Q&A: Visualizing the Future of the Region’s Coast

Earlier this year, RPA launched the Design Competition for the Fourth Regional Plan, calling for innovative design solutions for some of the seemingly insurmountable challenges facing the New York metropolitan region, including the crises of affordability and climate change. Four design teams were selected to address four distinct areas or corridors in the region: Highlands/Forest, Bight/Coast, Triboro/City and Inner Ring/Suburbs. The designers collaborated with RPA staff to envision how these geographies could transform over the next 25 years to meet the region’s challenges and capitalize on opportunities emerging with new technologies and a growing population.

The work of these teams is available to the public online at 4C.rpa.org and at a special exhibit at the Chapel at Fort Tilden through this coming weekend, ending September 17.

We interviewed the Bight Corridor design team, Rafi Segal A+U and DLAND Studio, to learn more about their proposed design solutions for the region’s coastal communities.

Q: What are some of the factors that will affect the future of the Bight? 

Climate change and the increasing frequency of extreme storm events are of significant relevance to the Bight, or coast corridor. While elected and agency officials propose timid solutions to elevate selected shorelines that will overtop in a matter of years rather than decades, more and more of our urban population is at risk. Global technical consultants propose to spend billions on myriad new technology for holding back the oceans and controlling upland waterways without accounting for the potential failure of these systems.

Q: How do the designs you’ve created incorporate or respond to those changes? 

Our strategy accepts that floods will happen and proposes an urbanity that adapts to the new coastal landscape over time. Investment in upland areas away from flood risk, aligned with transportation infrastructure corridors, will be the site of municipal and state investment. These linear density zones will become an attractive element that draws investment and people. New commerce, housing, hotels, offices and schools will grow in the transit-oriented development corridors that were originally densified in the 1930s.  The linear city will receive migration from the coasts and absorbs population growth projected at one million residents citywide over the next 25 years. Local city centers will allow for shorter commute times, walking city amenity and water-city living.

Q: This initiative has been produced as a part of RPA’s fourth regional plan, in which RPA argues that with the right strategies, investments and political will, the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut metropolitan area could be a place that fulfills its promise of equal opportunity; a coastal region that shows the rest of the world how to adapt and prosper in an age of rising seas and temperatures; and a global hub that harnesses its immense resources and innovative talent to make this fast-paced, expensive metropolis an easier, healthier and more affordable place to live and work. 

How do the designs for you’ve created for the Bight corridor forward this vision for the region? 

Receive, Protect, Adapt. Our strategy is proactive, capitalizing on latent strengths existing in coastal environments. Using existing high ground topography, shaping new water lines, developing new modes of habitation, and protection of critical infrastructure are all exciting components of the RPA vision. The city will grow, connecting a halo of development around Jamaica Bay from Broadway Junction to Jamaica Center to Kennedy Airport.  Suburban areas adapt with increased density of historic transit corridors for more walkable town centers. Coastal areas will become retreats, cottages, boat houses for more temporary occupation. JFK Airport and other select infrastructure critical to the national and international economy will be fortified and protected.

Our designs promote visions of a future urban life that see opportunities in adapting to climate change rather than denying it or attempting to fight against it (by holding back the Atlantic Ocean). The human hubris of overcoming and controlling the forces of nature at all scales and means will only lead to the erosion of our society and bankrupt our economy. The shift in our attitude towards the environment needs to be strengthened and broadly implemented in all aspects of life. Design in this context offers more than viable and real solutions – a window to the imagination, peeks of inspiration for a changing future.

Q: Is there an alternate vision you foresee for the Bight if these investments don’t happen? If our patterns of development stay the same despite changing population, technological landscapes, climate, etc.?

Sadly, we see the potential for tremendous loss if changes are not made to the way we inhabit urban waterfront areas. Loss will be financial. Loss will be physical.  Our current state of suspended action is not productive sociologically, economically and ecologically. Without action and a plan that enables change by surmounting or perhaps avoiding the usual political, jurisdictional hurdles, our region cannot progress and more so fall into decline.

Learn more about the team’s vision for the Bight Corridor online at 4c.rpa.org or at the 4C: Four Corridors: Foreseeing the Future of the Region exhibit at The Chapel at Fort Tilden, open to the public on August 5, 2017 through September 17 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11 AM – 6 PM. 

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