in what it terms “The start of a discussion” regarding the future of Red Hook, a Los Angeles industrial firm offers a complete rethink of the waterfront neighborhood

by matt Scanlon

The Los Angeles-based but multinational engineering firm, AECOM Technology Corporation, has recommended to city planners a sweeping proposal of changes to the urban topography of, commuter access to, and literal altitude of Red Hook. Presented late last year and outlined during a September talk organized by NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation, the first-of-its-kind proposal has recently been elaborated in a 61-page outline (Southwest Brooklyn: Growing from the Waterfront Again) that describes restructuring the historic waterfront to include no fewer than 45,000 new housing units, wide-ranging investments in bus and subway access, and an analysis of how such a low-lying area can stay resilient in an era of rising ocean levels and unpredictable storms.

“The city faces a moment in time that will define its future for decades to come,” an introduction to the report read. “Worldwide economic forces, questions of equity, the whole idea of what is a neighborhood, and dramatic climate change will drive and transform New York City regardless. Each is a given. The question becomes, can each one of these questions be answered in a way that fosters equality, sustainability, and resiliency.”

In accordance with Mayor DiBlasio’s One NYC program, which includes the goal of creating 200,000 affordable housing units and 160,000 market-rate units over the next 10 years, Red Hook, according to AECOM, can accommodate 45 million square feet of new development incorporating
45,000 new units of housing, 11,250 of which will be in the lower-cost category.

“This scale of development would also allow for the creation of 100,000 square feet of new public space, generate 15,700 new jobs, and $130 million in new city [tax] revenue,” the report detailed. “More importantly, it would provide existing residents with a larger community, and the additional amenities and interconnectedness that comes with greater density, in place of [current] stretches of vacant space.”

The plan envisions that the section of Sunset Park west of the BQE will remain industrial in character, and as the innovation economy continues to grow, a greater premium would be placed on industrial space that can house these types of ventures. It is estimated by AECOM that with a comparatively small infrastructure investment aimed at improving connectivity to the area, the industrial section of Sunset Park “has the space and demand to accommodate 40,000 maritime, innovation economy, and traditional manufacturing jobs.”

Relative inaccessibility to mass transit is one of the principal reasons why the Industry City development in Sunset Park, for example, maintains just a 56% occupancy rate, and Red Hook would be in no position to take advantage of such boldly envisioned development without subway access. So, the plan goes on to propose the creation of an entirely new line (the No. 9) branching off the No. 1 line at the Rector Street station, extending beneath New York Harbor and Governors Island, and arriving in Red Hook at three new stations (Atlantic Basin, Red Hook, and 4th Avenue). The plan also calls for the placement of expanded bike lanes, a trolley, and extensive green space and other pedestrian areas, and estimates that the additional tax revenue would come close to paying for the new subway line on its own.

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Perhaps most ambitiously, AECOM’s plan addresses both sea level rise and increased periodic storm events similar to Hurricane Sandy. Measures to mitigate their impacts include the placement of living reefs, wetlands, and mechanical control devices to create a continuous public waterfront, along with literally raising substantial portions of the neighborhood.

The plan has its roster of critical analysts, to be sure, among them a number of local resident organizations, and Ward was quick to say that the outline was merely “the start of a discussion,” but it has, at the least, energized the process of envisioning anew one of the more economically suppressed, environmentally vulnerable, and industrially blighted areas of the city.

AECOM’s Southwest Brooklyn Proposal