Gotham Gazette

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Democratic Mayoral Candidates Outline Plans for City’s Waterfront and Waterways

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Coastline protections (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

Eight leading Democratic candidates for New York City mayor have shared their visions and strategies for prioritizing the city’s hundreds of miles of coastline as part of their climate change and economic recovery plans and in response to a survey conducted by Waterfront Alliance, a coalition of activists, businesses, and organizations, in partnership with the Rise to Resilience coalition.

The candidates — Eric Adams, Shaun Donovan, Kathryn Garcia, Ray McGuire, Dianne Morales, Scott Stringer, Maya Wiley, and Andrew Yang — committed to various actions and solutions on a range of salient topics, from preparing against rising sea levels and extreme weather, ensuring resiliency investments and infrastructure, including for the city’s most vulnerable and historically marginalized populations, to building green infrastructure and spurring job growth in green and blue industries.  

Although survey results, which Gotham Gazette previewed before their Tuesday release, showed that candidates broadly agreed that the city’s 520 miles of waterfront will play an instrumental role in the post-pandemic economic recovery, responses revealed sharp differences among candidates in terms of how they would actualize their visions for the city’s shoreline and waterways.

The mayoral candidates were in part responding to the Waterfront and Resilience Platform for the Next Mayor of New York City put out earlier this year by Waterfront Alliance and Rise to Resilience, and they will also have the opportunity to build upon their survey responses on May 14, during the annual Waterfront Conference, where they’ll participate in the Waterfront Alliance’s “Mayoral Town Hall.”  

“We want New Yorkers to know where candidates stand on critical, sometimes overlooked priorities such as coastal resilience, equitable public access, and a maritime industry that is adopting new industries like offshore wind,” said Cortney Koenig Worrall, president and CEO of the Waterfront Alliance, in a statement. “We encourage candidates to communicate their strategies, commit to action and solutions, and embrace this moment as unlike any other the City has faced due to climate change. COVID-19 and the climate disasters that the country endured in just the last 12 months show us that business as usual is no longer an option. We all need to be informed, and the next mayor committed, so that together we can steer New York City and the region to a healthier, more equitable, and prosperous future.” 

According to a series of Twitter polls from Waterfront Alliance, many New Yorkers want increased climate resiliency investments and infrastructure projects along the waterfront. Respondents also care about waterfront access and recreation, including more urban beaches. 

In their survey responses, the Democratic mayoral candidates — competing ahead of the June primary — unanimously agreed to accelerate the implementation of infrastructure upgrades through an inclusive five-borough plan that would place emphasis on protection from climate change and rising sea levels for the city’s most vulnerable communities. But they proposed different strategies to varying degrees of specificity for enacting such comprehensive resiliency. 

“I believe we need to accelerate progress on major resiliency infrastructure projects, such as Staten Island’s South Shore Seawall and the range of onshore resiliency projects contemplated by the Army Corps HATS study,” said Stringer, who also called for the completion of “Sandy-era projects.” 

Stringer, one of few candidates who has put out a detailed resiliency and climate plan, criticized the city for failing to make sufficient inroads to embed resilience into its infrastructure plans, citing ongoing projects that would undermine protection against climate change risk. “We cannot pretend to be making progress on building a more resilient city if we allow projects like the redevelopment of Staten Island’s Graniteville wetlands to go ahead,” he said. “I am dismayed the project is going ahead and as a result Staten Island will be more exposed to the next storm, less able to cope with intense rainfall, and all the poorer for losing an area of great beauty.”

Garcia emphasized wetlands restoration in her call for more green infrastructure developments. “We will expand bluebelt stormwater management strategies to other flood-prone parts of the city, including southeast Queens, and restore wetlands to serve as a natural buffer to protect our waterfront communities,” she said. “We will implement neighborhood-based resilience strategies to storms, flooding and heat waves that adapt to the unique needs and risks of each neighborhood.”

Yang pledged to invest in “new flood protection projects along the city's waterfront” and support “rapid completion of existing efforts like the construction of dunes in the Far Rockaways.” He would address “heat islands” by “improving accessibility of the city’s cooling centers” and “ensuring that NYCHA residents have access to air conditioners.”

Citing his experience leading the federal response to Hurricane Sandy, Donovan said he will “embed resilience into all city infrastructure investments and prioritize multi-use and nature-based solutions.” He also promised infrastructure improvements that will support long-term resilience, such as “investing in stormwater management and renewable energy.”  

Donovan added, “We will take stock of existing plans that have been stalled during the current administration, and address institutional and funding barriers that have historically slowed progress.”

McGuire pointed to crucial infrastructure along the waterfront. “With airports, marine transfer facilities, and transportation hubs all close to the water, a major storm surge could wreak havoc on the City’s infrastructure, so I will advocate for enhanced preparedness,” he said. McGuire also proposed to revamp NYC Ferry. “The ferry system has not been effectively serving residents and has been increasingly more expensive to manage,” he said. “NYC Ferry has consistently lagged in ridership due to bad scheduling and routes. Diverting people to the ferries, a clean form of transportation, would have beneficial environmental effects.” 

