It’s never easy figuring out how to spend $630 million, the price tag on the flood protection plans covering various Downtown resiliency projects.
On the evening of Wednesday, Feb. 8, for over two hours, a couple dozen New Yorkers gathered to hash out details of the North/West Battery Park City Resiliency Project around Rockefeller Park and Belvedere Plaza, part of a larger effort to defend Downtown against climate change-related flooding.
Elsewhere, a Supreme Court Judge rejected the Battery Park City Neighborhood Association’s bid for a temporary restraining order to block a $230 million flood protection plan around the Wagner Park area being planned by the Battery Park City Authority, a state agency (see story on page 16). Locals had argued that the plan pushed by the authority was out of touch with the community and not up to best industry practices. But the Judge rejected the argument and said any delays at this stage would cause the cost to skyrocket.
Some queries at the workshop for the North/West resiliency project revealed that the project, spurred in part by the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, is still not fully understood by those who live in the neighborhood. “How do we know these flood walls would even be effective?” one man asked, when presented with design renderings in the cafeteria of Stuyvesant High School, on Chambers Street overlooking the Hudson River. “Do we need this?”
It was the first of several public workshops, during which community members are being invited to offer input on various elements of the $630 million plan, which will require demolition and the erection of new infrastructure. Peter Glus, an engineer involved in the project, shared that the design process is expected to reach the 30% completion mark this summer. Details like what materials will be used to construct a flood-mitigating wall haven’t yet been pinned down—and designs for how the wall will be integrated into the community aren’t settled on.
“Reach three” and “reach four” of the project, centered around Rockefeller Park and Belvedere Plaza, were the first to be discussed.
A $630 Million Feat
Construction of new resiliency measures in South Battery Park City began in earnest last year, but ground hasn’t been broken further north. That’s where the most expensive changes will be made, ringing in at a projected $630 million, Bloomberg reported last July. Completion is expected by 2026.
New construction is intended to prevent severe damage from weather events like a 100-year storm, which according to the Battery Park City Authority has a 1% chance of happening each year. Lee Altman, the director of design management at SCAPE, a landscape and urban design company involved in the Battery Park City plan, said one of the project goals is to examine “how...we weave this flood barrier system into the park.”
Conversation about reach three, focused around Rockefeller Park, brought general consensus on the importance of maintaining the playground’s connection with the park, rather than the street. “We wanted the space to be continuous,” Susan Lee, a participant, said when summarizing her table’s preference for a wall to be built along the street side of Rockefeller Park Playground. “It needs to be something that’s inviting to the kids,” another participant said.
Others added that if taking down trees becomes necessary, those in the park—rather than lining the street—ought to be preserved during the construction process. The height of the proposed wall proved to be contentious, with participants generally favoring a shorter wall farther inland, rather than a taller one closer to the shoreline.
Regardless of height, the wall could pose a safety hazard by cutting off people in the park from people on the street, a community member suggested. “They’re going to riot,” another woman said of residents’ response if the wall is built too close to the playground.
Conversation about the design for reach four revolved around the lily pond, which local residents said attracts ducks—welcome inhabitants of the park. The existing lush habitat, sound of moving water from a small waterfall and pond ledge for children to play on are all features that participants advocated for the Battery Park City Authority to maintain or enhance.
Of three design options presented during the workshop, one depicting a “passive berm,” or an elevated section of land passing over the future flood-mitigating wall, was most appealing to the majority of community members. “That will beautify the park,” one person remarked. “We liked the flow,” another commented.
Lee worried that gates, which appeared in alternate renderings that lacked the berm, might require grooves in the pavement that would pose accessibility constraints for people using wheelchairs or pushing strollers.
Running with the berm—and possibly even extending the pond to both sides of the overpass—would give park-goers an entirely new way to interact with the land. “Wouldn’t that be lovely,” one woman said.
“It needs to be something that’s inviting to the kids.” A participant spoke about designs pertaining to Rockefeller Park Playground