The Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway as a Resiliency Solution

The Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway provides countless benefits. The route gives communities access to the waterfront, parks and open spaces, job centers, and cultural and entertainment corridors — all of which provide different forms of resiliency. The Greenway itself acts as a resilient climate solution, snaking 26 miles along Brooklyn’s coastline.

Today we invite you to join BGI for a self-guided virtual tour of a stretch of the Greenway that puts these benefits on display. Read along and imagine yourself on this journey — or venture along the path to make your own discoveries! This guide is adapted from a Climate Week 2019 tour led by BGI’s Executive Director Terri Carta and Board Member Amy Turner who is Senior Fellow of the Cities Climate Law Initiative at Columbia University.

In an effort to keep the global temperature rise under 1.5 degrees Celsius, NYC has set targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. About 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions throughout the 5 boroughs come from transportation, the vast majority of which is from cars and trucks.  If we want to reach that lofty emissions goal, 80% of trips in NYC will need to be taken by sustainable modes of transportation like walking, biking, electric vehicles, and public transit.  

NYC is a coastal, low-lying city with 520 miles of coastline bordering the ocean, rivers, bays, and inlets. The Greenway passes through many areas of Brooklyn that are particularly vulnerable to flooding during extreme weather events, and part of the Greenway’s purpose is to mitigate these effects. On this journey along part of the Greenway, we’ll check out a few places that have been impacted by the effects of climate change and explore some of the ways the completed Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway can make the Borough more resilient against future storms and sea-level rise. 

A Green Edge: Brooklyn Bridge Park

(Photo Credit: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates)

Brooklyn Bridge Park was one of the earliest adopters of the Greenway, integrating it into its plan back in 2005 when its first section was built. Pier 4 Beach and the adjacent Greenway (pictured above) were designed to mimic tidal pools. By integrating environmentally sensitive technologies like ECOncrete, a sustainable high-tech concrete that mimics natural materials, this built environment encourages ecological processes and creates an adaptable, resilient shoreline. Horticultural management improves resiliency for this post-industrial landscaped shoreline, as it proved during Superstorm Sandy. 

The Greenway’s Origins: Columbia Street Waterfront District

(Photo Credit: by Alvin Lewis)

Next up: this span of Columbia Street at the edge of Carroll Gardens and Red Hook is where the concept of the Greenway really took off. Originally, NYC Department of Transportation planned to widen this stretch of road between Kane and Degraw Streets into a 6-lane throughway to connect more trucks to the BQE, but the neighborhood rallied against this pedestrian-unfriendly development and even went a step further by conceptualizing what could be done instead to improve access to the area’s waterfront. Thus the idea for the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway was born and with it a vision for connecting a greener, stronger, healthier Brooklyn.

Making Connections: Pioneer and Imlay Streets

(Photo Credit: Adam Armstrong from A View From The Hook Blog)

Continuing south to Red Hook, the Greenway curves passed Pioneer Works near the convergence of Pioneer, Conover, and Imlay Streets and comes to a pause at Atlantic Basin, the entrance to the NYC Ferry Landing at Red Hook and the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. This area highlights the coexistence of the Greenway with heavy industry and multi-modal transport, providing a first- and last-mile connection for Ferry and bike commuters. 

South of Atlantic Basin, there is an uncompleted gap in Greenway. In July 2019 NYC Department of Transportation committed to connecting the Greenway through Red Hook by the end of 2021 as part of its Green Wave Plan. Once completed it will give residents more access to open space along the waterfront, a safe route for alternative transportation, an emergency access route during future storms.

Resiliency Design and the Greenway: Red Hook

(Image Credit: WE Design)

Planning and design for the Greenway must also address inequitable impacts of climate change on lower-income and communities of color. During Superstorm Sandy the Red Hook community was particularly hard hit. The low-lying peninsula was almost completely inundated by floodwaters and surge tides. Nearly 70% of Red Hook residents lived in NYCHA public housing and were without power, heat, and hot water for two weeks. And in the days following Sandy a snowstorm left 4,000 Red Hook residents vulnerable to dangerous conditions without necessary protections. Additionally, Red Hook is a virtual “transit desert” with very limited access to public transportation. 

Connecting the Greenway through Red Hook is not only an opportunity to incorporate green infrastructure but presents an obligation to improve resilience, equity, and protection against the effects of climate change for residents and businesses. 

Post-Industrial Landscapes: Valentino Park and Pier

(Photo Credit: NYC Parks)

When completed, the Greenway will connect to Valentino Park and Pier. Named after a fallen FDNY firefighter, this site was once a bustling industrial shipping location. After a long period of neglect, the City’s Economic Development Corporation transformed the area into a publicly accessible pier and park in 1996, turning it over to NYC Parks in 1999.

The Park brings beautiful greenspace to a heavily industrial landscape, and the Pier offers one of Brooklyn’s best locations to view the Statue of Liberty. Valentino Park and Pier are one of the many locations along Greenway to enjoy fishing or launch kayaks. By enabling New Yorkers to engage with the water for recreation, it raises public engagement in their local environment and encourages greater stewardship, which is essential to fight climate change and move NYC toward a greener future.

Thanks for coming with us on this virtual exploration of the Greenway as a climate solution. BGI continues to push for its completion and much-needed investments to realize its full potential. As a climate solution, the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway can: 

  • – Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by providing safe infrastructure for zero-emission modes of transportation such as bicycles
  • – Protect against storm surge and sea-level rise by incorporating the Greenway with coastal flood protection systems such as berms or elevated routes
  • – Reduce flooding by capturing storm runoff with landscaping, rain gardens, bioswales, or subsurface storage
  • – Encourage waterfront stewardship by increasing public access and opportunities for engagement
  • – Provide emergency access to communities cut off from emergency response and safe egress

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