When it comes to protecting our shores, nature knows the best


In cities, bodies of water historically have a certain romantic allure. Technological changes in shipping and manufacturing have led many urban waterfronts to evolve from sites of infrastructure and industry to places where people want to live, play and connect with nature.

This transition was not without consequences. Over the past several decades, these waterfront residents have experienced an increase in storms and flooding, with increasing impacts. These storms can sometimes devastate vulnerable communities and take a heavy financial and emotional toll.

However, as the current housing crisis in New York shows, there is no shortage of development interest and demand. But we have to grow smarter and we have to start today. We cannot continue to attract more people to our waterfronts without also adopting adaptation strategies that reduce the risk posed by climate change and provide the opportunity to enhance or restore the ecological value of our backyards. water.

An approach like this, however, requires a recalibration of regulatory frameworks and design standards that influence waterfront development. Conventional and defensive measures such as sheer levees and raised platforms have been commonly used nationwide to elevate sites above rising water levels, thereby reducing the impacts of storm surges. These methods can indeed be effective in solving the problem of flood risk locally on an individual property, and in some cases they may be the best option.

But these approaches have become the most common “solution” to waterfront development, although evidence is mounting that they are not always the best solution. While they may be the most common solution, they are by no means a foolproof solution.

A singular seawall, which can even make a storm more damaging under certain circumstances, will not work for New York City. We knew that after Super Storm Sandy. Every major coastal weather event that has followed has demonstrated the need for new thinking, especially when that new thinking builds on proven lessons from nature.

Instead of over-reliance on outdated solutions, we can take a hybrid approach based on both natural and man-made infrastructure.

Coastal hardening strategies can be combined with “softer” solutions, though heavily designed, to provide multiple lines of defense along the coastline. Wetlands, salt marshes, mud flats and oyster beds have the ability to dampen the rise of waves and slow their retreat, thereby reducing the risk of erosion and better protecting buildings and structures inside. lands. They also restore habitat and create conditions for the return of lost species.

By taking inspiration from nature itself, we can rebuild a new form of coastal defense system that we have inadvertently destroyed.

By taking inspiration from nature itself, we can rebuild a new form of coastal defense system that we have inadvertently destroyed. Some organizations are already having a significant impact in mitigating their city against climate change with this method. New York-based organization Billion Oyster Project is restoring oyster reefs in New York Harbor to protect waterfronts from storm damage, using oysters as filtration systems to clean estuaries.

In Brooklyn, the River Ring development project, designed by Field Operations and Bjarke Ingels Group, is designed to reduce flood risk to protect more than 500 buildings inland from flooding. It comes with its own resilient water park, includes a public beach, 3 acres of open space, and 3 acres of protected water access. It will be open to all New Yorkers and visitors, with the plan intentionally designed to draw the public into the space to engage with their waterfront.

Hunter’s Point South Park in Long Island City, by SWA / Balsley and Weiss / Manfredi with Arup, strategically uses green and gray shoreline design techniques that include tidal wetlands, planted coverings, dykes and flat structures. -form – and serves as an ideal model for coastal development in urban areas by combining resilience, ecological development and public access.

We have the evidence at our fingertips now, we know what to do, but the question is, can we actually implement it? A number of organizations and developers are looking for solutions to our collective climate crisis, and if we don’t move forward with ambitious projects that use smart design standards, there won’t be a safe waterfront to design. .


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