The SourceCivil Engineering MagazineConstruction begins on NYC waterfront park, beach

Construction begins on NYC waterfront park, beach

By T.R. Witcher

In New York City, the 550 acres of parks, greenways, and piers known collectively as the Hudson River Park stretch 4.5 mi along the lower western edge of Manhattan. The park extends from Battery Park to 59th Street, touching neighborhoods as varied as Tribeca, the West Village, the Meatpacking District, Chelsea, and Hell’s Kitchen. The Hudson River Park Trust, a state agency, has been developing, designing, and building out the park system for about 20 years.

Now, a new signature 5.5-acre park is under construction. Once complete, the new park on the city’s Gansevoort Peninsula will become the largest single green space in the Hudson River Park. The park is being built on remnants of a mostly forgotten street: 13th Avenue, which dates to the 1830s. This avenue stretched about a half-mile from West 11th Street to 23rd Street and once hosted its own marketplace. But when larger ships needed to dock along the shoreline at the turn of the 20th century, almost all of 13th Avenue was removed, with the exception of the Gansevoort Peninsula.

“Unlike everything else in the park, which is built either on piers or behind bulkheads, this is solid ground,” says Tom Adams, a senior project manager with the Hudson River Park Trust. “It provides us the opportunity to have direct contact with the river.”

ball parks, a beach, tree lined paths, and a skeletal steel public art installation are all plotted out within a rectangular shaped waterfront park
The park attempts to balance attractions for New Yorkers across the city as well as green space for nearby residents. (James Corner Field Operations, Courtesy of the Hudson River Park Trust)

The site was used as a Department of Sanitation facility for a number of years, though DSNY vacated the site in 2015. With the exception of a Fire Department of New York facility on the northwest corner of the site, the city’s Department of Design and Construction demolished the existing buildings on the site, which was then transferred to the Hudson River Park Trust in 2018.

Design work on the park began in 2019 by landscape architecture firm James Corner Field Operations.

Varied program

The park will be located across from the Whitney Museum of American Art and between Gansevoort Street and Little West 12th Street. The proximity to the river led designers to try to bring the “materiality of the river into the park,” says Karen Tamir, RLA, a principal at JCFO. That means using “salvaged granite bulkhead blocks, riprap, granite blocks, and aggregate as well as having tidal pools.” Granite blocks, sand, and sand-loving plant species will help visitors feel like they’re even closer to the river.

The park will include a lawn and seating area, a large sports field, a dog run, a beach, and three small buildings housing concessions and restrooms. The western edge of the peninsula acts like a promenade that is meant to “provide a hint” of the old 13th Avenue.

“We tried to design that (area) to be reminiscent of a historic New York street,” says Cricket Day, a JCFO associate. The design for this area includes the use of granite cobble paving and London plane trees.

The standout features of the new park will be located on its edges. On the south edge will be the Hudson park system’s first beach. Roughly 60 ft by 250 ft, the beach will feature, on average, more than 3 ft of sand over filter fabric and a gravel subbase. A slope at the edge of the beach has granite ledges, which help hold it in place and provide kayakers a place to perch and take breathers on trips up and down the Hudson.

a rendering shows outlines of children rendered as shadows playing on a manmade beach
The south edge of the site features a beach, a landing zone for kayakers, and a monumental public art piece. (James Corner Field Operations, Courtesy of the Hudson River Park Trust)

The Whitney is also building for the park a large sculpture — Day’s End by artist David Hammons — which the park’s trust bills as one of the country’s largest public art projects. The installation will be a skeletal stainless steel “ghost monument” to the river’s historical pier sheds and will be built in the water along the peninsula’s southern edge.

Restoring ecosystem

The northern edge the park will provide an ecological habitat in the form of a salt marsh. “The northern portion of the peninsula presented itself as a good opportunity because the peninsula itself acts as breakwater,” adds Sanjukta Sen, a senior associate with JCFO. “It has the optimum wave conditions, where a salt marsh could establish and thrive over time.”

“This is part of the movement to soften and naturalize our river edges in general,” says Eric Rothstein, a managing partner at eDesign Dynamics, a water resources engineering firm. “That’s a global trend now. Previously everything was bulkheaded with concrete, and now it has been realized that that approach isn’t good for resiliency, and it certainly isn’t good for habitat. This is one of many attempts to re-soften the edge.”

trees mark the line between a path and parkland and a waterside salt marsh
The northern edge features a salt marsh that should help establish an ecosystem for migratory birds and aquatic life. (James Corner Field Operations, Courtesy of the Hudson River Park Trust)

Salt marsh is one of the core ecosystems in the Hudson River Estuary that was historically destroyed with development. With the new edge that will be part of the park, a peat layer will build up over time as the salt marsh plants die back and regrow seasonally. This peat layer will ultimately attract aquatic life like crabs and mussels that will chew on the layer and attach to it, creating a substrate that will serve as a foundation for rebuilding the local ecosystem. “What’s great about that is it’s a real engine for ecosystems,” Rothstein says.

Rothstein likens salt marshes to little kidneys that can filter nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus out of the water. They also help make the waterfront more resilient. “We’re always talking about designing for sea level rise. As the plants die back seasonally and the peat grows, the marsh is going to move up, so it’s kind of like this built-in system to address sea level rise.”

A stone barrier on north side will also dissipate wave energy on that side of the site

The salt marsh will be about a third of an acre. It might not sound like much, but Rothstein says the marsh will help build a key ecosystem for migratory birds and aquatic life. “The critters have been waiting for this to happen,” he says.

Balancing construction and design needs

The first part of construction on the $70 million project, paid for with a combination of city and Hudson River Park Trust funds, began on March 23 and involves laying fill to pre-load the site. After a wait of 14 weeks to ensure the fill settles properly, construction on the southern half of the park will begin. Construction on the north and south park edges will begin concurrently later this spring. Work on the remaining sections of the park will begin by the end of the year, with the entire peninsula planned for completion in approximately two years.

Engineers at Philip Habib & Associates had to figure out how to provide vehicular access to the site while still preserving the integrity of JCFO’s design. “We’re flanked by city streets with city infrastructure — city sewers — so having to design around these functioning utilities while providing the required access was one of the more difficult things,” says Sue McCoy, P.E., a principal with the firm.

One move was to design a concrete base underneath the park’s wooden boardwalks in order to withstand vehicle loads. The firm is also working on balancing the need for 24-hour access to the FDNY facility while providing security protections, including bollards and gates, for the bikeway that forms the eastern border of the park along West Street.

Planning the design followed a period of robust community engagement; a central challenge was to try to synthesize competing demands for active space and passive space and to create a park that functions both as a regional draw and a spot for locals. “We have to design it to be both,” says Adams. “Tourists and people around the city come here, but (locals also) consider it their backyard.”

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