A flood-proof park, at least in theory, may be heading to New York City at some time in the future.
In large part due to the effects of global climate change, the world seems to be witnessing unprecedented levels of flooding. The park is planned for the East River. The 26-km waterway, which is relatively narrow, connects and separates portions of the 5 major boroughs of the City, connecting Long Island Sound to the North and Upper New York Bay to the South. Part of this impressive strait is the East River Park, a 57-acre waterfront park with imagery as symbolic for the city as the Empire State Building.
The scheme for the park involves the ambitious task of simultaneously providing the storm surge protection while still giving residents and visitors access to the waterfront. However, from an engineering standpoint, the urgent question always becomes “Yes, but how will it work?”
The project, appropriately named the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project (ESCR), faced some opposition from the local community—namely Community Board 3 of Manhattan—which raised some key concerns about access and feasibility. Initially part of the much larger Big U project, a project that was to cover a 16-km stretch of Manhattan. ESCR, instead, covers a smaller and more manageable portion of the same area.
Based on the comprehensive feedback by the Board given on March 27th, their plans, in fact, have already received some adjustments, some of which include allowing more space for a pedestrian bridge, an added bridge with greater access, as well as increasing the overall number of stairs and ramps throughout the space.
The initial designs call for the combination of traditional levees, flood walls, as well as earthen levees which will provide movable gate protection with a more natural-looking design without sacrificing aesthetics. Beyond this, there is roughly 11 additional blocks of green space that is also being planned for the expanded area.
One of the most striking features of the design is that it was conceived around the possibility of an anticipated 0.76m rise in sea levels that will gradually occur over the next 3 decades.
The project is slated to wrap up by 2024, and a large part of what the project will need to get the green light to move forward is delivering a strong Environmental Impact Statement to the City, which is due in the month of July.
With a groundbreaking planned for next year, approval for the multimillion-dollar project (with $400 million coming from the City of New York and $335 million coming from the federal government) is crucial.
In the end, the strength of the project—far-sighted planning—can in some ways be viewed as the biggest flaw. Engineers will cite the forward-thinking and wise planning behind the structure as an asset, while environmentalists and city-dwellers will no doubt continue to advocate for more space, more access and fewer restrictions. Hopefully, in the end, a compromise that satisfies all parties can be reached.