset Park Materials Recovery Facility.
      • As ecologists and designers it’s interesting and exciting to see (and hear) terms that used to be solely in the realm of ecology becoming mainstream in the design community, from “ecological uplift”, to “ecosystem services”, to “habitat equivalency analysis”.
Eco Park/Pier 35, East River Waterfront, NYC

Great Ecology’s East River Waterfront Eco-park Design project, integrated ecology with design to create ecological uplift through an intertidal habitat slab.

Enhancing and creating transportation networks

The overarching topic of the day, particularly new ferry links for low income and disconnected neighborhoods, a cornerstone of Mayor DeBlasio’s five-borough ferry service initiative.

Strong community engagement

Several presenters emphasized the importance of understanding and acknowledging true experts of a community are those who live within it – they need to be involved in any planning or design process.

      • We often get caught up in the protection aspect of coastal resiliency. But presenters reminded us other components are just as necessary. Specifically, presenters called for large scale capital projects to also include the promotion of economic and social development for neighborhoods affected by rising sea-levels, storm surge, and other events.
      • At a breakout group many community members took part in discussing the importance of creating connections to a long ignored creek in Coney Island. They looked at ways to combine access, ecology, and resiliency in an area hard hit by Hurricane Sandy.

Resilience and green vs. gray infrastructure

The consensus is engineers need to work with landscape architects and ecologists to develop hybrid green/gray alternatives. Each project location is unique and presents its own set of challenges and opportunities. There is no one size fits all solution for resiliency.

      • Even discussed at one point is the controversial idea that phragmites (an invasive species) may have some benefits that shouldn’t be overlooked (We’ll save that for another blog).

Developing, designing, and implementing resiliency measures requires a collaborative, integrated approach blending all disciplines from engineering, to design to ecology. We need to plan for the future and layer in resiliency planning from sea-level rise to drier climates into all projects to ensure long-term success.

Waterfront Alliance President and CEO, Roland Lewis, sums it up perfectly; “At the waterfront, it’s all about collaboration. We learn from each other and challenge each other—and our collective wisdom results in better, more inclusive decisions for our coastal communities.”

As practioners we need to understand how we can adapt best practices and creative approaches to different waterfronts and coastal environments. Which lessons learned from New York City can be applied to San Diego or San Francisco? How about New Orleans? What can each city teach us for the others?

The upcoming Coastal Symposium in San Diego, CA is focused on understanding and applying lessons learned. Stay tuned for our next take-aways after attending and exhibiting at the conference.

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