It was an exciting moment last year when Bjarke Ingels Group‘s BIG U storm protection system for New York City secured $335 million in funding towards implementation, but now it looks like all of that hard work could be flushed down the drain. Due to the enormous $540 million cost of the project, the city is now saying that it may opt for a much smaller and more affordable project like a basic storm wall instead. But would even that wall be enough to save the city?
The so-called ‘big, ugly wall’ alternative could act as a stand-in for BIG’s elaborate, integrated system of parks and other public spaces, but concerns are circulating that a cheap alternative might not even be enough to provide sufficient protection for vulnerable areas like Lower Manhattan in the event of a severe storm surge. For instance, the new, inexpensive proposal protects Wall Street, but leaves areas such as Red Hook, Brooklyn vulnerable to future storms of Hurricane Sandy proportions.
In contrast, the storm protection system being developed by BIG calls for a network of 16-foot steel and concrete berms wrapped around the coast of Lower Manhattan, which would integrate a ‘sponge’ to absorb and redirect flood surges. The berms would be disguised as skate parks, public pools, urban farms, bird sanctuaries, and marshland trails. The system is designed so that individual flood zones can be isolated, making it even easier to protect certain communities if a neighboring area becomes flooded.
The fact remains that, although science can’t predict when a mega-storm like Sandy might hit, more storms will come. Coupled with a one- to two-foot rise in sea level, a 14-foot storm surge would pack quite a wallop, flooding waterfront neighborhoods without adequate flood protection in an instant. If the city opts to kill BIG’s elaborate and costly Big U design for a more affordable flood wall, we only hope they will take advice from places like the Netherlands, where more than 25 percent of the nation is below sea level. There, scientists and architects call for storm protections beyond a simple wall, including systems of dikes and levees to manage the water, rather than just try to block it out.
Images via BIG