The power and destruction of Hurricane Sandy made New Yorkers acknowledge just how vulnerable the city is to natural disaster. The storm pummeled Queens’ and Brooklyn’s shores, destroyed and flooded homes while Manhattan’s lower half was submerged and plunged into darkness for a week. But arguably, Staten Island, New York City’s Forgotten Borough, received the brunt of the storm and the slowest level of recovery. In the midst of the controversial clean-up, the New York City Economic Development Corporation decided to plow through the tragedy with pursuant talks of the planned developments on the St. George waterfront in Staten Island. While some residents may be offended that the subject of the talks was not of the EDC’s recovery programs, the real controversy is the way in which the EDC is planning to go forward with its proposal. It is planning to build the world’s largest ferris wheel along a vulnerable coast line that just saw damage from one of the worst storms to hit NYC in recent history.
Read more on this development after the break.
The main attraction for the development, the Ferris Wheel, will be part of a larger development set to include a 340,000 square foot designer outlet retail complex and a 130,000 square foot hotel. The development is part of an effort to bring economic development to the north shore which has been struggling with poverty and high unemployment rates. That all sounds reasonable and responsible. Except, looking at the context of recent events Hurricane Sandy for one and the fact that this is the second year in a row that NYC has witnessed a 100-year storm for another, it seems that locating a mega-project in a floodplain is the opposite of productive.
Company officials appeased attendees of the meeting in early November by promising that structure would be designed for 300 mile per hour winds and the surges experienced during Hurricane Sandy. And while the development has good intentions – designing a LEED Silver project with five acres of green roofs and a water capture system to absorb rainwater – community members and local activists are not convinced.
Preparing for the worst effects of climate change still does not mitigate the fact that large developments are being built with blatant disregard for the adverse affects of systematically laying asphalt and concrete along every inch of waterfront. According to Melissa Checker of the Gotham Gazette, long before Sandy hit the five mile stretch was facing other problems including contamination and toxicity from previous industrial developments.
Local activists are reaching out the government for help in assessing the potential distribution of these chemicals in the flood waters during the storm. Perhaps a better consideration for the north shore is to look at ways to clean up and restore wildlife, and foster marshlands that diminishes the effects of coastal erosion and the force of surges during storms; and only then consider a way to fit economically viable developments into that context.