Building resilience through parks


After New York City was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, there was an understanding that the city had to increase its resiliency in the process of rebuilding. In other words, it wasn’t good enough to just repair the damage—systems had to be put in place that could protect the city against something like this happening again.

Like, for example, by using parks.

This idea is found in a project called The Big U, which is one proposal unveiled this past week as part of the Rebuild By Design competition that sought ideas to build this new resilience infrastructure.

The Big U calls, in part, for a park-topped flood protection berm that would wrap around certain sections of lower Manhattan. Using salt-resistant plants and landscape features, it would protect against and manage flooding while at the same time creating a space that doesn’t cut people off, but welcomes them instead.

Waterfront areas are great, but they are also risky, especially in a world whose weather is becoming more volatile from climate change. Using green infrastructure solutions to build resilience into waterfront areas helps protect the value and livability of these areas. And it does so without building big sea walls and other nasty things that actually sever people from the very reason they are by the waterfront at all.

Toronto already has a smaller scale, but still impressive version of this kind of infrastructure in one of its newest parks, Corktown Common (formally Don River Park). The park does double-duty as a flood protection berm that guards the areas to its west—an estimated 210 hectares, including the city’s financial district—from any swelling and bursting of the Don River to its east.

And the park, designed by Michael van Valkenburgh (of Brookyn Bridge Park-fame), is stunningly beautiful as well. So Toronto gets a piece of important infrastructure, which unlocks the value of the adjacent lands for development, hidden inside a park that is now one of the city’s new green gems. Not a bad deal.

image from the BIG Team

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