By Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer and State Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh
As New York City recovers from Hurricane Sandy, communities in all five boroughs are understandably focused on repairing waterfront neighborhoods that were hit by historic flooding. But we must also ensure that these recovery efforts protect our city against the next big storm and other threats to our coastal communities as the climate changes and sea levels rise.
That’s the philosophy and overriding goal of the recently unveiled East River Blueway Plan, which our offices began developing in 2010. We hoped to redesign an often forgotten stretch of our East Side waterfront, from the Brooklyn Bridge to East 38th Street. Our objective was to open up the long-neglected area, creating beachfront access, recreational activities, tree-lined walkways, and other amenities that would bring people closer to the water. But we also knew that we had to protect this low-lying area from storms and flooding.
When Hurricane Sandy hit, it confirmed our worst fears about the need to plan differently for the future. And it strengthened our resolve, because New York City cannot be a place where people’s lives and livelihoods are threatened by a storm, no matter how powerful. Now that the winds have died and the waters have receded, we must get down to the job of making our coastal communities more resilient, through better infrastructure and ecological features that provide natural protection from flooding.
New York is about to get billions of dollars from the federal government to repair our infrastructure and recoup some of the economic losses caused by Sandy. How we spend this aid — how efficiently, how intelligently — will help define the kind of city we will be in the 21st Century. This is no longer some academic discussion about flood protection. It is an urgent matter of public safety.
As we developed the East River Blueway Plan—with extensive public input—we combined improvements the community wants with storm protections the community needs. Our plan calls for natural beaches along the shoreline, but also wetlands to catch and cleanse storm water runoff and provide buffers against waves and flooding. We would build a footbridge spanning the FDR Drive at East 14th Street that would not only improve pedestrian access, but also protect the Con Ed power station from future floodwaters and guard against a repeat of last fall’s devastating blackout.
This is not just a timely proposal for the East Side of Manhattan. We believe our plan could be a model of community engagement and planning as New York now looks to revitalize storm-battered areas from Breezy Point, Coney Island, and Red Hook to the devastated shores of Staten Island. The Blueway Plan was developed with input from about two dozen elected officials and city and state agencies, more than 40 community-based organizations, and numerous community residents who participated in public workshops and surveys. The borough president’s office will be allocating $3.5 million to construct wetlands along the waterfront, a key element of the plan.
As it is implemented, the Blueway Plan will re-connect New Yorkers with the East River waterfront and help ensure that our city — our home — is never again brought to its knees by a storm. What we have created here is a planning blueprint that can help communities to re-imagine their waterfronts, and help safeguard them at the same time.
New York City must summon the vision and leadership needed to get this job done. We owe it to those who lost their lives during Hurricane Sandy, and to all those who bravely weathered this storm, to build a stronger, more resilient city.