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With this purchase of five acres of waterfront land, is the South Bronx New York’s newest development hot spot?
Earlier this month Brooklyn Borough president Eric Adams announced the release of Stormwater Infrastructure Design Guidelines, which have the potential to generate exemplary landscape design and benefit all of New York City. The Design Guidelines propose to integrate green infrastructure techniques with a 14-mile continuous corridor for bicycles and pedestrians along the Brooklyn waterfront. The new plan, titled The Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway: An Agent for Green Infrastructure, Climate Change Adaptation and Resiliency, illustrates how stormwater infrastructure would enhance the Greenway.
As a stand-alone project, the 14-mile Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway offers an exciting opportunity for pedestrians and cyclists to enjoy the waterfront. What is unique about the Borough President’s announcement is that the Greenway is being recognized as a project that also can offer context-sensitive design solutions to water-related problems facing the City, such as surges from powerful storms and stormwater runoff. “Here in Brooklyn, we don’t just ‘go with the flow’ when something isn’t working right. When it comes to our overflow problem with our sewers, which are leading to damaging coastal floods and the release of raw sewage into our marine ecosystem, major changes are needed to protect residents, business and wildlife alike,” said Borough president Adams in a statement.
The plan for the Greenway contains a tool kit of green infrastructure, resiliency barrier typologies, and case studies on specific sites for design intervention, which are primed for implementation. The proposed green infrastructure techniques employ ecosystem services to help clean runoff and absorb storm surge. The forthcoming Greenway project is being used as an opportunity to make the waterfront function on many different levels. The Greenway is no longer seen as just a transportation infrastructure project, but it is also about environmental infrastructure.
“Because 14 miles of streets will be reconstructed as the Greenway is built, this is an opportune time to install stormwater infrastructure on the most economical basis for the City,” said Milton Puryear, Co-founder of Brooklyn Greenway Initiative.
The Brooklyn Greenway Initiative (BGI) is the non-profit organization that is stewarding the development of the waterfront greenway. BGI developed the Design Guidelines in conjunction with a technical advisory committee comprised of city agencies, engineers, and landscape and urban designers.
The plan is abundant with diagrams, maps, and sections accented with flowing watercolor that show what stormwater infrastructure can look like along the greenway. All the designs and graphics were produced by WE Design, with eDesign Dynamics as the consulting environmental engineer. From a designers’ perspective, these green infrastructure guidelines will enable projects along the Greenway to develop sustainable savvy design.
Tricia Martin, owner and principal at WE Design, believes that greenways are an effective mechanism for building climate change adaptation strategies into our cities. “Greenways provide open space and recreation, but this study shows that greenways can be so much more,” Martin said. “Concerns about rising sea level, water quality and coastal habitat can and should be addressed when designing our greenways.”
Lest we forget that the water is one of the most important features of a waterfront greenway, this plan is a reminder that landscape design can be functional and beautiful. Support for improving water quality in the waterways around New York City and building resiliency against storm surges needs to happen at many different levels in order for action to move forward, and Borough President Adams has just boosted this effort in the right direction.
Despite its poor access to public transit, and location firmly within New York’s most threatened flood zone, Italian developer Est4te Four is betting big on Red Hook, Brooklyn. With strong sales at its AA Studio-designed, warehouse-to-condo conversion at 160 Imlay, the developer has unveiled plans for a 1.1 million square foot commercial development right at the water’s edge. The massive project is being designed by NBBJ.
While the design is still in its early stages, initial renderings show a robust mix of adaptive reuse, public space, and new, glassy construction. NBBJ preserves the exteriors of two existing warehouses, but retrofits their interiors. (As YIMBY noted, the area is not zoned for residential use, but could include a hotel.)
Included in this plan is the demolition of some older, industrial structures to make room for six boxy brick buildings with glazed, cantilevered upper floors. Behind masonry exteriors, and expansive steel-framed windows, are workspaces divided by large glass cubes.
Set throughout the entire complex is a new network of walkways, greenery, and seating. Up against the New York Harbor is a promenade outfitted with sleek tables, chairs, and planters. That space connects to a triangle-shaped public plaza that has additional landscaped elements, an art installation, and stepped seating that meets the water. These new public spaces join an existing park and pier.
As with so many waterfront projects in New York, this site’s proximity to the water exposes major vulnerabilities; during Hurricane Sandy, Red Hook was one of the worst hit parts of the city. The design team is obviously aware of this fact and says they are planning ways to making the complex resilient to future storms. “Central in creating a campus dedicated to innovation is an active and open streetscape which can sometimes be at odds with dry flood proofing techniques designed to resist Mother Nature,” said a spokesperson for NBBJ in an email. “The site’s low elevation creates design challenges that require real engineering solutions and prediction techniques to solve.” Alexandros Washburn, NBBJ’s Urban Strategies Director and New York’s former chief urban designer who lives in Red Hook, will oversee a sustainability study for the site.
