The Future of the Brooklyn Waterfront

We have been so far been considering the past. The Brooklyn waterfront, which was so radically altered by changes in shipping technology, is facing, like all coastal cities, the effects of global warming. Certainly, all of the architects in the Rising Tides exhibit at MOMA are in tune with Betsy McCully’s suggestion that soft solutions to storm surge and flooding will be more effective than hard ones. Two of the architectural teams designing for the exhibit developed ideas for sites on the Brooklyn waterfront: New Aqueous City and Oyster-Tecture. Can you imagine a future where either one of these visions might become a reality? Oyster-Tecture points back to the past of the Gowanus. While this project couldn’t ever be a restoration, could it be considered a monument to a long-gone ecology?


20 responses to “The Future of the Brooklyn Waterfront

  1. I think this project can be considered a monument to a long gone ecology even if it might initially appear to be too futuristic. It affords the city some plan of what can (or could) be achieved. The Brooklyn Waterfront will continue to face the effects of global warming as rising ocean water levels threaten large land masses.

  2. the new york times, may 16th, had an article about newtown creek. the article started with the current oil spill in the gulf of mexico, but went on to consider the pollution in new york city, and the work needed to just clean up the area of newtown creek. from the article: in 2009 exxonmobil was found liable for contaminating the groundwater near the creek; the city was awarded $104.7 million.

    has there been a recent push in new york to address environmental issues long disregarded?

  3. Why not try oyster-tecture? Oysters, mussels and eel grass sound like a low tech alternative for our modern inundation in pollution. Are those little guys up to the job? What keeps the oysters going in the high contaminant/low oxygen muck? Is building an oyster shoal possible with water traffic patterns? But why not? I love the oysters-at-work sign.
    Did anyone else have a problem with no volume for the interviews with zone 3 & 4 leaders? Any suggestions?

  4. Putting in oyster reefs to account for the water traffic patterns is manageable. Normally the Army Corps of Engineers checks for the impact on navigation when they permit building something in a waterway. The main issue in building oyster-texture would be the cost of making all those concrete piles. That would make the project a hard sell.

    One way to get it might be to tie it to approval of some commercial development. In Galveston Bay, for example, during the last twenty years they’ve been building artificial islands to serve as bird habitats and nesting grounds. The Army Corps of Engineers built them in order to get permission to widen and deepen the Houston Ship Channel, a project that was bottled up do to environmental opposition. They used the material they dredged up from the bay floor as landfill for the new islands. Perhaps requiring private or public funding for something like oyster-tecture as a quid pro quo for allowing waterfront development that commercial interests want is the way to get ideas like this off the drawing board and into practice.

  5. New Aqueous City and Oyster-Tecture instead of bombs. Let’s do it!

  6. jennifer hauss

    I noticed these will be on exhibit through August 9th at the MOMA – might make a great side trip for us…

  7. Yes, I would like to see it. I like the Oyster-tecture re-populating idea (oysters & other mollusks) but also the architect’s goal of “I want to design something for these new New Yorkers.” I wonder if these would be edible mollusks, given the pollution, or just worker-oysters.

    Team 3’s plan for integrating water & living on (sort of) land is intriguing, but I notice she said it could withstand a Category 3 hurricaine, & we read that a 4 is what would wipe out lower Manhattan & parts of Brooklyn. Maybe the lesson here is that we just can’t be “safe” in the world as it is; the best we can do is try to anticipate and minimize risks or disasters. So far, we can point to lots of progress and success, with some huge failures. In some ways, looking at this makes the question of “What is restoration?” seem minor in comparison to “How can we survive?”

  8. Waterworld. That’s what I thought of while watching Zone 3’s Mimi Hoang and Eric Bunge boast their Aqueous neighborhood. While the costly Kevin Costner flick introduced a world with no land and lots of boats, that is in essence what this group would create. It is creative, but I don’t think as feasible as Oyster-Tecture, which uses natural ideas.

    Neither one, however, seems to be capable of saving any shoreline community from our largest threats–Nor’easters and hurricanes would upturn library and market barges in the Aqueous city while they would most likely rip through any kind of oyster colony. Though if the reef has grown into a colossal size, perhaps it could survive, and in turn, save the human community surrounding it.

  9. Diane Whitney

    I sadly agree with Christina. Based on history, even the buildings and structures of this project would be subject to the vagaries and fury of those horrendous storms.

    I would love to see this a visit to MOMA included in our itinerary.

