After Sandy: Redesigning the Waterfront
Friday, November 16, 2012
“Superstorm” Sandy has made it clear that flooding is not only a New Orleans problem: some of the country’s densest population centers are also extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels and storm surges. For cities like New York, the waterfront is a design problem on a gigantic scale.
Politicians, including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, tend to talk about sea walls as a large but easily envisioned answer. But Adam Yarinsky, principal and co-founder of the Architecture Research Office, tells Kurt Andersen that he’s wary of hard constructed boundaries as a single solution. “What’s the back-up if the barrier fails?”
For the last decade, Yarinsky and other planners, engineers, and architects have worked on solutions for urban coastal flooding. In 2010, several of these proposals made up the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibit Rising Currents. (Listen to 360’s story about the exhibit.) Yarinsky calls Sandy “an opportunity, not simply a catastrophe. And it’s something that can improve the quality of life in the city quite a bit.”
ARO teamed up with landscape architect Susannah Drake to create a plan for Lower Manhattan’s waterfront. Yarinsky describes it as “soft-edge” design, an ecological approach in which new wetlands and redesigned city streets work together. During a flood, the streets would deliver both freshwater and brackish water into the wetlands, and the wetlands would clean that water.
The proposal’s watery green edge reminds Kurt of the way Manhattan looked 400 years ago, before European settlement. “This idea of a gradient or a slope that surrounds the perimeter of the island as a buffer zone that can absorb some of the force of a storm surge — that’s the way natural systems work,” Yarinsky explains.
→ What approach should we take in reshaping our coastal city waterfronts? Tell us in a comment below.
Slideshow: Redesigning Lower Manhattan
So Much WaterArtist: M. WardAlbum: End of AmnesiaLabel: Future FarmerPurchase: Amazon