MANHATTAN, N.Y. (PIX11) — A decade later, Superstorm Sandy’s impact can still be felt in New York City and the surrounding areas.
Parts of the region saw 9.5 feet of floodwater from Sandy’s storm surge. Analysis from the National Hurricane Center and NPR shows storms as powerful as Sandy will become widespread over the next six decades. So the question remains: Is there a way to protect New York City from the next major hurricane?
While several plans have been discussed, and other methods to mitigate flooding have already been implemented, including breaking ground on the Brooklyn Bridge-Montgomery Coastal Resilience project, one Rutgers professor thinks extending Lower Manhattan by over 1,700 acres would do the trick.
Professor Jason Barr, an urban economist at Rutgers University – Newark, wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times at the start of 2022 about a project he calls New Mannahatta. Barr told PIX11 News in January that the plan has two purposes.
“One is to protect Lower Manhattan from storm surges and flooding using modern technology and coastal protection methods and things like that,” Barr said. “At the same time, why not create a new neighborhood with new housing and produce thousands of new units and create a new neighborhood and help keep New York City vibrant in the 21st century?”
Current Manhattan vs. New Mannahatta
The plan for New Mannahatta would expand the island by 1,760 acres by adding landfill south into the New York Harbor and absorbing Governor’s Island. The reclaimed land would start on the East Side around the Manhattan Bridge, and it would extend south close to Red Hook and then run north up the Hudson River, past Battery Park City. Barr said he would like to see the new communities modeled after the Upper West Side.
The new land would feature a series of buffers and wetlands and sit at a higher elevation, all of which would help protect against storm surges, Barr recently told PIX11 News. The design would protect the new buildings, and the added land would move Lower Manhattan more inland, away from rising sea levels.
A project with this many pieces could not be built overnight, but Barr estimates with the proper planning, the new land could be developed in under 20 years.
“With the proper motivation and effort, from the first shovel to finished new land with infrastructure could be around 15 years in New York,” said Barr. “Then the buildings could be erected in stages in the ensuing two decades.”
Barr also suggested that with smart planning, the city could add new housing and buildings while working to create the new land.
“One idea would be to build the retaining walls out in the harbor to help protect against surges. Then in parallel new land is built adjacent to the Battery, with housing constructed from north to south, while the landfill is completed in the south,” the Rutgers professor suggests.
For reference, the 28-acre platform for Hudson Yards took around 19 months to complete. It was another 12 months before the first tower was finished.
There could also be red tape that could extend the project’s timeline. The Jones Act does not allow foreign company ships to dredge (clearing out the harbor bed) within Hudson Bay. This could be an issue because, according to Barr, American companies cannot perform at the same pace as foreign companies.
“The U.S. companies do not have the same large-scale dredging capabilities as European firms, which have massive dredging machines that could save time and money on the project,” said Barr. “These larger dredging machines would dramatically improve the economics of the project.”
Would New Mannahatta cost NY taxpayers?
Extending Lower Manhattan would come at a cost, but the professor of economics’s plan was crafted to ensure the burden does not fall on taxpayers.
“If built out, the project would not only not burden taxpayers, but it would help them out,” Barr explained. “The project would provide a new source of tax revenue to lighten the individual load, as it were.”
The increase in housing, the creation of jobs, and the expansion of the New York City Metro would bolster tax revenue. PropertyShark.com lists roughly 1 acre of land in Manhattan at $85,000, which would make the land value of New Mannahatta about $149.6 million. Around $1.4 billion in real estate tax revenue would be created, according to the professor.
“The point is that while such a plan might cost maybe $100 billion to build, the market value of the new buildings can be worth an order of magnitude more by virtue of the new housing, new offices, new retail, new hotels, new museums, new schools, etc.,” said Barr.
Under Barr’s proposal, funding for the project would work similarly to how the Battery Park City Authority was funded.
