NEW YORK—A new agenda for New York’s waterfronts could to bring area ports and waterways to their full potential.
The Waterfront Action Agenda was released by the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance during their 2008 conference on Nov. 13. Consolidating the priorities of over 240 organizations, the new agenda has been narrowed down to a select few points that address both the problems New York is facing, as well as possible solutions.
“That action agenda is a series of practical ideas that address huge issues that must be addressed for our waterfront to grow,” said Roland Lewis, president of the Metropolitan Water Alliance.
“One of the biggest [issues] is just access. You can't touch the water. We have 730 miles of waterfront but there are very few places where you can skip a stone or even go fishing,” said Lewis. “New Yorkers just don't connect at all to the waterfront right now.”
The agenda addresses five key points that will help people to connect with the waters surrounding the city, by creating jobs, parks, and healthier waterways. The first point focuses on utilizing New York's large coastlines to strengthen the maritime industry. Another point will be on creating the waterfront-town feel that the city could have, by helping to expand the number of boathouses, docks, and beach-front parks.
Other points in the agenda are to further clean the waters, water-based transportation to relieve congestion, and better use of land along the water's front. “In ten years, with the right leadership and a correct understanding of what the potential is for our waterfront, huge change can happen,” said Lewis.
“One thing we're doing today is convening the 362 members of our alliance, which are groups from New Jersey and New York,” said Lewis. “They're park advocates, they're working waterfront businesses, and everybody in between. But all [of them are] working together to create a waterfront in New York and New Jersey that works for all the people.”
Michael Bruno, dean of engineering and science at the Stevens Institute of Technology, addressed some of the clean water issues the city is facing. According to Bruno, one of the largest issues that needs to be addressed is that of “combined sewer overflows,” which causes raw sewage to be dumped into the waters.
“This is what happens when the water rushes in from streets, from parking lots, from rooftops, into the sewers. Then that water is combined with the sewage flow, all of which goes to the sewage treatment plant. However, when the flow gets beyond a certain point, the sewage treatment plants can't handle it. So they discharge raw sewage, untreated, into the receiving waters,” said Bruno.
“It remains a real serious source of concern because it is an ongoing source of pollution,” he said.
Bruno said that the issue of sewage overflow is one that's been difficult to address. “It is probably the most difficult problem. Not just in New York or New Jersey, but in the United States. We probably cannot spend or build our way out of this problem,” he said.
Despite the difficulty, there are solutions. “The new thinking, which I very much support, is to change the overflow patters. In other words, divert these storm waters from getting to the sewer treatment plants in the first place,” said Bruno. “There's no reason to think we can't solve a lot of this in the next four years. It's just about the will.”
A major focus of the agenda is to strengthen the maritime industry. Frank McDonough, president of the New York Shipping Association, said that it could greatly boost the economic situation in New York. “If you think about all the activities that take place on the water now, and you think about the 70,000 jobs in this city that are water-dependent jobs, then it's easy to imagine how you would increase that,” said McDonough.
According to McDonough, to grow the maritime industry, it is necessary to preserve the land on the waterfronts. “It's in place now,” he said. “What we need to do is protect what's already there.”