  10. I wrote a response to this but now can’t find it. There’re so many lines of response this week, I may be getting confused. But I’m going to assume I didn’t hit Submit and rewrite.

    Namely that I also was fascinated by the Team O vision of dry and wet tubes moved under the sidewalks of Lower Manhattan for electric lines and such so the streets could become wetlands. I also commented (and if I’m repeating myself, I apologize) on how the plantings in the new parks along the Hudson, especially the High Line and the 59th-to79th-Street area are not your traditional sort-of formal municipal-park plants but, though I don’t know much about plants, seem more like marsh grasses and more the kind of vegetation the Lenape saw.

  11. In reading Betsy McCully’s book, I didn’t really find any solutions as this post suggests. She discussed a lot of the devastation, but mostly, Chapters 6 and 10 acted as warnings. ( ). The folks of Rising Currents presented much clearer and more inventive solutions, however futuristic (Team 3) or old school (Team 4) they may be. ( ).

  12. We interpret the past in responding to history in a variety of constructions. To learn from history and create a sustainable basis for the worlds we build, society requires policy planning as well as design and engineering in planning and resource use. A rule that is changing the way NYC looks over time is the 1% rule [I’m not sure of its official name?]. 1% of new project funding must go toward its art, making a facility like the Newtown Creek sanitation plant a site for environmental sculpture, including education and record making in the inscriptions of the site. A respectful measure that draws on history, retells or reinscribes the story in some meaningful way, creates beauty, and engages people, animals, plants and things in a common design.

    Could we influence the madness over oil with new rules and laws? Replace our existing fleets with electric cars and trucks? I can’t afford the cost of the electric car, but I want to drive one next. Then someone must build recharging stations on repurposed parking lots, new garages with sufficient electrical capacity to handle the car outlets. Perhaps impose penalties and taxes on oil lease holders to give more insurance to oyster farmers and natural preserves, so that when disaster hits they can call on the money immediately to do what they can to protect their sites with the help of environmental engineers. The oyster projects on the Gulf Coast are soaked in oil; the fry will die but the bigger bivalves may survive with their mature filtering systems. The oyster farms in the Chesapeake have become more certain and successful, but mankind is still the unpredictable measure of disaster. The new green ventures will require new sources of protection; leave them to conventional insurance and capital and we will have a long road nowhere before we have real change.

  13. Yes. I can imagine such a world if I close my eyes and really concentrate. Despite the daunting obstacles on the path to sustainable living, every option must be explored and, possibly, pursued. I liked both of Zone 3 team’s ideas, New Aqueous City and Oyster-Tecture. Even if we can realize only modified versions of either, the infusion of new ideas, forward-looking thinking, will help ease us into this new watery world with a creative vision of our collective future.

  14. I tried to post this comment but it doesn’t seem to be showing….so I’m posting it again…and no doubt, the original will pop up when I do so.

    In reading Betsy McCully’s book, I didn’t really find any solutions as this post suggests. She discussed a lot of the devastation, but mostly, Chapters 6 and 10 acted as warnings. ( ). The folks of Rising Currents presented much clearer and more inventive solutions, however futuristic (Team 3) or old school (Team 4) they may be. ( ).

  15. I don’t think the oysters would not be edible from the project in the short run, but if the waterway was cleaned up enough, over decades perhaps, then they could be. I remember reading this oyster idea in a book about garbage and trash last year, and I thought it would be a good one. I do wonder how the oyster population would be thinned without any predators, though.

    The hanging city reminded me of an inverted Venice. Instead of build on wooden pylons, they would be hung from concrete clothes lines. And would people like having the least purified water the closest to their doorsteps?

  16. I would like to imagine a future that would commit to the creation of such visions, but I am challenged at the moment. I wonder what kind of leadership and economic structures must be in place to open the way for such realities. While watching the videos, I was struck by the creative energy and innovative ideas of the team members engaged in this project. Their imagination and commitment to creating a sustainable environment for a new generation of New Yorkers generates hope.

  17. The MOMA exhibit is interesting, but there is so much of interest about the Gowanus Canal, both its past and its present, that I’m surprised we’re not taking an extended look at it in person. Maybe I can post some photographs later, maybe I can even encourage a quick side trip for some of us…

  18. Hey, look at the Gowanus canal. This is Brooklyn. The Brooklyn I love. Dance, canoe, count the plastic gloves, old shoes and goo…

  19. Brooklyn Yard just got closed down. Boo. There goes summer…

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