For much of the twentieth century, municipal infrastructure—including warehouses, dock facilities, and rail lines—walled off New Yorkers from almost all physical and visual access to the Hudson River. As this industrial glacier receded and construction of the proposed Westway interstate along the Hudson was averted, the majesty of the river was rediscovered. Hudson River Park, which stretches five miles from Riverside Park to Battery Park City, is the result of thirty years of community demands, activism, and planning insisting on the recreational and public health benefits of a waterfront park. Over the course of the park’s nearly twenty-year construction, awareness of rising sea levels and the increased probability of extreme weather events challenged landscape architects to develop new design ideas in Segment 5, one the last and most important sections. Withstanding both the four-foot brackish inundation of Superstorm Sandy as well as the day-to-day impacts of intense public use, Segment 5 of Hudson River Park demonstrates how landscape architects can lead a collaborative design process to create resilient urban open space in the context of climate change.
THE CHALLENGES OF DESIGNING PUBLIC SPACE WITH VOCAL AND EMPOWERED NEIGHBORS
Segment 5 was completed in 2010 after eight years of often-contentious public participation and review. From the beginning, the designers benefitted from the input of community members and park advocates. These activists’ aggressive advocacy and legislative campaign resulted first in the creation of the Hudson River Trust in the early 1990s. The Trust created a trailblazing new governance structure for urban park making, and the Master Plan for the park, by Quennell Rothschild Partners, received a merit award in Planning from the ASLA in 1998. Segment 5 was one of the last of the seven segments built. Centrally located in the previously parkless neighborhood of Chelsea and at the widest point in Hudson River Park, Segment 5 fulfills many of the community’s goals and aspirations for open space and access to the boundlessness of the river.
TWENTY-FIRST-CENTURY PARK MAKING
The design team for Segment 5 worked closely with the public client as well as with state and city agencies to develop a plan that meets the varying needs of the neighborhood, the overall Hudson River Park system, and the city and state as a whole. The landscape architects chose to add to the creative team a public garden designer, an artist, and a leading national skate park designer, who together helped provide a diversity of design ideas at different scales for different experiences.
AN IMPROBABLE NEW YORK URBAN LANDSCAPE
The Segment 5 site is wider than the typical cross-section west of the West Side Highway. Two preexisting piers frame the site, extending the city grid out into the river. In the center of the site, a broad lawn was created where a third pier once existed, providing a sweeping, boundless view of the river rare for Lower Manhattan. The 3 acre central lawn supports pick up sports, large outdoor yoga classes, and everyday hanging out. A dramatic landform bowl shelters the lawn from the West Side Highway and helps define a series of adjacent smaller-scale areas for more active use, including a bikeway, a sculpture garden, a carousel, and a world-class skate park.
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT-LED INVENTIVE ENGINEERING
In addition to providing the Chelsea neighborhood with needed parkland, Segment 5 establishes a high standard for durable and sustainable waterfront park design, fully addressing the realities of rising sea levels and extreme weather events. The landscape architects worked closely with marine engineers to demolish, repair, and reinforce 250 feet of sea wall and to rebuild the pier structures. The piers are protected by fenders designed to withstand the impacts of runaway vessels, ice floes, and waterborne debris. EPS foam and lightweight aggregate fill allow a range of topography with minimal deck and pile load, while heavier top soil holds the sub-surface material in place. This creative engineering ensured that the buoyant foam did not burst through the landscape during the flood conditions of Superstorm Sandy, as happened at many other sites. It is worth noting that these strategies originated nearly a decade before Sandy powerfully demonstrated the importance of resilience to brackish flooding in New York’s infrastructure.
FLOOD SURGE AND SALINITY: A TEST CASE FOR OTHERS TO FOLLOW
The landscape architects planned Segment 5 of Hudson River Park as one of New York's first efforts to prepare for rising sea level. All the park’s most sensitive infrastructure components, including pumps and key mechanical and electrical services, were placed in elevated positions within protective structures to accommodate more frequent inundation. These strategies were tested during Superstorm Sandy, when 60 percent of Segment 5 was inundated with as much as four feet of brackish water. Aside from minor damage to some vegetation, the park’s design and construction allowed it to survive virtually unscathed. Segment 5 is a model for collaborative, sustainable, and compelling design that satisfies a present need for engaging public open space while meeting the continually evolving demands of climate change.