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New York’s Wagner Park to be Elevated and Reconstructed to Fight Flooding and Rising Sea Levels

In a move to combat the devastating effects of climate change, the Battery Park City Authority in New York has unveiled a $221 million climate resilience plan that will see the complete demolition of Wagner Park, a cherished waterfront green space in Battery Park City. The park will be reconstructed and elevated by 10 feet to protect the neighbourhood from flooding, storm surge and rising sea levels.

The reconstruction of the park follows years of protests and litigation by some residents who object to the agency’s plan and who offered an alternative. The conflict over the park reflects a broader challenge for governments that will be forced to take increasingly drastic measures to protect shoreline communities from the effects of climate change.

The Background of Wagner Park

Wagner Park, located in the primarily residential neighborhood of upscale high-rise apartment buildings in Battery Park City, is a 3.5-acre waterfront greenspace that boasts unobstructed views of the Statue of Liberty and New York Harbor. Built nearly 30 years ago, the park has served as an escape for residents of the fast-paced, densely packed neighbourhood in Lower Manhattan. But in a few weeks, the park will be demolished.

Battery Park City Authority’s Resilience Plan

The $221 million resilience plan will see the construction of the raised Wagner Park, including a buried flood wall along with elevated berms and pop-up walls. The infrastructure has been identified as critical in an era of climate change. The park will also feature a 63,000-gallon subterranean cistern for retaining, storing and reusing stormwater, as well as planted gardens designed to withstand sea level rise and extreme weather.

The raised park is set to be completed in 2025 and will include 10% less green space than the existing park.

The Battle Over Wagner Park and the Challenges Ahead

The final plan to tear down and rebuild Wagner Park did not come easily. Over the past few years, residents came together to form the Battery Park City Neighborhood Association and held protests against the BPCA’s resilience plan. The neighbourhood association hired Machado Silvetti and Olin, the two design firms that helped develop Wagner Park nearly three decades ago, to propose an alternative strategy that didn’t involve demolition.

The group’s plan involved maintaining the existing green spaces, trees and pavilion while adding a permanent flood protection wall located behind the park and further from the water. The wall would go up about 7 feet and would be manually opened and closed during extreme weather events.

Residents rallied again in August after learning the BPCA’s project would reduce the amount of lawn space from the existing Wagner Park. On the same day of the protest, the BPCA changed its design plan to slash the size of gardens and walkways in order to boost green space.

Wagner Park is just one example of the challenges that cities and communities across the globe will face in the coming years as climate change projections grow more dire. Nearly 2.5 million New Yorkers already live in a 100-year floodplain. As officials, scientists and urban planners warn, the city isn’t moving quickly enough to avoid future catastrophic flooding.

Thad Pawlowski, managing director at the Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes at Columbia University, believes that “Wagner Park points to a lot of the challenges we’re going to face for years in terms of climate adaptation. It’s going to be a lot of these little local battles over time.”

Conclusion

The reconstruction of Wagner Park is just one step in a long journey towards combating the effects of climate change. As communities and governments alike face increasingly dire projections, we can expect to see more drastic measures like this taken to protect our cities and shorelines.