Mother Nature has got it out for New York City and hurricane Sandy was just a preview of what the city could be facing in the future. Gotham used to feel the type of storm surge that came with 2012’s hurricane only every 100 years or so, but sea levels surrounding Manhattan are continuing to rise, meaning that severe flooding could happen a LOT more often — possibly every three years or so.
Finding a solution to combat this potential flood problem is of course easier said than done, but a redesign under consideration now is Big U, 10-mile loop of new parks that would act as a protective moat for certain neighborhoods.
The Big U design focuses as much on the community aspect of city parks as it does on flood protection with the design stretching from West 57th Street to the tip of the Battery and then up to East 42nd Street. According to Jeremy Siegel, the leader of the Big U project, the barrier would be broken up into separate zones with the possibility to build each zone as funding becomes available.
“Because they all work individually, you end up with a system that’s resilient. If you have a breach in one area, it’s localized and you can organize evacuation into neighboring compartments. It’s a little bit like the hull of a ship, where you’ve got different segments, and breaching one area doesn’t necessarily mean that the whole system fails.”
While creating their design, Siegel and the other architects chose to focus especially on two section in the Lower East Side — a Manhattan neighborhood that struggled greatly during hurricane Sandy. Raised layers of land would help prevent flooding and provide park space under the FDR expressway. Walls would have the function of flipping down to keep water from rushing in and could provide shelter for seasonal winter events. As Siegel explains it, his team’s design is a new way of thinking about city infrastructure and very different from those that you might find in post-Katrina New Orleans where floodwalls were merely made for engineering criteria.
The Big U design is one of 10 finalists in the Rebuild by Design competition launched by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last year. Protecting the city from rising flood waters is the team’s first objective, but Siegel explains that he also wishes the project to function as a new space for people to enjoy one of the country’s greatest cities and contemplate just what these rising sea levels mean.