McGuire also pledged to “focus on Sandy-impacted neighborhoods” when developing resilient and sustainable infrastructure.

As part of her $3 billion New Deal New York plan to spend city capital dollars to build infrastructure and create jobs, Wiley pledged to implement “disaster response mechanisms” that would “build a network of community-driven mutual aid organizations,” providing “timely relief and urgent communication in the wake of climate disasters. Her plan would invest in solar and wind power generation, resilient energy grid infrastructure, energy storage systems, and more. 

Wiley and Morales emphasized green solutions for infrastructure needs in NYCHA and affordable housing, including decarbonization. Wiley’s plan designates $2 billion of investment in “a climate-resilient NYCHA.” Morales also called for “ecosystem-based approaches using natural infrastructure like urban forestry, parks, and green spaces, and conventional infrastructure like sea-walls, circular economy and waste reduction systems.”

Stringer also voiced support for the federal Green New Deal for NYCHA public housing, which would implement green infrastructure for NYCHA buildings and is sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

Adams flexed various initiatives he spearheaded as Brooklyn Borough President as models he would expand to address climate change as mayor. For example, his Sandy Recovery Task Force created a portal that updated impacted communities on the progress of recovery work; providing data in real-time, Adams noted, is crucial for combating climate threats. He also cited his partnership with the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative and WEDG Training sessions he has hosted, both of which advanced ideas to create resilient and functional waterfronts, saying he would “make these visions a reality.”

Donovan, Yang, and Wiley said they are prepared to work with federal and state agencies to advance their infrastructure goals, while Stringer said he would galvanize New York’s congressional delegation “to support new classes of ships, new storage, and warehouse facilities.”

On expanding and democratizing green and waterfront space, most candidates pledged to invest in the Parks and Recreation budget, though candidates did not disclose how large those investments would be. They proposed starkly different ideas for addressing disparities in open space access and differed on areas in the city where they would target their efforts. 

Donovan, Garcia, and Adams suggested revamping pedestrian walkways, as well as bike and bus lanes to varying degrees. 

“I pledge to create a network of pedestrian and micro-mobility corridors that better connect greenways with each other,” said Donovan. 

Adams called for the immediate expansion of Citi Bike “to all corners of New York City” by “allocating capital funds to fully build out a network that can fill the last-mile gap from transit stations to the waterfront open spaces and ferry network.”

Garcia said she would “strengthen bus, bike and pedestrian transportation networks to increase access to existing parkland along Jamaica Bay, including the new Shirley Chisholm State Park, to provide much needed open space access to residents of Central and eastern Brooklyn.”

Adams and Garcia honed in on historic barriers to waterfront access and infrastructure. “Over the long-term we must recapture lost land from Robert Moses era highway projects that have cut off communities from the waterfront,” said Adams. “Projects like the West Side Highway, which was not rebuilt when it collapsed, and the re-envisioning of the Sheridan Expressway are projects that should be modeled across New York City to bring communities back to the shoreline.”  

“We should explore strategies to reduce these barriers both visually and geographically and improve connections between waterfront neighborhoods and the shoreline,” said Garcia. “The project in the Bronx to tear down the Sheridan Expressway and rebuild it as a waterfront boulevard is a good case study for reestablishing these linkages.”

“I will make sure that city agencies adhere to the requirements of the Environmental Justice Policy Bill as we plan for and deploy capital for parks, recreational facilities, transportation facilities, and other environmental projects,” said Yang. Most of his response focused on funding, saying he would allocate funds from the city’s capital budget, as well as secure funding from the federal government, rather than specific ideas he would implement, but Yang did pledge to “build parks in all neighborhoods.”

Although McGuire said he would “focus on accessible open spaces, especially in marginalized areas,” including “additional park spaces, playgrounds, and outdoor learning centers along the waterfront,” he was vague on further details. He voiced praise for the proposed Manhattan beach, as well as The High Line, adding he “would look into further improvements.”

Stringer was vague at times in his response, as well, saying he would work to “better support community stewardship of natural areas and allow for acquisition of new space,” but did not expand further. 

Morales said she would “develop a thematic Green Participatory Budgeting Program to democratize the distribution and administration of public funds and program development.” She also pledged to “expand Green Zones and public EcoDistricts into historically abandoned waterfront communities” in addition to funding park maintenance and beautification improvements. 

“We must ensure that our waterfront does not become just a playground for wealthy New Yorkers and remains open, accessible and welcoming to all New Yorkers,” said Garcia. “I support investments to create or reimagine waterfront open space in three areas: Staten Island’s North Shore, the South Bronx and along the Harlem River in Upper Manhattan and the western Bronx.” 

