Plan to secure Manhattan from flooding leans on nature

A rendering of an ecological infrastructure intended to protect New York City shorelines from floodwaters

When superstorm Sandy hit the island of Manhattan in October, a lot of New Yorkers started asking themselves: What if this is the new normal? Builders, landscape architects, urban planners -- they've all been throwing out proposals for how to shield the famous island from devastating floods in the future. Nothing's been approved, but there sure are a lot of ideas floating around, including one from an architecture firm called Architecture Research Office in Manhattan. Stephen Cassell is a partner there and his firm has proposed a unique redesign.

"Looking at the streets themselves and all the areas that were flooded, we are proposing redesigning how the city infrastructure works. We'd take all the pipes and electrical wires and everything in the street and put them in water-proof vaults under the sidewalk and then make the street bed absorptive -- that would basically absorb water and then channel it back out to the edge of the island," says Cassell.



A rendering of an ecological infrastructure intended to protect New York City shorelines from floodwaters



Cassell says to make the street bed absorptive you'd use porous concrete that water can soak through to a series of engineered channels below ground. Cassell says the plan would, in a way, put nature back into Manhattan.

"If you look at the history of Manhattan really over the past 400 years, it went from a natural island with wetlands and marshes and streams and progressively as the city developed, these natural systems were sort of forced off the island and replaced with city infrastructure," says Cassell.

Of course, Cassell's plan isn't cheap. It would cost billions of dollars. But Cassell believes that making this type of investment would pay off -- especially when you look at the costs of natural disasters like superstorm Sandy.

About the author

Sarah Gardner is a reporter with the Marketplace Sustainability Desk.


I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...

Sustainability Coverage

  • The Kendeda Fund
  • Wealth & Poverty Coverage

  • The Ford Foundation