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February 11, 2015
by jchristie
Kent Martinussen, Danish Center for Architecture; Dan Hasløv, Hasløv Kjærsgaard; Ole Svenstrup Peterson, DHI Group; Michael Marella, NYC Department of City Planning; Roland Lewis, Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance; and Lykke Leonardsen, The City of CopenhagenCredit: Center for Architecture
AIANY Executive Director Rick Bell, FAIA, and Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance CEO Roland Lewis gave remarks at the opening of the WEDG exhibition at the Center for Architecture.Credit: Center for Architecture

“The water keeps reminding us that the water is actually changing,” remarked Lykke Leonardsen, head of Copenhagen’s Climate Unit. Waterfronts, once hosts to the very industries contributing to pollution, are now particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels. In the last few decades, abandoned postindustrial waterfront sites have been reclaimed by municipalities and transformed into integrated social and recreational urban spaces in the form of parks, housing, beaches, and other facilities.  Waterfront Edge Design Guidelines (WEDG) was created by the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance (MWA) to ensure waterfront access is met with resilient, ecological, and equitable design. A panel on waterfront resiliency strategies in New York and Copenhagen accompanied the opening of MWA’s WEDG exhibition at the Center for Architecture.

Copenhagen, which has been hit by increasingly frequent cloud bursts resulting in damaging flash floods, has been approaching climate change by turning “problems into opportunities,” said Leonardsen. Examples include the city’s orange, elevated bike path, which combines sustainable transportation infrastructure with resilient design, and a proposal to build an island in the harbor, providing storm surge mitigation (from sandy beaches) while addressing Copenhagen’s housing shortage. Leonardsen emphasized working with nature, rather than against it, and continuing to bring Danes closer to the water. Decreased maritime industry and rigorous efforts to clean the harbor from commercial and sewage pollution have opened up the Copenhagen harbor for recreational use. Design initiatives such as the harbor baths by PLOT (BIG and JDS) have established the water as a mainstay of social life in the city: “It’s an integrated part of life in Copenhagen now, and we want to make sure it’s a possibility in future,” said Leonardsen.

Hurricane Sandy was a wake-up call for New York; in response, the city has been working towards recovery and retrofits to strengthen the 520 miles of the New York City waterfront. Since taking office, Mayor de Blasio has implemented a number of significant sustainability initiatives, including an effort to reduce greenhouses gases by 80% by 2050, Rebuild by Design, and the creation of the Office for Recovery and Resiliency to offset the “enormous cost of inaction,” said Dan Zarrilii, director of Mayors Office of Recovery and Resiliency. Michael Marella, director of the City’s Waterfront and Open Space Planning, also emphasized how we must not “negate all the efforts of the last 20-25 years – [our water is] no longer the open sewer it once was, but one of the great assets of the city.” The WEDG exhibition highlights four waterfront case studies: Domino Sugar Site, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Sunset Park Materials Recovery Facility, and Sandy Hook Pilots Association Headquarters, each leading examples for resilient waterfront design, nominated for features such as blue-green landscaping, recycled materials, stormwater management, and public access.

While cities like Copenhagen and New York are setting the example for resilient and sustainable design, adapting to rising sea levels requires the cooperation of bordering towns, cities, and countries. “Many solutions lie beyond our borders,” Leonardsen said. “A lot of solutions that would help us in Denmark, [they] might need in Sweden; we share the same ocean. We are close to the German border. Operating on a cross-border level…is going to be a tricky part.” Marella underscored the importance of cross-border and global thinking as well: “As a city, we’re an ecosystem,” he said. “We function as a region. When Hoboken faces a tragedy, it actually has true implications for how the city works. It’s not just a question of politics, it requires sympathy, and sympathy requires the breaking down of political barriers.”

Julia Christie is a Public Information Assistant at the Center for Architecture.

Event: The Future Neighborhood to the Sea: Experiences from Denmark and New York
Location: Center for Architecture, 01.22.15
Speakers: Lykke Leonardsen, Head of Climate, The City of Copenhagen; Roland Lewis, CEO, Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance; Dan Hasløv, CEO, Hasløv Kjærsgaard; Kent Martinussen, CEO, Danish Center for Architecture; Ole Svenstrup Peterson, Head of Innovation, DHI Group; Michael Marella, Director of Waterfront and Open Space Planning, NYC Department of City Planning; Dan Zarilli, Director, Mayors Office of Recovery and Resiliency; and Rick Bell, FAIA, Executive Director, AIANY | Center for Architecture (Introduction)
Organizers: The Confederation of Danish Industry, The Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, and Center for Architecture

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