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Organizing a Maritime Renaissance

September 2011

Cypress Hills Childcare
When they aren't paddling around Governors Island at the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance's City of Water Day Festival, kayakers and other Alliance members are working to get more town docks buit throughout the City. Photo by Paul Margolis.

On the railing along the Hudson River in Battery Park City, a Walt Whitman verse is inscribed:

…City of hurried and sparkling waters!
City of spires and masts!
City nested in bays! My city!

Since the Dutch settled on the island of Manhatta in 1625, New Yorkers have been putting their 578 miles of shoreline to work—exporting, importing, ship building, fishing, ferrying, sailing, and yes, dumping.

Over the past four hundred years, New York City’s waterfront has greatly aided in bolstering the overall commerce of the City. Unfortunately a lack of planning, complicated permit processes, private development, brownfields, and other obstacles have stymied coordinated development of the waterfront. More loading docks, ferries, and water taxis would cut down on highway traffic congestion and air pollution.

More parks and town docks would give people places to bike, boat, picnic, or just soak in the views. Estuaries and better edge design can bring more wildlife back into New York Harbor. Zoning and other incentives can expand businesses and other activities along the waterfront that create good jobs in shipping, boat repair, and transportation.

The Trust funded the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance in 2004 to help establish a Waterfront Committee that would get the City Council to mandate a waterfront land-use plan, rather than doing nothing. The Alliance consists of more than 400 organizations with the same goal—to transform the New York and New Jersey harbors and waterways, making them clean and accessible.

A 2009 grant of $50,000 was awarded to the Alliance to further carry out the Waterfront Action Agenda, which is a plan that lays out a clear menu of achievable and measurable steps towards a building a better waterfront. The Alliance conducted a survey measuring the availability of water-based environmental education programs and worked closely with the Department of City Planning to develop a method of gathering community input on the waterfront plan. This resulted in eight public meetings and it ensured that those participating represented the environmental justice community and a diversity of waterfront communities from all five boroughs.

In addition to helping move this citywide planning and organizing effort forward, a 2009 grant of $50,000 helped the Trust for Public Land (TPL) work with community groups on Staten Island and in Queens to create plans for their waterfronts. TPL was instrumental in securing $3.5 million from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for enhancements to the Blissenbach North Shore Marina, which will restore waterfront access and revitalize the area. Additionally, TPL protected a key waterfront area on the Rockaway Peninsula, 1.25 acre site that will safeguard the area’s habitat and provide Jamaica Bay’s 2,400 residents with public access to 500 feet of shoreline.

Many families on the North Shore of Staten Island can’t get to their waterfront or don’t want to because of its derelict condition and lack of public amenities. But this is beginning to change. “Redevelopment of this area has been slow, but the Trust for Public Land is pushing it forward,” says Andy Stone, TPL’s director for
Parks for People-New York City program. “In 2004, using funds provided by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, we helped acquire a former marina in West Brighton from a family who no longer wanted it and then handed it over to the City Parks Department. We will work with the City and local groups to help plan a park that is accessible to residents.”


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