On the Resilient Waterfront

Sourced from the New York Times

During a recent tour of the nearly completed park at Hunters Point South, a big storm was brewing. The sky blackened, winds raced and heavy rain began to fall. But the Queens waterfront park was made for moments like this.

The 11-acre green space, which stretches along the Long Island City waterfront from 50th Avenue to Newtown Creek over to Second Street, was designed to withstand major storms. During Hurricane Sandy, Phase 1 of the project was hit with a four-foot-high surge. It survived.

Now Phase 2 — which includes a kayak launch, outdoor fitness equipment and a massive overhang off the East River — was designed to withstand whatever nature dishes out, due to a barrier of new wetlands planted along the water’s edge.

“Back when we were coming up with this in 2008, the idea of resiliency was not on everyone’s front burner,” said Michael Manfredi, one of the architects who designed the space. “This park was radical in that it anticipated major storms. It was the poster child for how we should be thinking about resiliency along the water’s edge.”

Instead of old-fashioned concrete bulkheads, more than an acre of native plantings protect the shoreline of Phase 2. The wetlands are inundated by the East River twice a day through a culvert on the property.

Two hundred years ago, the area was made up of wetlands. They were eventually replaced by industrial structures, including a Daily News printing plant, the National Sugar Company refinery and rail yards.

“When the industry left, it was a no-man’s land,” said the Queens councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who, even before he was elected, was instrumental in getting the park built. “It was scary when we were kids. This was off-limits. It was a green space because it was overgrown.”

The city had planned to build the Olympic Village here for its bid for the 2012 games. When the bid fell through, the city came to the community with plans to develop affordable housing. Five thousand units of housing are being constructed — at least 60 percent of them affordable — plus three new public schools.

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