Last week New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled a 10 year plan to upgrade the city’s waterfront and waterways. While much headway has been made on these fronts over the past decade, much of the city’s waterfront is still private and largely inaccessible. The plan introduced today, dubbed Vision 2020, promises to change all that by creating better access to the city’s 520 miles of shoreline and greatly enhancing the recreational and commercial viability of its waterways.
The plan identifies 130 projects to be completed over the next 3 years that will create 50 acres of new waterfront parks and 14 new waterfront esplanades, and introduce a new ferry service. It also creates a framework for developing the waterfront over the next decade and beyond. While the plan is largely proscriptive it is also restorative in that it seeks to undo past urban planning ills, such as former Mayor Robert Moses’ decision to line the city’s edges with highways, which now act as barriers, limiting public access to the waterfront.
Vision 2020 takes up where the city’s last waterfront plan - the Comprehensive Waterfront Plan of 1992 - leaves off. That plan greatly transformed the city’s waterfront and is responsible for how it looks today. It gave birth to such projects as the Hudson River Park, a 5 mile stretch of park and recreation ground on Manhattan’s West Side, and the Brooklyn Bridge Park, an 85-acre park the first phases of which were just completed. But beyond creating new parks and esplanades the Vision 2020 plan seeks to clean up the city’s waterways, restore the natural habitat and make the city’s waterways navigable by larger ships.
Many of the projects proposed are infrastructure improvements that are not visible to the naked eye. But they are nonetheless important as the form the underpinnings for such high profile projects to come. One change that will be visible in the landscape is an increase in the number of ferries bobbing in and about the city’s waterways. With much new development occurring along the East River, in Manhattan, Long Island City, and Brooklyn, increased ferry service at this location and in other areas is proposed and will be welcomed by commuters and emergency responders alike, should New York be the target of another terrorist attack.
As with all good things there is a price to pay. And at $3bn this one is particularly steep. Given the current state of the city’s economy, one has to wonder how it will pay for such improvements when it is cutting back on essential services such as education spending and trash removal. The $3bn will cover only the cost of the 3 year term projects. The longer-term projects have no price tag yet and their realisation will be for future administrations to decide.
Even if only a fraction of the projects are realised, Mayor Bloomberg stands to go down in history for ensuring that New York remains one of the most preeminent waterfront cities of the world.