by Sam Capasso

The Pace Law environmental faculty along with several environmental law and LLM students were fortunate enough to get a private after-hours tour of the Museum of Modern Art‘s Rising Currents exhibit which closed this weekend. Primarily an architecture and design showcase, the exhibit’s premise was adapting the five selected areas of New York Harbor, including Lower Manhattan, Gowanus Canal, Kill Van Kull, Liberty Park, Ellis Island, and parts of  Lower Brooklynn and Staten Island.

The teams assigned to these areas each took a different approach, though each team seemed to be concerned with the same few issues: combined sewer overflows, sea level rise, storm surges, erosion, and biodiversity. All were encouraged to take nontraditional approaches in developing shoreline structures to deal with the variety of theoretical issues. They teams recognized the need for wave attenuation, habitat creation, restoring ecosystem services, and changing the way we relate to the shoreline. These needs were met in a variety of ways; I will just mention two of particular interest to me.

Perhaps the solution that provided the most bang -for-the-buck was the Gowanus Canal team’s “Oyster-tecture” design. The team proposed using a low cost tattered rope to create large, geometrically varied, nets stretched between a grid of wooden poles. These net structures would be suspended under the surface and provide a surface oysters could easily attach. The oysters, nature’s water purifier, would serve a bioremediation function while simultaneously creating artificial islands to break waves and provide additional habitat. The oysters would be raised beneath boardwalks to ensure greater survival once they were placed in the net structures. After a number of years, sufficient remediation would allow the oyster beds become a food source and provide a variety of artificial  islands which would serve as a new park.

Another highlight was a solution developed as a zoning ordinance. Along with an idea for a system of platforms with inflatable tubes for fighting storms surges, the team assigned the area around V-bridge developed a new means development. These new developments would be “hung” from large superstructure “bridges.” Developers would be informed that constructing below 20 feet above sea level subjects them to flooding by category three storms, but permitted to take the risk. The developments would be required to incorporate anaerobic digesters to deal with sewage. This would serve the dual purpose of producing biogas for powering a network of ferries and the developments themselves, as well as separating the waste so that the rest could be managed by floating wetland structures also attached to the superstructure.

I was pleased to hear that this exhibit will be travelling to other cities. Hopefully this will inspire similar projects and real city planning where ever it goes.