Hurricane Sandy, which struck seven years ago this week, exposed the dire need to strengthen New York’s infrastructure to withstand the looming threat of climate change.
In the years since the staggering tempest, city and state agencies have set resiliency efforts into motion with the goal of protecting New York City from future—and undoubtedly more frequent—storms. Many of those measures are in varying stages of completion. The reconstruction of the Rockaway Boardwalk, for example, has wrapped up. But others—including a plan to bring a new energy hub to Hunts Point, where a power outage would be disastrous for the city’s food-processing facilities—are still in the conceptual phases.
Perhaps the most high-profile of these efforts were those awarded federal funds through the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2013 Rebuild By Design competition. “New York can benefit from a lot of wisdom tempered by calamity,” wrote New York magazine architecture critic Justin Davidson in 2014, when the competition’s local winners were announced. And it rings true: a number of the city’s winners seek to rewrite the rules of infrastructure with creative ideas that provide ecological, social, and protective benefits.
New Yorkers can keep track of updates to city resiliency projects on this handy map, but we’ve highlighted some key efforts below and how far they’ve come in the last seven years.
Rockaway Beach Boardwalk
The Rockaways were hit hard during Sandy, and one very visible sign of that was the destruction of the 5.5-mile wooden boardwalk from Beach 9th to Beach 126th streets. The ubiquitous waterfront structure was pulverized. Sandy left behind a landscape of splintered wood and twisted metal railings. The entire stretch needed to be replaced.
Foot by foot, a new, more resilient concrete promenade was constructed.
In 2017, the city completed the final stretch of the new boardwalk and debuted the entire expanse, which was built to the tune of $341 million, in time for Memorial Day weekend. The new walkway was constructed with steel pilings coated in epoxy, anchored to thick concrete pads, and built above a retaining wall designed to keep sand from being pushed into the neighborhood. Some wood from the old boardwalk, which stood for over eight decades, was recycled into benches and steps—remnants of what once was.
T-Groin Project in Sea Gate
This $28 million undertaking by the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) constructed four new football-field sized T-groins—a man-made structure that interrupts the flow of water and limits the movement of sediment—along Coney Island beach.
The first phase of the project actually started more than 20 years ago with the widening and elevation of Coney Island Beach from Corbin Place to West 37th Street. Since then, beach replenishment, groin work, and more was conducted to help ensure Sea Gate and Coney Island are ready for the next storm. USACE added 70,000 cubic yards of new sand to the shore.
Though Sea Gate is a private neighborhood on the western tip of Coney Island, the project has public benefits; it’s intended to stop erosion from Coney Island’s beach—on both the public and private beach—and reduce the risk of costal flooding to homes and businesses in Seagate and the rest of the peninsula. The effort was completed in the summer of 2016, but will include bringing in 30,000 cubic yards of sand to the shore every 10 years.
BIG U is the brainchild of Bjarke Ingels Group, and one of several New York City projects chosen as a recipient of HUD’s Rebuild By Design competition. This massive plan envisioned a series of protections for the coast of Manhattan’s lower half, and some of those projects are taking shape in a major way.
The East Side Costal Resiliency Project, which aims to protect a 2.4-mile stretch of Manhattan’s shore from Montgomery to East 25th streets, is nearing the end of the city’s land use process but not without some controversial changes. In December, the city overhauled 70 percent of the project—effectively scrapping years of community engagement, critics charge.
That sudden change fostered municipal mistrust among locals, and provoked ire from elected officials. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Councilmember Carlina Rivera commissioned an independent review of the project. Then another big change came in early October. Now, instead of closing East River Park throughout the three year construction, the city will take a two-phased approach to allow nearly half of the park to remain open throughout work. A Council committee and then the full body will vote on the project in the coming weeks.
A little farther south, protections for the Two Bridges area are taking shape. Nearly a mile of waterfront there, the borough’s most vulnerable at just seven feet above sea level, is slated for a series of flip-up barriers, roller gates, and will elevate the East River esplanade up to two feet to defend against sea level rise. Further south still, the city has approved a team of 18 consultants to develop the Financial District and Seaport Climate Resilience Master Plan for the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency Project.
Here, the plan departs from the BIG U because officials determined that digging down in the Seaport and Financial District is not an option due to the web of infrastructure below and that deploying flood protections connected to the FDR would be too taxing for the highway. Instead, the plan seeks to build off a contested $10 billion proposal unveiled by Mayor Bill de Blasio in March to extend lower Manhattan into the East River. The city is launching a two-year planning process to determine a path forward.
The Living Breakwaters project, a collaboration between landscape architecture firm SCAPE and the Billion Oyster Project, is constructing a natural oyster reef along Staten Island’s southern shoreline. The reef will reduce the power of waves during extreme weather events, restore marine habitats, and fosters community stewardship of the landscape.
Years of analysis suggest that the creation of oyster reef breakwaters, beach nourishment, and maritime forest enhancements adjacent to Conference House Park are the most effective solution to stemming erosion spurred by storms. The effort shows how cataclysm-inspired infrastructure projects can lead to innovative ideas that provide ecological, economic, and protective benefits. Thus far, the project team has installed Staten Island’s first oyster reef and the entire undertaking is slated for completion by 2021.
Hunts Point Lifelines
The Hunts Point peninsula is a single square mile of the south Bronx that serves as a food processing hub for 22 million people in the Northeast. To reduce the risk of power loss in the low-lying area, the Hunts Point Lifelines project was conceptualized by PennDesign/OLIN for Rebuild By Design.
The project would rely on integrated protections to stem flood waters, and seeks to add 11.6 megawatts of new resilient energy facilities to the neighborhood. This would help power regional markets and two schools in the area during outages. So far, the NYC Economic Development Cooperation has selected HDR, Inc. to conduct two feasibility studies on energy resiliency and flood risk reduction, as well as a conceptual design for a resilient energy pilot project.
Staten Island Costal Storm Risk Management project
A vast 5.3-mile long barrier that will stretch from Fort Wadsworth to Oakwood Beach on Staten Island’s south shore is gearing up for construction. After years of planning, USACE is preparing to break ground on the $615 million project in 2020, and expects to complete the colossal undertaking, officially dubbed the South Shore of Staten Island Coastal Storm Risk Management Project, in some four years.
The effort includes a 4.3-mile seawall with a public promenade built atop, a mile of levees and flood walls, and more than 180 acres of newly excavated stormwater detention ponds. Once completed, the project would protect more than seven neighborhoods that suffered the most serve damage during Sandy.
As part of the project, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Boardwalk that runs along South Beach—the last wholly intact wooden boardwalk left in the city—will be dismantled and replaced with a 2.5-mile-long section of buried seawall and armored levee. The barrier would rise 20 feet above sea level and on top of it engineers would construct a new boardwalk.
Red Hook Integrated Flood Protection system
The city has install a semi-permanent wall along the lowest street in Red Hook as the first step of a $100-million effort to protect the waterfront community from mild storm surge. The Beard Street barrier wall stands four feet tall, and while it won’t protect against an 100-year storm like Sandy—a storm with only a one percent chance of occurring—it will hold off flood waters from a ten-year storm.
The project also enables officials to deploy inflatable barriers if needed. The next phase of the project calls for raising Beard Street to construct a buried flood barrier. As of December 2017, a feasibility study was conducted, and is in the midst of review from FEMA. Construction is expected to break ground in 2020, and wrap up in 2021.