Search results for "superstorm sandy"

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Fantastic Fountains

World’s Fair fountains to become fog garden and water park
The renovation of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens continues apace, with a recently announced renewal of the World’s Fair fountains surrounding the iconic Unisphere. Landscape architecture firm Quennell Rothschild & Partners (QRP) has been selected to spearhead a $5 million renovation of the Fountain of the Fairs within the park, and will link the neglected fountains with an interactive “fog garden”. The Fountain of the Fairs, an axis of long, rectangular pools designed by Robert Moses for the 1964-65 World’s Fair, connects the Unisphere to the Fountain of the Planets to the east. Instead of returning the three fountains to their original conditions, QRP will be updating each of them to allow community access as well as save water. In the first phase of the plan, the western pool in front of the Unisphere will be filled in with Art Deco-inspired pavers and converted into a fog garden. The walkway’s fog will be generated by a series of 500 hidden sprinklers, and NYC park officials can either create a four-foot-tall fog wall or release the mist in waves to improve the visibility. As the children play in the garden, parents will be able to watch from the new concrete benches lining the play area. Phase II will see the middle fountain converted into a sunken amphitheater, and the final phase will create a children’s water park in what is currently the easternmost fountain. QRP will also be replacing the massed Yew trees along the fog garden area with maple trees, short evergreen plants, and grasses to improve the views across the park. The new sightlines will also allow food trucks to park in the newly softened plaza in front of the Fountain of the Planets. The renovation is a welcome respite for the Fountain of the Fairs. Although all three fountains were repaired and flowing after a renovation in 2000, the pools have been dry since 2012 due to flood damage from superstorm Sandy. Any visitor to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park might spot children cooling off in the fountain below the Unisphere, although the basin is meant to be purely decorative. “It’s a decorative fountain, it’s not supposed to be used for water play,” Janice Melnick, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park administrator, told amNewYork. “People try to climb up on the Unisphere base; the jets are powerful.” The fountain plans comes on the heels of the revitalization of the Philip Johnson and Richard Foster-designed Tent of Tomorrow, which was restored to its original color in 2015, and which recently won $14 million for structural upgrades. Construction on the first phase of the fountain conversion will begin in the fall of this year.
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Sandy Legacies

Five years later, AN considers Hurricane Sandy’s impact on New York’s built environment
Hurricane Sandy pummeled New York City almost five years ago today. Since then, the built environment has undergone substantial changes. The Architect's Newspaper (AN) reflects on those first few months post-Sandy, and looks at some initiatives that are reshaping the city to withstand future storms. Shortly after the storm, AN editors reflected on the extent of the infrastructural damage in a heatless Tribeca office. Though uncomfortable, the office was more habitable than many coastal neighborhoods, including Red Hook, Brooklyn, and Breezy Point, a Queens neighborhood at the tip of the Rockaway peninsula that was gutted by fire. In NYCHA developments citywide, 80,000 tenants were without heat or electricity for weeks, the result of floodwaters that topped 11 feet. After assessing the scale of destruction, FEMA updated its flood maps, a reflection of the epic scale of destruction, adding 35,000 structures to Zone A, areas most likely to be impacted in a major storm. The total scale of the loss was great; in New York and New Jersey, 182 people died, and the Northeast coastline sustained $65 billion in damages. In the months afterward, the Department of City Planning presented a guide to storm-proofing buildings. A little more than a year later, the Department of Buildings released building codes for new residential construction and apartments over five stories to make it easier for people to stay in their homes in the event of a severe storm. Architecture for Humanity and AIA New York rallied designers to help with relief efforts, and Garrison Architects was just one firm to answer the call to action. The architects, known for sustainable modular buildings, erected a prefabricated emergency housing prototype in downtown Brooklyn that still stands today. In June 2013, state, local, and national stakeholders launched Rebuild By Design, a federal competition to design more resilient coastline in New York City and the tri-state area.  In August 2013, then-HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan announced 69 rebuilding initiatives designed to stitch New York's built environment back together and prepare infrastructure for future floods. Flooding put the subways out of commission, and repairs to the heavily damaged L train tunnel will suspend Brooklyn-to-Manhattan service for 18 months, starting next year. The storm exposed the vulnerability of New York's aging infrastructure, but it also created a space for art and reflection. Situ Studio salvaged boardwalk planks from New York and New Jersey for Heartwalk, its Times Square Valentine's Day installation. MoMA PS1 opened a pop-up geodesic exhibition space in the Rockaways in April 2013 as part of EXPO 1: NEW YORK, showing museum-solicited ideas on transforming the city's waterfront.  Architect Roderick Wolgamott-Romero built a massive treehouse from Sandy-felled oaks at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

. . .

