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5 projects that would change NYC

There are plenty of large-scale projects in the pipeline that on paper may seem far-fetched, but which could ultimately transform and improve the Big Apple.

From transforming the city's largest landfill into Staten Island's newest green space to a floating pool that cleans the rivers, these ideas are not too far off from reality and they're making fast progress. The key, according to urban planning experts, is the word-of-mouth and support from New Yorkers who are eager to see something new in their communities.

"Getting the approvals and community support can be a win in itself," said Jonathan Bowles, the executive director of the Center for an Urban Future. "Any project will benefit if it can build a constituency."

amNewYork looked into some ongoing works and spoke with their organizers to see how they are coming along and what steps they are taking to finish their projects.

Freshkills Park

Who would have thought that one of the
Photo Credit: Alex Maclean, courtesy of the City of New York

Who would have thought that one of the city's largest garbage dumps could be the next Central Park?

After 54 years of being the city's refuse site, the sanitation department closed the 2,200-acre facility in Staten Island but started a design competition to seek ways to transform the landfill into a habitable green space. The response was huge and in 2007, work began on the 30-year restoration project.

"Staten Island has hated this place for the last 50 years. It means that the city is making good on its commitment to give this land back," said Eloise Hirsh, Freshkills Park's administrator.

The park will have plenty of amenities, including a 223-acre section with trails for hiking and biking, picnic areas and bird watching. There will also be facilities for events, horseback riding, and maybe even a golf course. The sanitation and parks departments have worked to ensure the site is safe and are using the latest environmental technology to create the cleanest atmosphere.

"It's the engineering that makes [the park] possible," Hirsh said. "The regulations are clear for what it takes to make sure all of the methane gas is harvested."

Although Hirsh said the project is still 25 years away from completion, it has already made huge progress and opened some sections to the public as a way to generate interest from the community.

"We have a whole bunch of programs that we're doing while we go through it," she said.

The soccer fields at the Owl Hollow section at the southern end of the park are open for organized play and kayakers have been allowed to explore the water near the West Shore Expressway for special events.

Hirsh added that the park does have regularly scheduled tours in which parts of the park are open to the public. One tour is scheduled for Sept. 28.

Hirsh said those visits have been essential in the planning for the green space, which already has seen $600 million in funding from the city, because they give engineers feedback on their work and also allows them to adapt for any ideas the public thinks up.

"Come to the experience when we have this open," Hirsh said. "There are a lot of fun events that we do that not too many people know about, but they'd love it."

The Lowline

An underground park lit by the sun sounds
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Kibum Park/Raad Designs

An underground park lit by the sun sounds like science fiction, but for Dan Barasch it's a dream he envisions for under the streets of New York.

He and his team came up with such a project, called the Lowline, that would make use of the old Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal, beneath Delancey and Essex Streets.

In 2011, James Ramsey and Barasch released their plans for an underground park to the public. Their hope is to use innovative solar technology do what no other park in NYC can: Provide a sunny "outdoor" environment year-round.

"We have a lot of challenges in cities," explained Barasch, "especially in dense crowded cities, we need to think about livability."

The technology uses special collection discs on top of the park that collect the sunlight. The light is then transmited down through tubes and fiberoptic cables and then brought into the park.

Barasch says the quality of light produced by these remote skylights will be "much more beautiful and magical on the interior than artificial light."

The timeline for the project is long-term, but moving along nicely, according to the engineers. The plans to begin the process that would acquire the land in the next six to eight months.

"We would like to start construction in 2018. That's our goal," Barasch said.

A major component of Barasch and Ramesy's plan has been community involvement every step of the way.

"We'd like to keep the whole community involved -- young, old, etc. That's something that we're really proud of and it's something that we really care a lot about."

The QueensWay

Hidden in central and southern Queens is an
Photo Credit: WXY Studio and DLand Studio

Hidden in central and southern Queens is an abandoned three-and-a-half mile railway that community leaders see not only as the borough's new green space but also as transportation option.

Residents from Forest Hills, Rego Park, South Ozone Park, Woodhaven and Richmond Hill, formed the Friends of the QueensWay in 2011 to spearhead a plan to make the track a new park like the West Side High Line.

