Posted by Anthony Deen

The initial and most powerful impression of this exhibition is made by a simple chart at the entrance stating that over the next fifty years the water level in New York harbor could experience flood tides of as much as twenty feet. That’s both a surprising and frightening possibility, and given such a possibility the need for innovative and dramatic solutions to this potential crisis is very real. For those of us who live adjacent to the Gowanus, the potential for the canal combined with raw sewage to overflow is especially frightening.

Presented in the exhibit are solutions for five separate areas of the New York harbor categorized as Zones 1 through 5. Independent “boutique” architecture and landscape architecture practices were invited to address the issue of rising water levels during flood tight conditions. Each solution is unique - different from the others in every way. None lack for being innovative, but many come off as academic and either impractical or not sufficiently researched and rationalized. Several suffer from a complexity that no public/ private partnership could ever achieve them, rather than rational studies of how to address this pending problem. Given that these solutions are meant to be “shovel ready” this is a fatal failing for some of the design teams.

Of the five proposals I was most impressed with LTL Architects’s waterfront park for the zone making including Liberty State Park and a portion of the New Jersey port/ harbor. While I’ve previously enjoyed and respected LTL’s design work, I’ve also questioned their handicraft methodologies because it often seemed that their process necessarily limited the scale at which they could work. This is not the case with their Zone 1 proposal. It is creative and aesthetically engaging yet focused and most importantly appears realistic - it looks like it would work. The solution enlarges the New Jersey coast line, raising it in places and infilling in others, ultimately creating over ten times the current land to water contact area. It’s a simple but dramatic solution that could be implemented by the public sector.

Kate Orff’s ScapeStudio was charged with Zone 4, the Gowanus Basin, and proposed a solution that’s been given the dubious name Oyster-tecture. Other groups have been looking at the reintroduction of oysters into local waterfronts because oysters have a natural filtration function that removes certain toxins and metals. It’s my understanding that these efforts have met with mixed results not to mention political resistance from ill informed local representative whose bias is a technological solution. It seems that at present the canal is too toxic to support the oysters for any period of time.