This is by no means a comprehensive look at the thousands of initiatives, local and national, that have shaped the city in the five years after Hurricane Sandy. Below, we scan some initiatives that are remaking the built environment. For housing, Build It Back is one of the city's key programs to quickly rebuild dwellings in waterside neighborhoods post-Sandy. So far, the city reports its Build It Back program has completed repairs on around 7,200 structures, or 87 percent of the housing in the program. Since its launch in 2013, the program has rebuilt almost 1,400 of the most severely damaged homes, raising them on stilts above the floodplain. Another 6,500 homeowners, many without flood insurance, received reimbursements for repairs and technical support. “As we near the end of the Build It Back program, we are continuing to make steady progress," Mayor Bill de Blasio said, in prepared remarks. "We have succeeded in getting more than 10,000 families back in safe and resilient homes and stronger communities. We have more work to do, and this program will not be done until every family is home.” Though the city is close to reaching its goals, last year the program's creator slammed Build It Back as a "categorical failure," largely because it didn't get residents back in their homes quick enough. "After the multi-billion dollar rebuilding process ends, neighborhoods will see a hodgepodge of housing types: elevations, demolitions, in-kind repairs—is that the best outcome?"asked Brad Gair, former head of the mayor's Housing Recovery Operations, at a July 2016 hearing. "Have the billions invested in infrastructure projects to reduce flood risk made our coastlines safer?" DNAinfo reported that Gair questioned the government's capacity to set up "what amounts to a multi-billion dollar corporation" in a few months to speedily re-home people. At that time, Mayor de Blasio stated that the program's work would be complete by the end of 2016. Today the Daily News reported that almost one-fifth of the 12,000-plus families in the program are still waiting for a buyout or work to wrap up on their properties.

. . .

All along the city's 520 miles of coastline, new dunes, bulkheads, and sea walls are intended to prevent the catastrophic flooding that characterized Sandy. Even with the latest interventions, is New York City really prepared for another superstorm? While offering hope for a more resilient future, new climate projections sow doubt on the city's viability over the next century and beyond. A new study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that floods that with a high-water mark of 7.4 feet could hit the city once every 25 years, and the same level of floods could come as frequently as every five years between 2030 and 2045. Superstorms could be more intense, but modeling indicates that they would move further offshore. In response, the city is tackling the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency Project, a plan to flood-proof Manhttan's east side. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is erecting flood protection on Staten Island's east shore, and it is planning to build a barrier in Jamaica Bay, Queens. The Governor's Office of Storm Recovery is spearheading the Tottenville Shoreline Protection Project and Living Breakwaters, two resiliency strategies at the southern tip of Staten Island. None of these massive projects have yet broken ground.
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Roof-Down Resilience

Massive post-Sandy roof restoration begins at Red Hook Houses
On Tuesday morning, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) broke ground on the first of several FEMA-funded renovations to Red Hook Houses, devastated by Hurricane Sandy five years ago. The first step is a total replacement of the roofs, with completion projected for the end of 2021. 2,785 of the almost 3,000 apartment units in Red Hook Houses East and West fall under the total $3 billion FEMA post-Sandy restoration funds for public housing complexes across the city, and the total replacement of its roofs is just the first step. Tenants have spoken out about ongoing leaks, power outages, and mold for years after the storm. "Their plaster is falling because of moisture that came from Sandy," Frances Brown, president of the Tenants Association, told BKLYNER. "A lot of times you plug in something and all your power goes out." NYCHA's entire resilience plan for the Houses, including commissions from KPF, OLIN, and Arup, also includes sidewalk resurfacing; generator installation; utilities and hardware restoration; rebuilt playgrounds; and flood-proofing basements. There are also new sustainability measures incorporated by the firms: rooftop solar panels, raised "utility pods" providing heat and electricity as well as public green space, a raised "lily pad" flood barrier system, and more. Meanwhile, Brown called out New York State Assembly Member Felix Ortiz, whose district includes the development, for helping tenants with immediate practical concerns like replacing fridges and stoves in apartments severely impacted by the storm. As the nation watches superstorms like Harvey and now Irma impact our coastal cities, U.S. Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez remarked at the groundbreaking that it's more important than ever to ensure that "the rebuilding we do is built to last"—even if its implementation begins five years on.
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Squad Goals

