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If Another Superstorm Hits, This Dirt Barricade Will Protect NYC

July 28, 2014
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If Another Superstorm Hits, This Dirt Barricade Will Protect NYC
A rendering of the Bridging Berm, which will both protect the Lower East Side from storm surges and reconnect the neighborhood with the waterfront. The BIG Team/Rebuild by Design
The Bridging Berm is part of a new project through HUD that doubles as public space.

Everyone — but especially New Yorkers — remember Superstorm Sandy’s seemingly endless destruction back in 2012. Costing the region billions of dollars, it was an example of what nature could do to our infrastructure and our society.

Preventing damage like what occurred is crucial — and a big part of what needs to be done to prepare for the future. That’s what the winning project of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rebuild by Design contest aims to do. And there’s no better way to do it than to also make some beautiful public space in the process.

The Bridging Berm is a new project on Manhattan’s lower east side. While there’s no timeline for completion, once it is finished, it will shelter 150,000 residents and a power sub-station from the effects of storms and rising sea levels.

The 2.19 miles along the East River that the Bridging Berm will occupy is currently a public park, though it has few entrances and is very isolated from the city. The Bridging Berm will change that — improving both access and the public space itself. Even more importantly, it will raise the riverbank to nine feet above its current level. Had this been around during Sandy, there still would have been four feet to spare.

Jeremy Barbour of Tacklebox Architecture tells Next City that “the strength of the proposal is in the way they have addressed both the vertical and the horizontal through a series of programmed berms and bridges that mediate the boundary between the waterfront and the edge of the city — defining a place for community gathering and a way to inhabit the in-between.”

And a defining place it will be, with bike paths along the water, boating and fishing areas, as well as athletic fields. Clearly, there will something for everybody.

This multipurpose space is just one of three components to the larger “BIG U” proposal in the Rebuild By Design contest; roll-down storm gates on the FDR bridge as well as a berm-and-educational facility in lower Manhattan are also part of the plan.

The Bridging Berm could have the largest impact, though. With such a dense population and the power station in the area, not to mention the improved public space, it is an exceptional urban planning vision.

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