Old urban map of New York. From http://joshmargul.com/
Old grid urban plan for New York. From New York Public Library Map collection
"The early 19th-century planners who created the grid knew how to make the most of these attributes. They laid out the grid so that the sun sets precisely in line with east-west streets several times a year. The short north-south blocks mean more streets lead to the rivers, allowing floodwaters to recede easily and drawing people to the waterfront. The plan guided raucous commerce along the route of an old canal and enticed future developers with the promise of sites on hills with enviable views north.
Within the grid they placed an engineering marvel, the Croton Aqueduct and Reservoir; the latter is gone, but the aqueduct still delivers clean and tasty drinking water from upstate. Perhaps their wisest move was to conserve 843 prime acres as a Central Park to provide “the lungs of the city.”
But rather than continue working with nature as a template, subsequent generations fought against the city’s environment. Planners wrangled natural streams into (eventually) rusty pipe systems. The city dredged so many swamps and poured so much asphalt that the ground has become unable to handle heavy downpours. When it rains a lot — as it increasingly has in recent years — rainwater flows into the same pipes that carry sewage. When those pipes overflow, the combined liquid dumps into the rivers. That’s not how nature would manage things.
Of course, nature hasn’t gone away. In fact, it is steadily wearing away at our efforts to control and repress it. Eight million gallons of water a day accumulate in the subway system’s underground network, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has to spend a small fortune pumping it out.(..)
Fortunately, it’s not too late to go back to the spirit of 1811. The Bloomberg administration recently created a $1.5 billion “green infrastructure” plan to replace aging public works with nature-centered projects, like distributing free barrels to collect rainwater for outer-borough gardens. It is helping to finance a 774-apartment project near the Gowanus Canal that works with the site’s natural slope by clustering buildings where ground is highest and creating a park to sop up stormwater near the shore. And it has issued a grant for “bioswales” — natural clusters of plants — in strategic places around the city to handle rainwater on the side streets.
But the city must do a lot more. To rekindle the progressive spark of the Commissioners’ Plan, the government can show the real estate value of following nature’s cues. It can tap into the Welikia Project, an effort by Eric Sanderson, a biologist, to map the whole city as it existed in 1609, to provide data about how much solar power and water absorption a site would have if you left it alone, and then offer financial incentives to developers who take advantage of those assets.
Moreover, the city should extend development at the waterfronts into the water, for example by incorporating marshland into riverside parks (Brooklyn Bridge Park already has plans to include such a feature). The city could also reopen long-buried streams — several of which still flow beneath downtown streets — that now present regular flooding hazards, a step already being tested in San Francisco."
Bird's eye of New York city. Published in the Illustrated London News, 1855. From http://www.postaprint.co.uk/
From the article by Alec Appelbaum, for New York Times, Opinion Pages:
Read about the Green Infrastructure Program Grants: