One of the notable successes of New York City’s recent efforts to reconnect communities with the bays, rivers, creeks, and estuaries that flow through the five boroughs has been the creation of urban greenways. They're a combination of paths and landscaped linear connections between communities, green spaces, and the waterfront. So far, the City Parks Department has added over 100 miles of bicycle and pedestrian paths, and hopes to complete a total of 350 miles of new greenways throughout the five boroughs.
Blueways, which are the linked waterways that often border greenways, offer the combined benefit of extending greenway recreational areas onto the water and creating integrated environmental systems that can mitigate the direct impacts of flooding, sediment build-up, and storm water overflow. One of the finest examples of a blueway in the region is the Staten Island Bluebelt that is a storm water management system developed to preserve natural drainage corridors, mitigate flooding due to storm water, and maintain diverse wildlife habitats. The wetlands located within the watershed areas act as flood control measures. By temporarily storing floodwaters, the wetlands help protect adjacent and downstream property owners from flood damage. Urban wetlands are especially valuable since the impervious surfaces created by development, such as streets, sidewalks, and rooftops, increase the rate, velocity and volume of surface water runoff. The Bluebelt system, which when completed will connect 16 Staten Island watersheds, has saved approximately $35,000,000 in infrastructure costs, demonstrating how wetland preservation can be economically prudent and environmentally responsible.
Several communities around the country have invested in the necessary infrastructure to create community greenways and blueways. Aside from the obvious health benefits of providing safe, accessible recreational areas, greenways and blueways connect urban retail centers, extend the public transportation system, increase the economic opportunities for recreational spending (rental of in-line skates, bicycles, canoes, personal transporters, etc.), increase adjacent property values, and provide environmental buffer zones around developed areas. These zones become dynamic outdoor science classrooms for school children who can study the effects of constructed wetlands, sedimentation filter systems, etc., on aquatic wildlife, birds, and native plant species.
In the Gowanus neighborhood, the current proposed developments, Gowanus Green by Hudson Companies and the Toll Brothers’ Gowanus project, include canal access and pathways that could be the beginning of a greenway and blueway system along the canal that extends from the pumping station on Butler Street to Ikea, Fairway, and their respective New York City Water Taxi stops, as well as linking Lowes, Pathmark, Home Depot, the terminals in Sunset Park, and the new Shore Park Greenway near the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. By connecting far-flung Brooklyn neighborhoods, a thoroughly integrated greenway and blueway system that follows best management practices could establish the Gowanus neighborhood as an integral component to a larger urban recreational and environmental network.