"The High Line has inspired so many people to look at abandoned property in a different way. And it has created so much interest," said Travis Terry, who is on the group's steering committee.

Terry said the proposed 47-acre green space, which is both elevated and ground level near Forest Park, would be perfect for the Queens residents who don't have easy access to open space, especially those who live along the railway's southern section.

Marc Matsil, the state director of the nonprofit park advocacy group Trust for Public Land, which has teamed up with the Friends of the QueensWay, said the project would also provide pedestrians and bikers a safer way to navigate the borough.

"It's incredibly compelling with the topography around there," he said. "Woodhaven Boulevard is one of the most dangerous roads in Queens and this would be a better option."

The community organizers and Trust were able to generate funds for a feasibility study that will be released in the fall and give more concrete details on possible design options for the space.

The two urban architecture teams conducting the study have received a great deal of input from the community during their research and state and city park officials are keen on the idea, according to Terry.

"We're grateful they are able to listen and engage within the plan. It ends up as a better project," he said.

Terry said he was confident that this enthusiasm will quicken the pace for QueensWay to be a reality soon.

East River Blueway

Manhattanites could one day have a new spot
Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Manhattanites could one day have a new spot to catch some rays if a plan for a beach underneath the Brooklyn Bridge proposed by City Comptroller Scott Stringer gains traction.

The East River Blueway Plan would transform and expand Manhattan's East River waterfront from the Brooklyn Bridge to 38th Street into recreational space, according to the proposal. The grasslands that hug the FDR Drive would be fully accessible for pedestrians year round.

While the plan would increase neighborhood waterfront access, it also could serve as flood protection for the area, which was severly damaged by Superstorm Sandy.

Stringer who has fought for the initiative since its conception in 2010, when he was Manhattan borough president, said in a statement last week that it "vastly benefits residents of the East Side," adding that it would "make communities stronger."

A feasibility study was completed last May and created a blueprint for how the project would work.

The blueway is divided into six sections, including a crossing that would that extend over the FDR Drive near 14th Street, and a beach near the Brooklyn Bridge.

The biggest component of the plan is the Esplanade Freshwater Wetlands, located between Robert F. Wagner Sr. Place to Market Slip. The green space would beautify the area and catch and cleanse storm water runoff from the FDR Drive, alleviating the flooding of nearby streets.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg also touted the proposal last year in his report on post-Sandy resiliency plans.

Stringer said $7 million has already been allocated for the first stage of the project from his time as Manhattan borough presidentl, and was optimistic that it would move forward quickly.

+ Pool

Most wouldn't think about taking a dip in
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Plus POOL

Most wouldn't think about taking a dip in the East or Hudson River, but the engineers behind Plus Pool want to change that.

The proposed pool, which is shaped like a plus sign and 50 meters from end to end, would not only allow New Yorkers to swim on the rivers but also clean 500,000 gallons of water in the river. Dong-Ping Wong, a designer who co-founded the Plus Pool project with Archie Lee Coates and Jeff Frankln, said he and his colleagues came up with the idea in 2010 when they were spitballing design ideas on a hot summer day near the East River.

"Because of contamination you don't think of it as a place where you can swim and be in touch with," he said. "But it used to be this great natural resource for New York."

The team launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2011 seeking $25,000 for a feasibility study and received $43,000 in donations. The pool would take in the water from specialized filters in its walls that would fill the space for swimmers.

The water would go through another filter system and put it back in the river.

"It's like a giant strainer," Wong said.

The group had a second successful Kickstarter campaign last summer to fund a filtration testing program and are currently observing that system off Pier 40 on the West Side.

Wong said the team has tentatively set a summer 2017 launch date since the designs and permits with agencies like the city Deptartment of Environmental Protection and health department will take time. Several locations are under consideration for the pool, which would have a bridge that connects to the mainland, including Brooklyn Bridge Park, Red Hook and Hudson River Park.

The team is confident the project will happen because of the thousands of fans who already pledged their support via Kickstarter, Facebook and other social media.

"If we were in a city that wasn't in New York we would have not gotten this interest," Wong said.

Learn more about these projects on Curbed, the New York real estate and neighborhoods blog.


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