A Climate Change-Themed Boat Tour

Classic Harbor Line and AIANY launch a new cruise focusing on resilience, sustainable architecture – and the future of New York City

| 08 May 2022 | 03:51

The inaugural Climate Change Tour by Classic Harbor Line and the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter (AIANY) launched from Pier 62 at Hudson River Park on the first Friday of May. The drizzly and overcast weather didn’t perturb the line of guests who filed into Classic Harbor Line’s Yacht Manhattan, equipped with rain jackets, cameras and an interest in green infrastructure.

Once on-board, attendees settled into the green cushioned benches and chairs set up around comfortably spaced tables. A map of the counterclockwise circumnavigation around Manhattan was placed at each table which guests reviewed as the crew bustled around the deck, preparing the cruise for its first launch out into the Hudson.

The cruise is narrated by Doug Fox, a New York City guide who specializes in architecture and history tours. Fox introduces the tour as the boat sets sail. He explains that the 2.75-hour cruise will showcase how New York City’s built environment is adapting to climate change. Fox points out innovative architecture, projects, and initiatives that highlight the importance of resiliency on Manhattan’s shorelines.

A Collaborative Partnership

Originally modeled after boat tours offered by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, the partnership between Classic Harbor Line and AIANY originally started in 2010. The relationship has grown exponentially in the past decade with the number of yearly boat tours growing from 30 to well over 400.

As advocates for the built environment, the climate-themed tour was a natural extension of AIANY’s existing cruises. Arthur Platt, of Fink & Platt Architects, explains along with AIANY’s regular “workhorse tours” that circumnavigate Manhattan, the architecture center charters cruises through Classic Harbor Line for professional organizations and events. These tours are highly valuable in giving everyone from professional architects to visiting tourists a comprehensive crash course on New York City architecture.

Platt describes AIANY tours as a “tight-knit program” that employ about five to seven regular tour guides with more in training at any given time. Guides like Fox are architects or architectural historians with intimate knowledge of the subject area. “Guests enjoy that it’s led by a practicing architect who knows the sites and isn’t just reading from a script,” said Platt.

Approved guides develop tour themes based on their professional experience and interests. When Doug Fox approached General Manager of Classic Harbor Line Sarah Pennington about a climate change specific tour, the words that stuck with her were, “the future of New York City.” The forward focus of the tour interested Pennington because she says it’s something we aren’t currently doing enough of.

Sustainability is emphasized at Classic Harbor Line, with recent initiatives including eliminating bottled water onboard and incorporating an electric schooner into their fleet. In recent years their standard boat tours have incorporated climate content as waterfront parks and city infrastructure have adapted to weather events like Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Ida.

Billion Oyster Project

On the cruise, Fox provides information about specific buildings like the Bloomberg Building at the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island which has geothermal heat pumps along with other clean energy features to reduce carbon emissions. Fox also touches on projects that strengthen the city’s natural resources, plants and animal life. One example is the Billion Oyster Project working to restore one billion oysters to New York Harbor by 2035.

Throughout the tour, Fox takes breaks to talk to guests and answer questions. “My goal isn’t to overwhelm people,” said Fox. “It’s to educate people in a comfortable way.” The topics he covers span urban planning, resiliency, history, ecology, and policy actions the city is taking to combat climate change.

Platt says one of the challenges of the tour is that climate change conservations inevitably draw on more complex topics connected to politics, society, morality and ethics which aren’t always easily tied to physical landmarks.

Another challenge is simply choosing what to talk about. Conducting architecture tours has been fascinating for Fox because the number of new buildings, parks, piers, and other sites he points out along the route has grown tremendously over the years.

Threats in a Warming World

A significant factor in New York City’s changing infrastructure is connected to environmental concerns. For example, after Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, plans to protect shorelines, facilities, generators, buildings, and other sites from storm surges and flooding took off. Hurricane Sandy and the recent Hurricane Ida have made it clear The City That Never Sleeps and the 8.85 million resident New Yorkers who call NYC their home face increasing threats in a warming world.

The Climate Change tour will be dynamic as the story of global heating is an ever-adapting one. The hope of all those involved in getting the educational cruise out on the water is to start more conversations, efforts, and decisions about preserving New York City.

Pennington hopes the tour will become a weekly Classic Harbor Line staple and evolve into a sought-after experience for visitors to Manhattan. Guests walk off the boat with a comprehensive sense of the complicated waterway surrounding the city and how detrimental climate change will be for the people who live there. “There’s no giving up on Manhattan,” said Pennington. “We have to make this work.”

Reservations for the Climate Change Tour can be booked through https://classicharborline.com/nyc/ or by calling the Classic Harbor Line NYC at (212) 627-1825. The cost is $106 per person for 2-3 people, $86 per person for groups of 4-16, and $68 for students.

“My goal isn’t to overwhelm people. It’s to educate people in a comfortable way.” Doug Fox, guide for Climate Change Tour