Oars away

Cuomo announces $2.5 million competition to reimagine New York’s canal system

East Landscape Architecture News Transportation
The Erie Canal in Fairport, NY. (Flickr/Bill Blevins)
The Erie Canal in Fairport, NY. (Flickr/Bill Blevins)

Canal lovers near and far, gird your loins.

In his latest infrastructural move, Governor Cuomo announced a global competition to re-imagine the New York State Canal System as a tourist destination and an economic driver for upstate communities. Up to $2.5 million will be awarded to the finalists and winners to implement their designs.

Many may not realize that it is possible to get from Whitehall, New York all the way to Buffalo entirely by canal (there should be a Paddle to the Sea for this), but with this announcement Governor Cuomo is looking to draw the public eye back to one of the state’s greatest historic, economic, ecological, and recreational resources – and to the urban spaces dotting the blueway end to end.

The competition was timed to coincide with the bicentennial celebration of the Erie Canal that begins this year and will continue until 2025, which commemorates its construction from 1817 to 1825. Additionally, next year will mark the centennial of the New York State Canal System, 524 miles in total, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2016.

The competition’s goals are admittedly somewhat vague and broad at this stage, with a charge to promote the canal system as a “recreational asset,” encourage “sustainable economic development” along its route, celebrate its heritage, and so on. However, the challenge is clearly divided into two tracks: one focused on the infrastructure itself, another focused on the development of recreation and tourism opportunities.

Submissions for the first round of entries are due at the beginning of December 2017. The finalists will receive $50,000 to implement their proposal in partnership with a municipality adjacent to a canal or a non-profit whose work relates to the canal system. The final winner or winners will receive anywhere from $250,00 to $1.5 million – a fairly large range, by our estimation – to plan and build their projects.

With the Regional Plan Association’s recent announcement of a plan to connect and expand New York’s trail systems up into the mid-Hudson valley, Cuomo’s canal competition has AN wondering: if both plans are implemented, will it be possible to depart from our Tribeca office, hike to Albany on public lands, and set off for the Great Lakes via canoe through the newly revamped canal system? Only time will tell.

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