See the award-winning design for the NYPD Bomb Squad Headquarters

New York–based firms Rice + Lipka Architects (R+L) and Liz Farrell Landscape Architecture have won a 2017 Award for Excellence in Design for their scheme for the NYPD Bomb Squad Headquarters Building in the Bronx's Pelham Bay Park. The New York City Department of Design & Construction (NYC DDC) commissioned the project after the existing facilities were damaged in Superstorm Sandy.

To make the new 10,700-square-foot building more resilient to storm surges, R+L elevated the main programs of training, office, and "robot shop" beyond the required Design Flood Elevation (DFE) floodplain. This new space underneath will become parking for a specialized truck fleet. The resulting apparatus floor is enclosed by cast concrete walls punctured by flood vents that allow for full inundation without damaging the building or its critical systems.

[intersitial]

Resilient cast-in-place concrete walls have vents that allow flood waters to permeate the building without damaging it. Above, an upper massing is wrapped in a corrugated aluminum rain screen covered in a series of photovoltaic panels and mechanical units. Where the original structure once was, native plants will be reintroduced to restore the shoreline ecology. The project embraces NYC’s "80 x 50 roadmap" to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with a photovoltaic farm and other energy efficient systems including triple-glazing and high R-value wall composition.

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Vulnerability In Resilient Urbanism

Has “resiliency” been hijacked to justify and promote development?

The recent visioning scheme for Red Hook, Brooklyn, is a case study in the conflicting interests that contribute to any proposed change in New York neighborhoods. We all know the story of poor, underserved areas like Red Hook that are ignored for generations, and then suddenly become intense hot spots for development. This scheme proposes not just subtle adjustments, but instead hyper-development, which brings out conflict.

The shorthand to describe this process of change is the overused word “gentrification.” But development in any New York neighborhood, let alone one like Red Hook, with spectacular views of the Verrazano Bay and Manhattan, is fraught with the prospect of winners and losers. All too often in New York City, the losers have been the poor and the winners the wealthy who want (and get) to live in these prime urban sites.

AECOM, the creator of this scheme, has presented a vision (identified specifically as not a “plan”) that it claims was done in response to community demands for new investment and infrastructure. This vision encourages the public to visit AECOM’s website and offer suggestions and critique. The project has the sense of being another top-down plan, where more valuable pieces of landscape are handed over to developers.

In fact, the vision seems to check off many of the much-needed development boxes for southwest Brooklyn: three new subway stations, a bulked up manufacturing-commercial zone, and 11,250 new units of affordable housing.

One important new piece of this “non-plan” is its use of a resiliency paradigm to justify and promote the change. Red Hook is perhaps the lowest lying waterfront area west of the Rockaways and needs new physical barriers to save it from the increasing occurrences of flooding.  In a recent study of the impacts of Superstorm Sandy, “resiliency” is defined by Leigh Graham, Wim Debucquoy, and Isabelle Anguelovski, as “the degree to which a complex adaptive system is capable of self-organization and can build capacity for learning and adaptation.” The concept is usually presented in technical, engineering, and competitive business terms where social, political, and cultural issues are never a part of the equation. The AECOM vision states, for example: “Strategies could include both green and gray infrastructures that provide coastal protection and flood management as well as development of smart grids and distributed clean power generation to provide energy security and buildings that can deal with longer, hotter summers without requiring more energy use.”

