From Concrete to Wetlands—NYC’s Blueway Plan

At a recent presentation in Manhattan called “The East River Blueway Plan,” speakers discussed plans to build a waterfront land area from the Brooklyn Bridge up to 38th Street. This land will act not only as a barrier to protect buildings from future storms and hurricanes, but also as a way to connect communities and encourage waterfront activities such as kayaking and fishing.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer discusses The East River Blueway Plan

By Jessica Fiur, News Editor

New York—At a recent presentation in Manhattan called “The East River Blueway Plan,” speakers discussed the plans to build a waterfront land area from the Brooklyn Bridge up to 38th Street. This land will act not only as a barrier to protect buildings from future storms and hurricanes, but also as a way to connect communities and encourage waterfront activities such as kayaking and fishing.

The Blueway Plan, which was proposed by the NYC Department of City Planning in the Vision 2020 Waterfront Plan, was designed by design firm WXY and will rely heavily on cooperation between local officials, politicians and community groups.

“The Blueway Plan was about the community coming together and working side by side,” Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said.

The plan really began to take shape as a response to the damage Hurricanes Sandy and Irene caused. The land in the Blueway strip would absorb some of the water from future storms and help prevent some of the extensive flooding we’ve previously seen.

“New York City cannot be a place shut down by a storm, no matter how powerful,” Stringer said.

This would be accomplished by adding protected wetlands across the shorelines.

“Wetlands like these helped protect New Orleans after [Hurricane] Katrina, and can do the same for New York,” Stringer said.

Yet the speakers cautioned that a plan like this wasn’t something that is optional, but instead a necessity.

“The water is coming,” Eric Klinenberg, director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University, said. “We need to think how to adapt.”

However, the speakers were quick to explain that these barriers would not wall off New York, but instead bring in a wave of tourism and community togetherness.

“What we need to think about doing is creating new infrastructures for the storms when they come but also doing something for us all the time,” Klinenberg said. “We’re here to build new social infrastructure as well.”

The social aspect of the project was a key point in the Blueway Plan. As of now, there are very few ways for different communities to connect in Manhattan. The Blueway Plan would change this.

“We have not made the most of our river to connect different communities to each other,” Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh said.

Additionally, the wetlands would be a key value-add to boost tourism.

“The East River is a great opportunity for us for recreational amenities,” Kavanagh said. “There is a desire to use the river.”

Some of these recreational plans include a boat launch, a garden with food vendors, a beach and walkways for people to get to the water.

“Our waterfront is a lot of things, but one way to think about it is as a utility,” Roland Lewis, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, said. “This plan recognizes access as a key component.”

Though still in the planning stages, the East River Blueway Plan will bring great value to New York City, both for functional and recreational opportunities.

“It’s remarkable how we’re turning a drab piece of concrete into something we can all enjoy together,” one of the speakers said.