Wiley said she would focus on Bronx and Queens in her efforts to expand the city’s green space, especially regarding “historically marginalized communities.” She pledged to partner with the Waterfront Alliance’s Access for All Task Force as part of her larger effort to ensure equitable funding and maintenance for parks and waterfront areas. 

Wiley and Donovan both focused on the lack of flood protection for Hunts Point, the city’s food distribution center. 

“East Harlem and Hunts Point, both major flood zones, have seen almost no investment in flood protection,” said Wiley, and added that the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project will protect part of lower Manhattan for an estimated $1.45 billion.  

Donovan promised, “We will expand our use of tools like physical and social vulnerability mapping to further understand how factors like income and race play into climate risk, and prioritize investment in communities that need it most.” 

Asked how they would provide climate justice solutions to vulnerable and historically marginalized populations, candidates honed in on distinct issues and solutions. 

Stringer, Yang, and Wiley decried high asthma rates across the city, especially in the Bronx. Stringer and Yang pledged to adhere to the current emissions reductions targets as established in Local Law 97.

Stringer promised to power the city with 100% renewable energy by 2035. Other key milestones as part of his climate plan include: close half of all city peaker plants, which pollute low-income communities, by 2028 and the rest by 2035, stop the use of polluting number four heating oil by 2025, and double the solar tax abatement to jumpstart solar installations.

McGuire said he would also offer tax credits and other financial incentives to increase solar installations on roofs. 

“I will also take common sense steps to reduce carbon emissions and improve quality of life, like expanding the NYC CoolRoofs program,” said Yang. “I also support the creation of a Climate and Community Development Fund that subsidize wages and fund apprenticeship programs for workers from low-income communities and communities of color.” Yang also pledged to reduce the burden of waste processing and other environmental harms in low-income and historically marginalized communities, as well as pilot “green zones,” using Los Angeles as an example, which would prevent and reduce existing environmental burdens, target investment, and engage communities. 

Morales said, “I would set up a racial and social justice review committee to evaluate city policy and legislation for their justice impact.” She also pledged to “establish an environmental health commission to study and set recommendations on the impact of waste and pollution on marginalized communities in partnership with CUNY's school of medicine and environmental studies experts.”

Similarly, Yang promised to establish an “environmental justice burden” review for all new developments, which would evaluate the impact on historically marginalized communities. 

Adams said he would “upgrade our electrical grid and transition our power source to wind and away from natural gas and to shore up our public housing stock,” investments which would be targeted at “our most vulnerable communities.” He cited his experience advocating the “transitioning of electric MTA buses to prioritize areas like East New York and Brownsville” as an example of his success leading such green infrastructure improvements. 

Stringer, Donovan, Wiley, and Garcia voiced support for the Renewable Rikers plan, which would transform the island into a renewable energy hub. 

“My administration will work with stakeholders citywide, including community members that have been impacted by the Rikers system and residents that have historically been left out of planning processes to ensure this island becomes a cornerstone of community development and a just transition for uses like green energy, composting, wastewater treatment to provide clean water, and possibly even new public space,” said Donovan. 

“I support investments to improve air quality by investing in clean freight solutions and electric trucks for last-mile delivery,” Garcia added. 

Candidates also pitched ideas for spurring job growth in a post-covid green and blue economy. 

Wiley pledged to create 42,210 local green jobs over three years. 

McGuire said he will “invest in green energy projects” that “unlock permanent job opportunities,” citing “the development of a wind energy hub in South Brooklyn and the North Shore of Staten Island” as positive examples.  

“I will seek to revitalize and remake our ports into hubs of sustainability that can host new manufacturing centers for wind turbines and create green jobs,” said Stringer. He added that he would “double down on investments at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal and will offer support to staging areas at Arthur Kill to help make New York City a regional wind powerhouse.” 

Donovan spotlighted his plan’s proposed NYC Climate Corps, which would employ “young people to work on clean energy and resilience projects through nonprofit and local government grants,” he said. Additionally, Donovan plans to incorporate sustainability education into K-12 public education to prepare young people to become members of the green economy. 

Similarly, Adams promised to “create a pipeline of education training from middle school, high school, college to educate our young people in this field [the green energy technologies of the future].”

Yang pledged to invest in offshore wind facilities, as well as the “resilience and sustainability of ports and maritime infrastructure.”

“We will emphasize smart industrial growth that utilizes NYC’s strong position in rail and maritime shipping, including growth of 21st century industries like renew able energy and green manufacturing, and protect and create good-paying manufacturing jobs in neighborhoods like Hunts Point, Williamsburg and Sunset Park,” said Garcia.

“We must reimagine and rebuild our public institutions to rise to the challenges of climate change and hundreds of years of environmental injustices,” said Morales. “Major investments in the Blue economy are critical to addressing both of these challenges.”

(Carlos Menchaca was also surveyed, but has since bowed out of the mayoral race.)

by Allison Smith for Gotham Gazette

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