Seen from the south, the East River Blueway is a plan to transform a four-mile stretch of land into publicly accessible parkland.

The plan includes redesigned bike and pedestrian paths.

WXY principal Claire Weisz describes the redesigned (and much improved) pedestrian overpass as a "human interchange."

Underneath FDR Drive, grass and pedestrian zones create "soft edges" that can withstand the impact of storm surges.

The plan has no set construction date, but momentum is growing behind such concepts after Hurricane Sandy’s damage.

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Planning A New York City That Can Withstand Climate Change

The East River Blueway is a glimpse of how the city is preparing for the rising tides to come.

Five months ago, WXY Architecture + Urban Design’s plan to transform a four-mile-stretch of the East River into public parkland was a commendable story about the city’s changing public park systems. Today, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, their East River Blueway is a critical project, a model for how New York will plan for a future wracked by mega-storms and rising tides.

WXY began work on the Blueway design back in 2011, the same year Mayor Bloomberg unveiled a sweeping plan to transform 500 miles of deindustrialized New York coastline into parkland. Backed by local community groups and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, the Blueway calls for the creation of a winding green thread of beaches, wetlands, and pedestrian bridges and paths that hug Manhattan’s eastern edge, a notoriously pedestrian-unfriendly stretch of land that’s overshadowed by the Brooklyn Bridge, Williamsburg Bridge, and FDR Drive at different moments. "The Blueway really puts the emphasis on the approach from the water," WXY Principal Claire Weisz told me over the phone. "The design examines the environmental and social value of the East River to communities along the waterfront." The project’s tagline? "River to the people."

The challenge with transforming this tricky sliver of land into usable public space is twofold. Even on a clear day, the East River is finicky and fast—not an ideal body of water for public use. And when it floods, it rises rapidly and without much warning, putting nearby housing developments in danger. The solution to both issues deals with what Weisz describes as "soft edges," a term that refers to design elements that can slow the river’s currents and withstand powerful storm surges. On the Blueway, soft edges come in the form of salt-resistant marshlands, sandy beaches, and bulkheads that reduce wave action. A series of tidal pools will keep kids away from the rapid currents while keeping surges at bay during storms.

The Blueway will cost millions of dollars and take several years to get under way, but as Weisz noted, Hurricane Sandy has served as a wake-up call both for New Yorkers and their city government—on February 7, Stringer pledged $3.5 million to the project. "Sandy made it possible to explain the things we feel need to happen, like soft edges and reducing wave action, that deal with protecting neighborhoods but also help to mitigate storm damage," Weisz added. "The social side of infrastructure is becoming more and more urgent as our infrastructure gets more dilapidated and our climate gets more erratic."

For a more in-depth look at the WXY’s plan, check out an excellent interview on Urban Omnibus.

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  • Mobius Loop

    In Response to Mememine.

    The IPCC have summarized the collective work of global Climate Scientists in 4 major reports since 1988.

    In their 4th Assessment Report they confirm that climate change is happening and that its more than 90% likely that humanity's emissions of greenhouse gases are responsible for modern-day climate change.

    So they are certain that climate change is happening and advise that there is a 9 out of 10 chance this is caused emissions from human activity. They have been telling us this with increasing directness for 20+ years but some papers and televsion channels choose not to pass the message along.  

  • mememine

    You mean bad weather not climate change.
    If the scientists thought it were a real crisis they would have said so by now because not one IPCC warning says it will happen, only might happen and could happen and……So how close to unstoppable warming will the lab coat consultants of science take us before they say a real crisis really WILL happen, not just might happen?  What could be worse, a comet hit? This was no crisis and real planet lovers are happy a crisis was avoided.Do you see the millions of people in the global scientific community acting like their kids were doomed as well to a global climate crisis?