Manhattan debuts ambitious coastal protection blueprint

By Climate Champions | September 14, 2023

Partner: International Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure (ICSI)
Implementer: New York City
Country & Region: U.S, North America
Impact System: Human Settlements, Infrastructure and Water
Beneficiaries / Impact: < 110,000 people

Next week, the city that never sleeps gears up for one of its most pivotal gatherings – Climate Week NYC, running from 17-24 September. A focal point of this year’s event is “Adaptation and Resilience”, honouring the strides made since the Sharm El Sheikh Adaptation Agenda’s establishment and shining a spotlight on adaptation efforts across diverse systems. And right on cue, showcasing the city’s commitment to tackling the climate emergency, Manhattan’s East Side unveils the promising East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) Project.

Jointly funded by the City of New York and the federal government, the ESCR Project seeks to combat the flood risks faced by Manhattan’s East Side, stretching from East 25th Street to Montgomery Street. This critical area finds itself within the FEMA 100-year floodplain and houses a thriving community of over 110,000 New Yorkers.

Crucially, the approach has been inclusive, a key priority for our work. The city has engaged local residents and community partners extensively, with public design workshops showcasing three-dimensional models and intricate drawings of various design options. This rich feedback, combined with insights from prior plans in the region, has shaped the ESCR vision.

Key features

A 2.4-mile flood protection system, comprising floodwalls and floodgates, seamlessly weaving into the community. They’ll harmoniously integrate with local streets, East River Park, and the fresh landscapes of Corlears Hook Park, Murphy Brothers Playground, Stuyvesant Cove Park, and Asser Levy Playground.

  • Significant upgrades to the underground drainage system to bolster the sewer system’s capacity.
  • The ambitious project, amounting to $1.45 billion, is supported by a generous $338 million federal grant, with the City of New York covering the rest.

Moreover, ESCR is but the inaugural step in a grander vision. While it operates as a distinct ‘compartment’ for flood risk reduction in its designated area, it will beautifully align with other resilient initiatives, paving the way for a fortified Lower Manhattan.

Lessons from the past

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on New York City, claiming 44 lives, crippling neighbourhoods, and causing damages to the tune of $19 billion. The Lower East Side bore a significant brunt. This disaster underscored the urgency for a comprehensive protective response, resulting in New York City spearheading a strategic assessment of climate vulnerabilities.

On its completion, the ESCR Project promises more than just flood barriers. It envisions a robust, attractive corridor shielded against future climatic adversities.

Set amidst a bustling urban backdrop, the ESCR is truly a unique endeavour. It goes beyond mere physical robustness, aiming for socio-economic resilience. The plan is more than just a protective measure—it’s about harmonizing the protective features with the community’s fabric. The goal is clear: protect without isolating.

Furthermore, the project safeguards critical infrastructure, from pump stations to the power grid. Educational hubs like local schools and libraries also find protection under its umbrella.

A resilient future

The ESCR doesn’t just aim to protect; it intends to enhance. The envisioned outcomes include:

  • Protection against future storm surges and rising sea levels.
  • Enhanced connectivity between local communities and the waterfront, adhering to universal access standards.
  • Revitalized public spaces, boasting resilient designs, recreational facilities, multi-use areas, modern furnishings, and a rich tapestry of diverse landscaping.

Find out more about the Climate Champions involvement in Climate Week NYC

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This project was first reported on by Race to Resilience partner, ICSI. Read more here.

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