The Department of City Planning’s Vision 2020: New York City Comprehensive Waterfront Plan is a 10-year vision for the future of the city’s 520 miles of shoreline. It provides a sustainable framework for more water transport, increased public access to the waterfront and economic opportunities that will help make the water and shoreline part of New Yorkers’ everyday lives.
Returning briefly to last month’s water theme, we interviewed Michael Marrella, the Director of Waterfront and Open Space Planning at the New York City Department of City Planning. We asked Mr. Marrella a few questions about the Vision 2020 plan, New York’s plan to make the city’s waterfront more accessible to residents. Mr. Marrella works with Amanda Burden, Director of the New York City Department of City Planning and Chair of the City Planning Commission. Burden has been instrumental in getting Vision 2020 off the ground. The New York Times recently interviewed her about the plan.
What are the largest hurdles to overcome when implementing this plan?
Vision 2020 has many goals for making the waterfront and waterways part of New Yorkers everyday lives. NYC has made substantial investments in jumpstarting the 130 projects of the City’s Waterfront Action Agenda that will advance the waterfront’s transformation over the next three years and catalyze future investment. A progress report on these investments and actions can be found at nyc.gov/waves.
We’ve also done significant rezoning which provides a foundation for new development that will leverage private investment and where compatible, public access. The biggest hurdle now is the market. That’s why we’ve begun an inter-agency, inter-jurisdiction dialogue, including streamlining the permitting process and making it work better for everyone involved. Representatives from city, state and federal agencies are working together on this issue, which was one of the recommendations of Vision 2020. In addition, we’re working with the NYC Harbor Coalition to attract the necessary federal investment to help realize the multitude of projects in the plan.
How do you anticipate making this vision into a reality?
NYC’s waterfront is the most expansive and most diverse in the country with 520 miles of shoreline, which borders rivers, the Atlantic Ocean, inlets and bays, and encompasses active port areas, residential neighborhoods, wetlands, 14 miles of public beaches and other natural areas, and public open space. Vision 2020 is our strategic blueprint for our waterfront and waterways, a framework for action for the next 10 years and beyond. As I mentioned earlier, we are already seeing progress on a number of the early action projects, and will continue to see transformations in our waterfront.
To ensure that progress towards these goals continues into the next administration, we’ve convened a Waterfront Management Advisory Board, comprised of civic leaders and key stakeholders. This group is critical to maintaining the momentum we’ve begun and ensuring that the waterfront remains a priority for future elected officials.
Since announcing its implementation in March 2011, what has happened so far towards increasing access to waterways for all New Yorkers and tourists?
Of the 125 projects in the Waterfront Action Agenda, 34 are already completed, and another 71 are on schedule. So almost halfway into the time we committed to completing the agenda, a total of 84% of the projects we committed to are either done or on schedule.
- Section 1 and Pier 15 of the East River Esplanade South in Lower Manhattan opened. The first phase – from Wall Street to Maiden Lane – is part of a larger $165 million project that is revitalizing a once neglected two-mile stretch of City-owned land along the water’s edge from the tip of Lower Manhattan to East River Park north of the Manhattan Bridge. The vibrant esplanade will transform the Lower Manhattan and Lower East Side waterfronts into a pedestrian-friendly new public open space destination with sweeping views across the East River and New York Harbor. Upon completion of the larger project in 2013, the two-mile esplanade will provide a contiguous pedestrian walkway and a bicycle pathway along the East River from Battery Park to East River Park.
- In March 2012, one year after the release of Vision 2020, City Planning launched public review for revisions to New York City’s Waterfront Revitalization Program (WRP) that will advance the long-term sustainability goals and other priorities laid out in Vision 2020. By updating the WRP, the City will change the way that it evaluates and measures such waterfront projects, solidifying New York City’s leadership in the area of sustainability and climate resilience planning as one of the first major cities in the U.S. to incorporate climate change considerations into its Coastal Zone Management Program. These new revisions will promote climate resilient designs, encourage soft edges for much of the city’s 520 miles of shoreline, promote the necessary infrastructure for maritime uses such as barge loading and ferry landings, and increase public access to the waterfront.
- The East River Ferry service was launched last June, and in less than a year of service has significantly outperformed ridership expectations.
- In Staten Island, construction began on a 6-acre waterfront esplanade in Stapleton.
- At Orchard Beach in the Bronx, the beach was replenished with clean sand and the South Jetty was expanded to reduce further beach erosion.
- The Mayor just broke ground on the new park and public spaces on Governors Island.
The New York City Waterfront Action Agenda outlines several hundred key projects to be initiated within three years. Which projects are you most excited about?
During the planning process, we heard loud and clear from New Yorkers that they wanted more opportunities to get to the waterfront. I am excited for the many expansions in waterfront public access in the Action Agenda throughout the five boroughs, namely:
- Parkland development on Governors Island including new dock facilities
- The new Bush Terminal Piers Park in Sunset Park Brooklyn, bringing public access to an area previously separated from the waterfront by industrial uses.
- Improvements to the South Bronx Greenway and Manhattan Waterfront Greenway, in particular the East River Waterfront Esplanade, to bring us closer to a continuous waterfront greenway connecting all five boroughs.
Together these projects will dramatically transform the relationship between the city and the waterways.
What advice would you give to other cities wishing to create more access to waterfronts?
During the Bloomberg Administration, 400 acres of new waterfront parks have been acquired or built, and 20 miles of waterfront park greenways have been built. Reconnecting New Yorkers with the waterfront has been a priority, and there can be creative ways to create more waterfront access. For example, in our Greenpoint/Williamsburg rezoning, it is a requirement that all new developments along the waterfront also build a portion of the public esplanade. I’d also recommend that cities consider creating a mix of ways to access the waterfront: from the water, via ferry or kayak/canoe, from upland areas, via public transportation connections and visual sightlines, and along the shoreline, from along public access points on the waterfront. The enhancements create amenity for the public, and value for the cities. It is also critical to engage the public and create a constituency to champion these changes.
We thank Michael Marrella for taking the time to enlighten us about our city’s waterfront goals.