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The Protecting Role of Parks

Summer is here and that means more time outside and time to think about the role parks play in protecting public spaces prone to flooding.

As beautiful summer weather approaches, waterfront parks provide a great way to enjoy incredible views along with opportunities for passive and active recreation. Did you know waterfront parks also play an important role in protecting neighborhoods and public spaces prone to flooding? Parks can help reduce flood damage and/or flood risk while enhancing public spaces and making our waterfronts more resilient. With sea level rise a growing concern and an already-active hurricane season underway for 2020, we should pay respect to these peaceful and mighty assets.

Look at parks in New York City – while each is unique in location, size and purpose – many are similar in their ability to mitigate flood impacts. In other words, parks are able to naturally safeguard places and people and alleviate what could otherwise cost millions of dollars of damage.

Take for example the East Side Coastal Resiliency project, New York City’s first large-scale coastal resiliency and flood protection project that will be going into construction. “We’ve been working on ESCR since 2015 when our role began in the feasibility studies and conceptual design,” reports Jacobs People & Places Solutions Project Manager Maki Onodera. “From a resiliency and flood protection standpoint, this infrastructure is much needed for New York City as the impacts of climate change become more pronounced and we see more frequent and intense storms.”

Aimed at mitigating future flood risks in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, while enhancing the environmental and economic viability of the Manhattan waterfront, the ESCR is the first segment of a 10-mile flood protection system that extends around Lower Manhattan, referred to as the “Big U.” The first segment is 2.5 miles along the East River from East 25th Street to Montgomery Street. The ESCR flood protection system covers a very dense, vibrant part of New York City that runs parallel to the major eastside highway, the FDR Drive. The project area includes the Pier 42, East River Park, and Stuyvesant Cove Park waterfront parks, critical infrastructure and residential and commercial neighborhoods.

When complete, the project will improve community access and allow for more enjoyment of the waterfront spaces. The solutions include flood protection structures and foundations, flood-resistant sewer infrastructure, sewer outfall retrofits to prevent stormwater backflow, green features, habitat enhancements, park amenities, and pedestrian and bike access paths and bridges. The project will improve a significant amount of the public waterfront and neighborhood parks, including the 57-acre East River Park, 2.8-acre Stuyvesant Cove Park, the 2.4-acre Asser Levy Playground and the 1.3-acre Murphy Brothers Playground.

Where are Other Parks That Protect? Let’s Have a Closer Look at a Few...

In addition to our recent design of a nature-based solution to protect the shoreline along  the newly completed Hunter’s Point South Park in Queens, Jacobs helped with the Rockaway Boardwalk replacement design after the 4.5-mile timber boardwalk along the Rockaway Peninsula was destroyed by Superstorm Sandy. Close collaboration with the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the designers of the flood protection structures that included seawalls, dunes, and other protective structures, was required. The boardwalk was not only designed and constructed to be resilient to future storms and complement the USACE’s flood risk reduction measures, but also serves as an important amenity for the community.

Roberto Clemente State Park is a 25-acre waterfront park located along the Harlem River in the Bronx, NY. The park opened in 1973 and was later renamed after Roberto Clemente, the first Latino-American inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. A bulkhead replacement and shoreline rehabilitation project were completed in 2018 to replace deteriorated infrastructure that was further impacted by Superstorm Sandy. It was necessary to replace the existing bulkhead along the promenade with a new steel sheet pile bulkhead and tidal pool to help protect the Morris Heights neighborhood’s residents from another, similar incident. Doing so improved access to the waterfront and created new habitat. The park’s rehabilitated shoreline provides opportunities for – you guessed it - recreational fields, including baseball fields.

Jacobs People & Places Solutions Project Manager for the North Shoreline component of the project Cathy Henderson says "Working with the NY State Parks Department to re-build the Roberto Clemente State Park was a great experience. Our team built a resilient design that protects the park while offering educational components such as the tidal pools. As an engineer, it feels incredible to see the park being enjoyed by the community."

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