East River Valley Proposal
In 2017 New York Magazine commissioned leading architects including Diller, Scofidio + Renfro, Foster + Partners, and Raphael Vinoly, along with Mark Foster Gage to speculate on visionary projects for the future of New York City. The following was the text that accompanied Mark Foster Gage’s proposal: “If in Westeros it is winter that is coming, in Manhattan it’s water. Lots of it. And not in the distant future- but soon. The recent, near simultaneous, appearance of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia and Maria- all in 2017-- requires of us the immediate re-assessment of how our city might manage not only distant-future sea level rise but the shorter-term, and inevitable, appearance of catastrophic storms and their accompanying surges of vast quantities of water. We no longer have the luxury of time to address these torrential problems. Water is coming, and our city, like Cersei Lannister, has failed to realize the magnitude of the problem. Instead of proposing yet another localized solution, Mark Foster Gage Architects believes that larger, much larger-epic-scale thinking, is required. The city is, pardon the pun, drowning in its shortsightedness about its future resilience regarding violent storm surges and longer-term climate change. As such we’ve decided the best way to protect the city from catastrophic flooding isn’t to merely protect the city from water through localized levees, new pumps, fun “U” shaped parks, or larger stocks of free range sandbags- but to remove the threat entirely. Please take your final photos this week, as we will shortly be draining the East River.
New York City is structured by two rivers, which is very selfish for a city—as it is common knowledge that a city can get by on one. To be even more accurate—one of them, the “East River,” in question, isn’t even actually a river at all- it’s a tidal estuary. Geologists also refer to this condition as a flooded valley. That is to say that under that flood prone pseudo-river cutting thorough our fair city, there is a beautiful and fertile valley awaiting rescue. And so, we propose to drain the East ‘River’- for multiple reasons. The first is that storm surges at a scale of Hurricane Harvey, if occurring at the location of the East river, could annihilate vast sections of city upwards of 15,000 acres across the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan— an area nearly 20 times as large as Central Park. One solution being proposed to combat this is the construction of levees such as the Lower Manhattan “Big U” that aim to deflect water from particular areas of the city—yet leaving others to flood entirely unprotected. In fact, if you wanted to protect the aforementioned boroughs from a Hurricane Harvey-sized storm surge, you would need to build over 40 miles of new seawall along the river’s entire coast.
We propose to, instead, build three strategically placed new dams, totaling less than 1 mile in length. In this process, New York City gains a new “East River Valley” that includes 15,000 acres of new gardens, farms and parks in the very center of our urban fabric. Catastrophe prevention is always better when it includes fresh produce. This new, infrastructure-free, deep land found in this now accessible valley offers an unparalleled opportunity for the city to engage in the construction of massive, next-generation, geothermal wells to power the next century of New York City’s energy needs. Air-conditioned subway stops, occasional water ferries and recycled Metro cards are not sufficient to either save our city or propel it into the new millennium. For both we need to consider larger, bolder ideas that use foresight as fuel and potential risks as unique opportunities that can power a new generation of sustainable and urban scale innovations. The alternative is to await the rising waters of our proverbial winter, and watch the coming floods wash away our city, our future, and hopefully all evidence of our shortsighted complacency.”