The East River waterfront is in for a dramatic transformation in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Today, several visions of just what that transformation might look like were presented at a standing room-only meeting led by Rebuild By Design, a project of President Obama’s taskforce to rebuild the city after Sandy.
The project, which will be implemented by HUD, called on designers and architects from around the world to spend six months coming up with their best plans to protect the city’s most vulnerable areas from future flooding. Designers have worked with community leaders and residents along the way to get feedback and adapt the designs to their concerns.
While the project is addressing the entire “Big U” that is New York City’s waterfront, Rebuild By Design is putting an extra focus on the Lower East Side, which is especially vulnerable with a floodplain that is four blocks deep. Of the Lower East Side’s 130,000 residents, some 86,000 of them are low-income, elderly or disabled.
Designers are re-imagining two distinct areas of the Lower East Side: what they’re calling “Two Bridges,” or “LES South,” for the waterfront area between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, and “East River Park,” or “LES North,” for the waterfront area that’s north of the Manhattan Bridge and up past the park.
With just three weeks until Rebuild by Design’s deadline, here are some of the most viable options on the table:
TWO BRIDGES/LES SOUTH
1. Build flip-down, deployable walls along the waterfront, which would be stored on the underside of FDR Drive. Rebuild by Design suggests these walls could also be used in the winter for a sheltered marketplace. This plan is facing resistance from some residents who worry the walls will block their view.
2. Install a four-foot high “meandering bench” underneath FDR Drive that would maintain views and allow people to walk through the area while also protecting against future floods.
3. Incorporate pulling housing into a berm, or raised barrier. Rebuild By Design wants to add a park with recreational facilities on the berm, and possibly even a pool.
4. Deploy a “wet feet plan,” meaning waterfront NYCHA buildings would be flood-proofed, at least on their ground floor, while residents would be moved to new units further back from the water. This plan proved especially controversial on Monday, with one resident shouting out: “Where I come from, you take care of the home first, and then the outside,” before walking out of the meeting.
EAST RIVER PARK/LES NORTH
5. Add a narrow bridging berm, in this case what looks like a hill, between what is currently a chain-link pedestrian bridge and service road. Rebuild by Design envisions taking down the chain-link fence and replacing it with landscaping, and relocating what is now a concrete bike path further back from the water to the East River promenade.
6. Build a wider berm as a ramping walkway to the East River Park — a sort of Lower East Side version of the High Line. The current bike path would be moved inward from the waterfront and meander through the park instead. Some trees would be cut down, but they would be replaced with more flood-tolerant trees. This plan appeared to be the most popular.
It’s important to note that these are not either/or plans, meaning Rebuild By Design may end up taking a little from each of them. Amy Chester, Project Manager of Rebuild By Design, said “a lot can happen in three weeks” and that none of the designs were final. Designs could take decades or just a few years to implement.