Rethinking the Waterfront

Rethinking the Waterfront

The greenway would help make the Brooklyn waterfront more resilient.
Courtesy WE Design

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 calls for the 14-mile Brooklyn Greenway to function as green infrastructure.

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.