In the past decade New York City’s government, along with numerous organizations and design teams, have taken the initiative to revive the city’s public spaces and reclaim underutilized areas that have long been associated with the city’s manufacturing past. We’re all familiar with the High Line, a project that takes over the elevated rail lines of Chelsea and Meat Packing District that until several years ago stood as a desolate and eroding piece of infrastructure, which was beautiful in its own way but largely underutilized. Then there is the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which has become a mecca for designers, fabricators and research companies and has recently acquired a museum to celebrate its history. And of course, there are the city’s waterways, which, since New York City’s early history, have served its manufacturing and trade economy, have become parks along the waterfront as part of the Hudson River Greenway and the FDR Drive. Manufacturing has long been replaced by Wall Street, but there are parts of the city that still retain the industrial past along the historic waterfront and continue to operate some of the most important facilities that allow the city to function. Now it is time to reintroduce a public use among these industrial zones.
More after the break!
Pushed out of Manhattan’s waterfront in the mid-twentieth century, the city’s power plants, sewer treatment plants, and food distribution facilities migrated to Hunts Point and Port Morris in the South Bronx, a peninsula that juts out into the body of water separating the Bronx and Queens. This almost exclusively industrial part of the city will now have one of the newest public spaces in its backyard: The South Bronx Greenway. Designed by Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, the project has developed as part of an extensive collaboration with the NYC Economic Development Corporation, the NYC Department of Transportation, the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and advisory firm Barretto Bay Strategies. The South Bronx Greenway is the long-term plan for this part of the Bronx; already under construction is Hunt’s Point Landing, scheduled for completion in Summer 2012, a waterfront amenity that will provide the neighborhood with natural habitats for animals and native plants and safe waterfront access with sustainable solutions for water treatment.
The long-term goals of the South Bronx Greenway are extensive, yet simple:
- Provide connections to existing Greenway projects to complete a circuit that can connect upper Manhattan from the FDR and Harlem River Drive to the Bronx River Park Greenway and into Westchester, and create a connection between the Bronx and its neighbor, Randall’s Island.
- Provide an alternate means of transportation, whether on foot or by bike, to supplement the lack of bus and subway access southeast of the Bruckner Expressway that creates a barrier between Hunts Point and the rest of the Bronx.
- Provide a natural landscape for native plants and animals to return to the waterfront.
- Provide clean air and water treatment solutions to the industrial zone.
- Create a balance between the industrial and manufacturing zones that dominate the area and the residences interspersed within them.
Hunt’s Point Landing is the first phase of the development and sets a high bar for the type of infrastructure that is to be developed along the South Bronx Greenway. The South Bronx’s residents are notoriously undeserved in regards to the quality of life improvements that the city has undergone. The small population that resides among the industrial and manufacturing facilities has few public amenities for transportation and recreation. This project provides the area with a neighborhood park that is also an invitation to tourists from other parts of the city.
The South Bronx Greenway is composed of twenty projects, that will be implemented in three phases – short, mid and long term. Short term goals include greening neighboring streets such as Lafayette and Hunt’s Point Avenue with planters, medians and permeable paving. Hunt’s Point Landing is at the forefront of the agenda and is nearing completion. When Landscape Architect Signe Nielsen first approached the site her reaction was succinct: “a vastness of industry and too much asphalt”. The former street – currently being transformed into a lush greenscape of native vegetation with an oyster habitat, fishing pier, kayak launch and boat storage, off the grid storm water collection and filtration system, and a much needed connection to the waterfront – was little more than a desolate slab of asphalt that had few visitors.
The new design on the 825-foot by 100-foot street that dead ends at the water’s edge provides active and passive recreation for residents and passersby, while the planned connections will give the waterfront the activity that it deserves. On April 30th, Signe Nielsen of MNLA, Paul Lipson of Baretto Bay Strategies, Laurie Kerr of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning, Margaret Newman of the NYC DOT and Kate Van Tssel of NYC EDC gathered at the NYC AIA for a panel discussion of the project. In the simplest terms, it was described as “more than a physical plan, it is a holistic vision for residents, businesses and industries”.
Under development since 1997, the project has come a long way; dealing with land use, land ownership, funding and myriad other issues that have surfaced over the last fifteen years is a reflection of the commitment and dedication necessary to bring the most potential out of such a project. With so many moving pieces it is a remarkable collaborative achievement. The success of the High Line may have also contributed to a change in attitude by private companies toward the development of public spaces.
Being that the location is in an industrial zone has also developed a new dynamic between the companies in Hunt’s Point and public space. The companies that call Hunt’s Point home have become more open to the idea of a green way in their backyard, in some cases ceding property to the project to further its development. The project was also inspired by the community based participation – reaching out to residents and listening to their concerns. Seeing big businesses take a stand for a project so dear to its residents brings them closer to the neighborhood and creates a more respectful relationship between the industries and the community.
Such bonds are critical to such an undertaking. Every participant at the April 30th discussion made it clear how important each meeting, discussion and negotiation was in bringing the politics, economics, and design to encompass a common goal. Everything – from the donated granite blocks from the reconstruction of the Willis Ave Bridge to the graffiti artists and shipping containers that will encompass the site to the Con Ed tubes that will serve as the footbridge for the Randall’s Island Connector – has a story that marks the journey of this project. The fact that it is ongoing means there are many more to come.
- Signe Nielsen, FASLA - Principal, Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects
- Paul Lipson - former Chief of Staff at Congressman Jose E. Serrano (NY-16) and President of Barretto Bay Strategies
- Laurie Kerr, AIA, LEED AP - Senior Policy Advisor, NYC Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning
- Margaret Newman, AIA, LEED AP - Chief of Staff, NYC Department of Transportation
- Kate Van Tassel, AICP- Assistant Vice President, Development, NYC Economic Development Corporation
Hunts Point Landing
Marine Engineer: Halcrow (now CH2M) Civil/Structural Engineer: Dewberry Signage and Graphics: Russell Design Survey: MercatorLandSurveying LLC and Leonard J. Strandberg and Associates
Produce Market Fence
Civil/Structural Engineer: Dewberry Signage and Graphics: Russell Design Survey: Leonard J. Strandberg and Associates
Randall’s Island Connector
Civil, Structural, Electrical, all engineering services: HDR, Inc. Survey: Mercator
Lafayette Avenue Streetscape
Civil Engineer: Dewberry
Food Center Drive
Civil Engineers: Dewberry Environmental engineers: HDR/LMS