There is currently no timetable for groundbreaking, but the project is more than a pipedream. In an email, a representative from NBBJ told AN that multiple investors have already put capital funding into the project, and that construction will start once a major tech tenant is secured.
In the meantime, the first phase of Est4te Four’s project is underway. With AA Studio, the developer is converting an old shipbuilding warehouse at 202 Coffey Street into an arts, educational, and events space.
As under-construction condominiums on the north side of Brooklyn Bridge Park shatter borough sales records, affordable units are slated to bookend the other end of the 85-acre site. The park has issued an RFP for two new towers at the south end of the park. Nearly a third of this new development is expected to include affordable apartments. The towers—one 16 stories and the other twice that size—would rise on currently vacant sites adjacent the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.
Given the mayor’s plan to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade, this news is not surprising in its own right. The inclusion of affordable housing at Brooklyn Bridge Park, though, marks a significant turn in the park’s history, and, possibly, its future.
The park was created as a public-private partnership with the city and state fronting money for construction, and property taxes from development at the park covering the upkeep—about $16 million a year. The 550,000-square-foot, Marvel Architects–designed condo and hotel project currently rising at the park is a key part of that plan.
Some local groups have opposed residential development at the park, claiming that it would block views of Manhattan and turn the public space into a backyard for the wealthy. But since the first phase of the park opened in 2010 it has been wildly popular with the public, and the planned towers at the site will likely do little to change that. In many ways, the fact that there is any green space at the site at all is a victory. When the park was being planned, the Port Authority proposed using the piers for high-rise development and parking lots.
The two new towers proposed under the de Blasio administration are also receiving their fair share of backlash, but not just for their size. Opponents point out that affordable units would provide significantly less revenue for the park, if any revenue at all. This has noticeably put community groups on the awkward side of opposing affordable housing in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the city.
Creating new affordable housing and continuing to provide funds for the park is not a zero-sum game for mayor de Blasio. A spokesperson for his administration told the Wall Street Journal, “We can secure the necessary funding to maintain this world-class park while simultaneously providing an affordable housing component to ensure the community actually represents Brooklyn.”
While this plan is in its early stages, the reception it has already received foreshadows the many development debates to come. As mayor de Blasio sets out to build 80,000 new affordable units over the next decade, he will certainly get pushback from local groups about the size, location, and design of new projects.
This is nothing new—development will always have its detractors, and that is not always a bad thing. But in de Blasio’s New York, opposing new development will increasingly mean opposing new affordable housing. It is a complicated and thorny debate and one that is about to play-out all across the city.
In early November, San Francisco voters rejected two measures to allow the construction of 8 Washington, a complex of 134 luxury condominiums along the Embarcadero developed by Pacific Waterfront Partners and designed by SOM. The project had been seeking city approval for the past seven years. It needed an exemption from the city’s 84-foot waterfront height limit (Proposition C) and a referendum in favor of the development (Proposition B).
The complex was to be sited on a 3.2-acre triangular plot on the city’s central waterfront on land cleared by the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway. Consisting of housing, retail, restaurants, and recreation, it included 552,000 general square feet in a massing that stepped up to a maximum height of 136 feet. With large windows deeply recessed into light colored walls, the project took its cues from the area’s historic buildings. Most of the buildings featured green roofs.
The plan incorporated 30,000 square feet of public open space designed with PWP Landscape Architecture, including the new Pacific Park, the redesigned Jackson Commons, and a series of new pedestrian corridors. The scheme also involved 40,000 square feet of private recreation functions, including an enlarged and renovated new exercise and aquatics facility.
The San Francisco Planning Commission, Board of Supervisors, and the mayor all gave their approval to the complex. But a large group of opponents voted down the referendum, calling the project a “Wall on the Waterfront” that would limit access to the area. “The developer only wants to ‘open up’ the waterfront to one thing: massive development and tall towers from the ferry building to Fisherman’s Wharf,” said the group on its web site, nowallonthewaterfront.com.
“This is a plan that’s been in the works for almost eight years and undergone many revisions to reflect a very extensive public planning process. To have that all upended because a group of wealthy opponents didn’t like the result does not bode well for the public process of San Francisco,” commented Pacific Waterfront Partners spokesman PJ Johnston.
According to Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), the project’s rejection is ironically a sign of the city’s emergence from the recession.
“In addition to the business cycle, San Francisco has a political cycle in which voters become more open to projects during recessions and against them in economic booms,” said Metcalf. “To me this is a return to the status quo of San Francisco. It’s not surprising at all. What’s surprising is during the recession a bunch of projects got approved that are now under construction.”
According to Metcalf, the rejection of the project is also an example of individuals’ ability to stop projects they don’t like through legal means.
SOM declined to comment on the project and Johnston said that he could not comment on specific plans for the site. “We’ll see what we’re going to do,” said Johnston. “The project sponsor still has the exclusive negotiating rights to the property.”