Rendering courtesy of ARO and dlandstudio/MoMA

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New Urban Ground
ARO and dlandstudio
Instead of beating back the waters with impermeable walls, lower Manhattan could erect a defense line of giant grassy sponges. Fingers of wetland would reach from the city into the East and Hudson Rivers, poised to absorb the surging surf. ARO has also developed a new kind of honeycombed street, porous and paved with greenery, to suck storm water into the soil instead of letting it form curbside torrents that overwhelm the sewers and flush raw waste into the harbor.

Water Proving Ground
LTL Architects
LTL’s plan includes the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and Liberty State Park, which the firm proposes to turn into “a landscape more reminiscent of Venice than New York.” Yes, it’s an unfortunate reference to a city that’s slowly sinking, but the point is to reshape the landfill shoreline of New Jersey into an archipelago of islets, piers, canals, and coves. The rectangular beds house a new assortment of urban activities, from fish farming to watery recreation.

Oyster-Tecture
Scape
The phrase “Gowanus oyster” might sound as appetizing as “Chernobyl meatball,” but landscape architect Kate Orff imagines it might eventually become a badge of quality and also a crucial 21st-century building technology. These useful bivalves scrub pollutants from water, and Orff would like to sic them on the Gowanus Canal by lining the fetid rivulet with charming little oyster farms. It would take decades to make the mollusks safe for consumption, but in the meantime farmed oysters could seed the reef in the shallows off Red Hook, purifying the harbor, softening waves, and eventually preparing the way for the return of oyster carts on the streets of lower Manhattan.

Working Waterline
Matthew Baird Architects
Few sights are less hopeful than the oil tanks of Bayonne, but Baird’s team imagines them redeemed by an ecologically virtuous mission. Protected from rising sea levels by a landscaped berm, they would generate power from waste and recycle tons of old bottles into glass “jacks.” Those would be dumped in the harbor to form artificial reefs, which slow advancing storm surges, create new habitats, and function as free-range aquariums. If it gets clean enough, visitors might even snorkel in the Kill Van Kull.

New Aqueous City
nArchitects
The most obvious way to deal with rising tides is to retreat to high ground and let the sea reclaim the lowlands. The nArchitects team offers the opposite suggestion: Cut channels deep into Sunset Park, and build new watery neighborhoods out beyond the shore. The key to this amphibious living is a new type of apartment complex suspended from a massive truss. Rather than sink foundations, builders would float columns. While the whole block shares a continuous public roof, the height of the lowest floor varies. As one of the team leaders, Mimi Hoang, puts it, “The more risk you are willing to take, the closer to the water you hang your house.”

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