In the most likely to be distant-ish future, flood-prone Lower Manhattan will indeed be home
to a new swath of community-centric parkland that pulls double duty as the world’s most attractive storm surge barrier.
After its official unveiling this past April, a public recreation-heavy “protective ribbon” geared to shelter post-Sandy Manhattan from future storms dubbed Big U
has been announced as one of six winning proposals in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rebuild by Design
competition. Launched by HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan last June, the competition is geared to help revive — and safeguard — low-lying communities in and around New York City that were battered by Superstorm Sandy.
An interdisciplinary design team headed by Danish wunderkind Bjarke Ingels
' eponymous architecture firm, Bjarke Ingels Group
(BIG), will receive $335 million in federal funding to erect the first phase of the 10-mile-long Big U resiliency project: a so-called "Bridging Berm" that will bring “robust vertical protection from future storm surges and rising sea levels” to Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Spanning a mile-and-a-half long and rising 20-feet-tall at its highest, the earthen berm will cut through the existing East River Park where it will serve as a means of fortification while also offering “pleasant, accessible routes into the park, with many unprogrammed spots for resting, socializing, and enjoying views of the park and river,” explains Team BIG’s proposal. “Both the berms and bridges will be wide and planted with a diverse selection of salt tolerant trees, shrubs, and perennials to create a resilient urban habitat."
In addition to providing the Lower East Side with a formidable layer of flood protection and drawing neighborhood residents into the park, the first-phase of Big U, when completed, will also transform the somewhat isolated East River Park into what's sure to be a jam-packed, starchitect-backed tourist destination — the East River’s answer to the Hudson River's High Line
Ingels himself references
the High Line in a statement:
The Big U is an example of what we call Social Infrastructure. The High Line shows how a decommissioned piece of infrastructure – the abandoned elevated railway — can be transformed into a public space and green landscape. We asked ourselves: What if we could envision the resilience infrastructure for Lower Manhattan in a way that wouldn’t be like a wall between the city and the water, but rather a string of pearls of social and environmental amenities tailored to their specific neighborhoods, which also happens to shield their hinterlands from flooding. The Big U will not only make the waterfront more resilient but also more accessible and inviting to the citizens around it.'
The Bridging Berm alone has an anticipated total price tag of $1.2 billion; no firm timeline as to when work on this first phase will start — or be completed — has been announced. Also unknown is when work on additional phases of Big U, a project that will ultimately wrap around the southern tip of Manhattan from W. 57th St. to E. 42nd St. in a slightly lopsided U shape, will commence or how those phases will be funded.
In total, roughly $920 million in funding will be allocated to the six winning Rebuild by Design proposals —Big U is obviously in line for a significant chunk of the pot — which also include a $60 million wave-buffering artificial oyster reef off of Staten Island and two separate resiliency projects in New Jersey, one in Hoboken and the other in the Meadowlands, that will be splitting a total of $380 in HUD-allocated funding. Winning resiliency proposals for Long Island's South Shore and in the Bronx's Hunts Point section will also receive funding, $125 million and $20 million, respectively.
The winners of the Rebuild by Design competition — the competition itself is a Rockefeller Foundation-supported initiative of the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force
organized by Henk Ovink, a Dutch water management guru and senior advisor to Secretary Donovan — were announced earlier during week by Donovan at during two separate press conferences, one in Little Ferry, N.J. and the other at the historic Jacob Riis House on the Lower East Side where Donovan was joined by Sen. Charles Schumer, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and Mayor Bill de Blasio. "The issue before us is resiliency: protecting our city, our state, against an ever-changing climate," explained de Blasio during the conference.
Governor Chris Christie was on-hand to help Donovan announce the pair of New Jersey-based winning proposals at the Little Ferry press conference.
Although I wouldn't recommend holding your breath waiting for Big U or the five other winning projects to break ground as it could be a while, I'll continue to cover them as more details emerge.
A huge congrats to all of the teams involved.
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