Before and After Sandy: The New York Waterfront

Hurricane Sandy, the powerful storm that swept through New York City on October 29, 2012, makes a good enough place to begin to discuss recent changes in the New York waterfront. While Sandy only just delayed many planned developments for the city’s 520 miles of shoreline, the storm set many shoreline communities back a few years. Several communities, along with critical arteries in the city’s infrastructure, still need more time to recover from the 2012 storm.

At the Battery.  October 28, 2012. 12:23 p.m.
The area had advance warning that the incoming storm was likely to be serious, so the authorities shut down subways, bridges, and tunnels in advance. 

The basic circumstances have not changed. According to an article in The New York Times from January 2018, “New York has more residents living in high-risk flood zones than any other city in the country.” The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is redrawing flood maps for the city. (See "In New York, Drawing Flood Maps Is a ‘Game of Inches’).

Greenwich Village, October 29, 2012. 8:39 p.m. View from author's balcony after the light's went out in Lower Manhattan.
The World Trade Center complex was still powered by generators.

The 2012 storm knocked out power in Lower Manhattan, flooded subway tunnels, tossed ships at the seaports, toppled construction cranes, and devastated parts of Staten Island and elsewhere, including taking lives as a result of the storm. Many old trees came down in Prospect Park, the South Street Seaport Museum flooded up to five feet in its lobby, and significant damage occurred in Red Hook, Breezy Point, Battery Park, Coney Island and the Rockaways. On Coney Island at the height of the surge, many residents fled to the elevated train tracks. The hurricane flooded the suburbs, the New Jersey coast, and Long Island.

A storefront at the South Street Seaport, four months after the storm. March 2, 2013.
The flooding reached over five feet in ground floor businesses.

Nevertheless, the march of waterfront development has continued. Most developers adhere to standards of building in flood hazard areas, and they are constructing more resilient structures. (See "A Guide to Flood-Resistant Building Terms," NYT January 25, 2017)

Given that context, these before-and-after images illustrate a few changes along the New York since 2012. Some of them appeared on the sister site Walking Off the Big Apple, a blog I began in 2007.

View of East 34th Street landing from the East River. July 5, 2012.

View of East 34th Street landing from the East River. June 16, 2018.
The building in the foreground is the American Copper Buildings,
a pair of residential towers at 626 First Avenue in Kips Bay.

Several of the new developments include high-rise luxury apartment buildings that redefine the skyline and waterfront. One Manhattan Square at 252 South Street adjacent to the Manhattan Bridge on the Lower East Side tops out at 80 stories. The glassy 1 Seaport at 161 Maiden Lane is close to the South Street Seaport, one of the neighborhoods most affected by Sandy. Pressure to build high-rise condominiums near existing older residential buildings is increasing along the East River.   

View of Hunters Point Park-LIC Landing from the ferry. July 5, 2012.

View of Hunters Point Park-LIC Landing from the ferry. June 7, 2018.

Shorter residential buildings have also greatly changed the waterfront, including Pierhouse At Brooklyn Bridge Park (90 Furman Street). All these developments join several others built before 2012 along the Brooklyn waterfront in Greenpoint and Williamsburg and on the Queens waterfront in Long Island City. The Hudson River waterfront, too, had undergone tremendous change.

Watch the expansion of the NYC Ferry landings, because real estate will likely follow the paths to the water. For more on this topic, read “Top 10 New Condo Buildings Most Convenient to NYC Ferry” on CityRealty.

View of the Domino Sugar Refinery from the East River. July 8, 2012.

View of Domino Park from the East River. June 7, 2018. The park opened in June 2018.

Water developments in recent years, before and after Sandy, have included more parks for the public, including recreational spaces in older industrial areas such as the Domino Park on the site of the Domino Sugar Refinery in Brooklyn, and on repurposed piers. Hudson River Park is basically a network of old piers now commissioned into service for skating, sunbathing, mini golf, beach volleyball, and kayaking, among many other uses.

View of South Street Seaport from the East River. July 5, 2012.

View of South Street Seaport from the East River. June 6, 2018.
The new high-rise (under construction) is One Manhattan Square at 252 South Street.

Sandy also flooded the Canarsie Tunnels running under the East River, causing corrosive damage from seawater. To repair the tunnels, the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) plan to shut down L train service between Brooklyn and Manhattan for fifteen months beginning in April of 2019. Among the alternative bus, biking, and subway options, the new NYC Ferry landing at Stuyvesant Cove (planned to open in late summer 2018) is seen as one of the ways to ease commuter pressure.

That should hold us until the next big storm.

ConEd staging area in Union Square following Hurricane Sandy. October 30, 2012.

All posts on this new site, however entertaining they may be on such deep topics as riverfront taco bars, should be understood in the context of climate change and the increasingly frequent storms that are to come and the effect of rising seas on New York and environs.

Images by Teri Tynes.