But the concept of resiliency is becoming a buzzword that animates otherwise pedestrian urban design schemes into relevant and apparently socially conscious initiatives for a more functional and healthy city. AECOM has proposed a creative resiliency plan here, but underserved communities are always wary of these code words because they often mean gentrification. Is resilience in this scheme potentially one of these words?

Many visions or plans for “resilient neighborhoods” consider only a limited number of factors in what they consider resiliency to mean for any particular neighborhood or stretch of coastline. Many advocacy groups are starting to question whether resilience in the scientific sense is enough and propose the use of the concept of “vulnerability” as a framework for understanding exactly what is at stake. 

One such plan is “Equity in Building Resilience in Adaptation Planning,” a guide produced by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), that aims to “provide a guide to localities to enable them to integrate an equity lens as they seek to build resilience in designing adaptation plans.”

The NAACP report calls into question the politics behind physical resilience. They point out a long list of factors that should be considered when planning for environmental stresses on an urban area, in addition to purely engineering factors such as income/wealth, employment, literacy, education, housing stock, insurance status, and access to fresh food.

For designers, this list offers an opportunity to think beyond traditional architecture and planning modes of resilient design, and further challenge what it means to create an equitable, 21st century city—a city that is not easily definable in the face of such large environmental issues. Problematizing “resiliency” with an advanced understanding of “vulnerability” can lead to a more progressive understanding of a rapidly changing world and urban habitat at all scales. This resiliency vision for southwest Brooklyn might yet be one of these new ways of designing cities, but it needs further refinement in how it considers and represents the public.

This article was part of our Oct. 12 issue which focused on how water is shaping today’s landscape architecture and urbanism. Communities face deluges and droughts—for some, the stakes can be survival itself, but others see opportunities for decadence. To explore these stories from around the U.S. and the world, click here.

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Come Hell or High Water

FEMA updates New York City flood maps for rising sea levels
Today Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that New York City’s flood maps will be revised to add more buildings to high flood risk areas. “We are building a stronger, more resilient city to confront climate change. Our city needs precise flood maps that reflect real risks, both today and years from now—and we have to do that fairly. We will work closely with FEMA to ensure New Yorkers in the floodplain are prepared, and that the tools to make them more resilient, like flood insurance, remain available and affordable. We are grateful to FEMA to agreeing to this partnership,” said Mayor de Blasio, in a statement. The agency's decision comes after the de Blasio administration appealed to FEMA last year to update flood risk calculations for the city and region, a move that added 35,000 buildings to the highest flood risk areas. According to FEMA regional administrator Jerome Hatfield, the region's coastal flood risk maps have not been updated since 1983, a comparatively halcyon time when climate change–intensified superstorms did not threaten to annihilate New York City. FEMA's revised maps, created in association with the New York City Panel on Climate Change, will give more accurate current and future flood data that accounts for global warming. The goal is to give eligible homeowners a better idea of their risk, crucial information in the selection of appropriate flood insurance. FEMA requires mortgage-holding homeowners in the highest risk areas to buy flood insurance; as a result of today's announcement, New Yorkers in the highest-risk flood zones will save millions of dollars in flood insurance premiums. (Those in lower-risk zones are encouraged, but not required, to purchase insurance, too.) To educate its citizens on the dangers of the rising seas, the city has created a comprehensive site for flood risk information, and the city plans to do additional outreach once the new maps go into effect.
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Time Travel

New maps of Lower Manhattan reveal its dynamic history
New York City-based non-profit CultureNOW has published its Lower Manhattan "Then and NOW Map," a project of history and urban archaeology that seeks to capture the multitude of stories that have shaped the physical and cultural landscape of the city’s southern end. The map of superimposed timescapes highlights the places and events of historical significance, charting infrastructure development, disasters, crime, and defense trends, and the growth of retail presence. On one side, Lower Manhattan "Then" superimposes three different historical maps that provide a snapshot of what the area looked like at three critical points: 1800, 1850, and 1900. Lower Manhattan "NOW" shows the city as it is today and what it might look like in the future, with details about Superstorm Sandy’s impact and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s projected flood zone, which shows a 31-inch rise in sea levels, as reported by AIA New York Center for Architecture. The project was started by five students, four from Harvard Graduate School of Design and one from City College, who set out to research what happened to the downtown area, and to tell a complex story about its development, according to a press release from cultureNOW. The historical map details city infrastructure such as ferries, horse carriage routes, and elevated trains, with future infrastructure, like the bridge networks, dotted in. The NOW map shows current ferries, subway routes, cultural institutions, memorials and artwork inspired by the history of the area.
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Field Day

