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Rethinking Waterfront Development After Sandy

Ilana Novick

Battery Park City after Sandy. (Flickr/WarmSleepy)

Waterfront views are a sought after luxury for many New Yorkers, but post-Hurricane Sandy, many urban planners and government officials are questioning the wisdom of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's emphasis on waterfront development as part of his PlaNYC goals for 2030. These development plans include incentives to builders in Coney island, Red Hook, and the Rockaways, which were among the hurricane's worst victims. 

The Bloomberg administration may be the biggest booster of waterfront redevelopment efforts, transforming industrial buildings into luxury high rises across the city, but the rethinking of the waterfront from factories to condos began in the 1960s and 70s, with Battery Park City which is built on former landfill. DUMBO in Brooklyn followed in the 1990s, later to become one of the costliest neighborhoods in the entire city. This kind of development shows few signs of slowing down. Near the northern end of the Brooklyn Bridge, there is a large hotel and family apartment complex yet to come, not to mention the Willets Point development in Queens, Coney Island, and the ongoing conversion of the former Domino Sugar plant in Williamsburg. Long Island City's shoreline is also filled with new luxury buildings, and even more on the way.

In addition, before Battery Park City and Bloomberg made waterfront living a luxury, city officials put low-income, public housing on lower ground, where it remains today in Coney Island, Red Hook, the Lower East Side and the Rockaways. Both the very rich and the very poor are living by the water, but the difference is in the speed and quality of recovery. Hurricane Sandy may not discriminate between the projects and the penthouse, but the residents of One Main Street in DUMBO, whose prime apartments go for $19 million, will have an easier time recovering than residents of the Red Hook Houses, one of the largest public housing projects in the city, which remained without power and heat for days.