Archtober’s Building of the Day: Ocean Breeze Track and Fieldhouse
This is the third in a series of guests posts that feature Archtober Building of the Day tours! Ocean Breeze Track and Fieldhouse 625 Father Capodanno Boulevard Staten Island, NY Sage and Coombe Architects Joshua Keay, AIA, LEED AP, associate at Sage and Coombe and project architect for the Ocean Breeze Athletic Facility, led us through an in-depth tour of the massive competitive indoor track and community recreation facility in South Beach, Staten Island. A project under Mayor Bloomberg’s Design Excellence initiative, the athletic complex was designed as part of the PlaNYC 110-acre Ocean Breeze regional park. As Sage and Coombe’s first track facility, they engaged sports consultants and a local organization of runners to help determine certain features of the space, including the radius of the track. The competitive track is supported by more than 600 raised piles, allowing for a split program: A publically accessible gym on the ground floor is separated from the elevated track on the second floor. The two spaces are connected by a large secondary warm up space, which is equipped with arrow-shaped lowlights to designate the running direction. Green stairs lead athletes up to the starting line and, once they have completed their race, they exit the track through red stairs and enter the warm up space again. Ocean Breeze is the most state-of-the-art indoor track and field facility in the tri-state area, equipped with a variable banking hydraulic track that can be raised or lowered depending on the sporting event. The 250-foot-long elevated platform of the pre-engineered space was used to assemble the ceiling trusses, which were then lifted into the air using the free-standing columns. While the city required the project to achieve LEED Silver Certification, Keay noted that, upon completion, it will most likely be LEED Gold certified. A stormwater collection system on the roof runs water along the second-floor terrace and into ponds that recharge natural wetlands to the north of the site. Bi-fold doors on the north, east, and south sides of the building and exhaust fans provide natural ventilation. A multi-tiered lighting system with skylights, track lighting, and point fixtures respond to the amount of daylight to determine the level of artificial light required to keep the competitive track at TV-quality. A photo-finish system, which can capture frames at one-one thousandth of a second was installed at the end of the finish line. After jumping through a few hurdles, particularly after a six-month Superstorm Sandy delay, the project opened in the fall of 2015. The season will begin next month, but community users are already avidly using the public spaces. Tomorrow we visit Selldorf Architect’s AIA New York Design Awards winning David Zwirner Gallery! About the author: Camila Schaulsohn is the Communications Director and Editor-in-Chief of the AIA New York Newsletter.
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Seaport Square

Developer Richard Askin talks facades and resilience in Boston
Richard Askin, Director of Planning and Design at W/S Development Associates, has had his eye on Boston's burgeoning Seaport District for about a decade. During that time—as Askin's firm planned and initiated construction on a multi-block mixed-use development called Seaport Square—the local AEC industry has increasingly focused on designing for resiliency. The chief concerns in the low-lying Seaport District are rising sea levels and severe storms. "Because we started before Superstorm Sandy, before there was the remapping of the flood plain, I've seen us go from not understanding what we should want to do, to more proactively coming up with design solutions for the risks that are instigated by floods and/or sea level rise," said Askin, who will participate in a presentation block on "The Seaport District Reconsidered" at Facades+AM Boston June 17.  
Increased awareness around rising water levels dovetails with W/S Associates' traditional area of expertise: retail. Both involve a focus on the ground plane. "We've done a host of things that have to do with both occupancy and infrastructure" in response to the need for more resilient designs, explained Askin. One example has to do with the buildings' electrical transformers. These are typically positioned on the ground floor and covered by a utilitarian facade. The result is both vulnerable to damage during a flood and aesthetically displeasing. "It essentially becomes a blank wall, and typically very large," said Askin. "The problem for us is that retail wants to be at the ground floor—it's in direct conflict with conventional placement of the transformer." Askin relishes the ways in which the attention to resiliency in the Seaport District has stretched his own approach to a development problem. "I've never had to figure out these micro-level details before, to invent ways of doing things on the facade that's not conventional," he said. Learn more about the Seaport District and other Boston-area development hotspots at Facades+AM Boston. To learn more or register for one of the few remaining seats, visit the symposium website.
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Bjarke Ingels receives LafargeHolcim Global Bronze Prize for his work to make a more resilient Manhattan
The LafargeHolcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction has recognized New York City's commitment to progressive and resilient solutions by awarding Danish architect Bjarke Ingels of his eponymous firm BIG the Global Bronze Prize. AN was on hand as Ingels and company accepted the award. https://vimeo.com/117303273 Having been extensively covered by AN,  it has become common knowledge that BIG’s  plan to wrap Lower Manhattan in a landscape berm, known as "The BIG U" keeping floodwaters at bay has been accoladed left, right, and center. As a response to the Rebuild By Design competition organized by the federal Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), BIG's winning scheme called for a piece of what Ingels called "resiliency infrastructure" to give the project a strong social context. The Rebuild competition offered incentives to develop urban protection strategies in post–Hurricane Sandy world. Ingels touched on this at the ceremony when he talked about questions the BIG team asked themselves when developing the project. "Could we imagine a way that this resilience infrastructure wouldn't create a see wall that would segregate the life of the city from the water around it?" Ingels asked the crowd. Speaking about when Sandy hit in 2012, Ingels recalled: "Even my office was without power for two weeks, and we were the lucky ones!" The scheme has also been dubbed The Dry Line, referencing the High Line linear park in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood. "Maybe we can learn from the High Line...which has become one of the most popular promenades in the city," Ingels said. He noted that in the case of the High Line, the infrastructure itself had been decommissioned and has since manifested its way into city life. "What if [we] don't have to wait for the infrastructure to be decommissioned?" He continued. "What if we can design the resiliency infrastructure of Manhattan so it comes with intended social and environmental side effects that are positive?" Ingels has attempted to answer these questions in his scheme for Lower Manhattan. Despite being in the process of realization, the project will take a lot of extensive collaboration and planning to be a success. If realized, here's what we can expect life on the Dry Line to be like: https://vimeo.com/90759287
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New York City is getting serious about future superstorms with $100 million to fund floodwater mitigation
On August 27th, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYC Office of Resilience & Recovery announced plans to spend $100 million to fortify lower Manhattan against future superstorms. The latest proposal calls for green spaces, levees, and floodwalls to protect the area from East 23rd Street to Montgomery Street, and around the northern tip of Battery Park City. https://vimeo.com/117303273 This is on top of $15 million pledged in March 2015 for flood prevention in the area.  To further capitalize the project, the city is leveraging its $100 million dollar investment as it enters the HUD National Disaster Resilience Competition in the hopes of gaining up to $500 million to finance flood protection in the target area. All current storm and floodwater mitigation efforts are a part of OneNYC, the city’s $20 billion global warming resiliency plan. Lower Manhattan is the target area because of its vulnerability to flooding during superstorms. The objective is to combine flood protection with accessible parkland for the affected neighborhoods. Of special concern is the storm readiness of NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA) complexes, including the Alfred E. Smith Houses on St. James Place, which were badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Initially,‎ a submission from the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) branded dually as the BIG U or the Dry Line, was selected as one of six winning projects for 2013's Rebuild by Design competition. Sponsored by HUD, the Municipal Art Society, the Van Alen Institute, and other regional stakeholders, Rebuild by Design asked firms to envision how New York City and the region could protect itself against extreme weather. In the proposal, BIG U covered a more extensive area—from West 54th Street, to Battery Park, and up to East 40th Street—and envisioned more intensive modifications to the built environment. Rebuild by Design initially awarded $335 million to the project. The adapted plan draws on BIG U's guiding principle of small but powerful interventions that fit the scale of the neighborhood and activates public space, but the scale of the project will be reduced to meet the city's budget. Heather Fluit, from HUD Public Affairs, told AN that she couldn't comment on whether BIG's design will remain in any future project. "We've closed the book on that competition," she said. The final plan will be determined by the size of the grant received from HUD. The Office of Recovery & Resiliency is preparing a round-two proposal for the Disaster Resilience Competition. HUD is expected to share grant winners and funds allocated to each of the chosen submissions by January 2016.
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Venice on the East River
Juha Uitto / Flickr

Before New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered his second State of the City address, it was widely expected that he would focus the address almost entirely on housing policy. He did speak at length about his ambitious plan to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade. But it was a major transportation policy unveiled near the end of the address that surprised onlookers and made headlines.

“Transportation is central to the mission of providing affordable housing and services—connecting neighborhoods in the five boroughs to New York’s largest job centers,” said the mayor. Building these connections, he continued, could be achieved by taking advantage of the water with a five-borough ferry system.

This system would launch in 2017 with routes that connect Manhattan to Queens, South Brooklyn, and the Rockaways. The following year, ferries would run along Manhattan’s Lower East Side and between Manhattan and Soundview in the Bronx. Another route connecting Coney Island, Staten Island, and the Financial District is still in the planning stages. The administration has said that work is slated to begin this year on the $55 million process of designing and building the system’s docks; the city will also select private ferry operators to run the service. When completed, the ferries will accommodate 4.6 million trips a year, according to the mayor’s office.

 
The proposed system could launch in 2017 with routes connecting Manhattan to Queens, South Brooklyn, and the Rockaways.
Courtesy Office of the Mayor of New York City
 

Like many of de Blasio’s urbanism proposals, this one was born under his predecessor. In 2008, Michael Bloomberg worked with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and the New York City Economic Development Corporation to create a framework for a citywide ferry network that includes many of the sites seen in de Blasio’s plan. The Bloomberg administration ultimately only moved forward with the East River Ferry. That service launched in 2011 as a pilot program and has been providing service between Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Long Island City for $4 a ride ever since. The ferry has been hugely popular, but still requires a significant subsidy—$2.22 per trip, according to a 2013 study commissioned by the EDC. (For comparison, there is a $0.62 subsidy for each subway ride.)

The de Blasio administration has said the new system would require between $10 million and $20 million in annual subsidies and that a ferry ride would cost as much as taking the subway or bus. Critics of the mayor’s plan say that the city’s money would be better spent on other transit programs like bus rapid transit that could reach lower-income New Yorkers who do not live near the water. (In his State of the City address, Mayor de Blasio also pledged to complete an additional 13 BRT lines.)

Creating and sustaining a viable city-wide ferry system—even with considerable subsidies baked in—will not be easy to pull off, said Jeff Zupan, a senior fellow at the Regional Planning Association who has been studying New York City ferries for decades. In that time, he has seen plenty of ferry attempts fail. Just last fall, the de Blasio administration discontinued ferry service to the Rockaways that was set up after Superstorm Sandy because it was costing the city about $30 a passenger.

Zupan is skeptical that the new Rockaway iteration—or any of de Blasio’s planned routes for that matter—will fare much better. To be successful, he explained, ferries must provide a quick and efficient ride between people’s home and office. This is most feasible when ferries run between densely populated areas (think Hoboken to Lower Manhattan) where it is easy to get to and from a dock and then onto a final destination. Short distances also make matters easier because riders are enticed with a faster trip and ferry operators can run fewer boats while still maintaining frequent and reliable service. Many of de Blasio’s proposed routes do not have this built-in advantage.

“They are not all going to be dogs,” said Zupan referring to de Blaiso’s planned routes, “but they do not have all the features you want to look for. If they had all the features, these would have been done long ago because these ideas have been around for a long time.”

But Zupan noted that the resurgent waterfront, with apartment towers sprouting up one after the other, has buoyed the mayor’s plan. The glossy buildings may offer great views, but are typically a hike from transit options. Citywide ferries could be a major boon to developers already eager to build near the water. The mayor’s office did not respond to AN’s question about whether it would ask developers to contribute funds for the ferry system.

Ultimately, the mayor’s five-borough plan is a kit of parts with only some routes seeming positioned to succeed. But what will happen to some, or all, of the ferries cannot be known until the boats hit the water. “You can never really know until you try it,” said Zupan.