“It (The New Mannahatta Construction Authority) would sell bonds to finance the project (and perhaps get some initial seed funding from city, state, and/or federal governments),” Barr explained. “The authority will own the land and then sell off long-term ground leases to developers, who will then build the real estate. The revenue of the ground leases will be used to pay off the bonds, and the profits would be returned to the city.”
Will NYC implement the New Mannahatta plan?
The Army has proposed its own coastal resiliency plan with an estimated $52 billion price tag, funded with 60% federal money. Meanwhile, Mayor Eric Adams’ office has its own extensive list of proposals and projects to protect New York City’s coastline.
Adams on Wednesday called on the federal government to take action. The mayor would like a coastal infrastructure formula funding program that would allow New York City to finish crucial resiliency projects with grant money of about $8.5 billion for pre-disaster mitigation; these projects include:
- Coney Island Creek Raise Shoreline
- Bushwick Inlet Park
- Coney Island Boardwalk & Beach
- East Harlem Coastal Resiliency
- Financial District and Seaport Climate Resilience Master Plan
- Manhattan Waterfront Greenway
- Wetlands Management Framework for New York City
- Forest Management Framework for New York City
- Tibbets Brook Daylighting Project
- Raise Shorelines 2.0
“Ten years ago, flooded subways, a weeklong blackout downtown, billions in property damage, and 44 of our neighbors killed tragically showed what climate change can do to our city,” Adams said in a statement on Wednesday. “Sandy wasn’t just a storm; it was a warning. Another storm could hit our city at any time and that is why our administration is doing everything we can to prepare and protect New Yorkers…New York City’s infrastructure projects are more complex, novel, and unparalleled compared to any other American city…we need our partners in the federal government to help provide us with regular and reliable resiliency funding of approximately $8.5 billion.”
One of those projects – the Financial District and Seaport Climate Resilience Master Plan – is a plan to extend Manhattan into the harbor.
The city takes expanding coastal resiliency in Lower Manhattan very seriously, and we are working to implement the Financial District and Seaport Climate Resilience Master Plan, a shared city-community vision for a resilient 21st-century waterfront.
The New York City Economic Development Corporation and Mayor’s Office of Climate Resiliency started a two-year public planning process in the fall of 2019. The process brought together New York City agencies, local experts, and a collaborative team led by the Dutch engineering firm Arcadis to mold the overall strategy.
The proposed plan would use a feasible infrastructure to defend the mile-long stretch from the Brooklyn Bridge to The Battery from flooding and storm surges. The city would also like to make the waterfront more accessible.
With the suggested design, a brand-new multilevel public waterfront of open space would seamlessly include flood defense infrastructure. The higher elevation would provide protection from coastal storms, with subterranean flood walls that also serve as elevated open areas featuring views of the ports and New York City. A lower-level promenade would run beside the river and connect to ports and ferries. The seafront would be high enough to avoid flooding during coastal storms and would be constructed to remain dry as sea levels rise.
Other features the proposal aims to offer are new ferry terminals, bike paths and floodgates. The floodgates will have access points for rescue and maintenance vehicles to reach the beach but will be concealed, allowing views of the river.
The Adams administration is trying to secure permits on the state and federal levels in order to move the project forward. In the meantime, the city continues to move forward with the design process and collaborate closely with the public and authorities during future development phases. The complete plans provided by Adams’ office can be seen here.
The Adams administration estimates the plan will take 15 to 20 years and cost around $5 to $7 billion – not far off from Professor Barr’s projections, but with significantly less land added. Barr isn’t sold on the city’s current plan.
“The city’s plan seeks to add some protection to the shorelines of Lower Manhattan, and it may very well serve that purpose, though whether it can work against storm surges without a seawall remains to be seen,” Barr told PIX11 News. “But the point of my plan is not just to protect lower Manhattan but also to add value to the city as a whole – to create 250,000 new housing units and to build a new vibrant neighborhood to help the city grow in the 21st century. Today, housing costs are at an all-time high, and new units are not being built to keep up with demand. Thus my plan aims to aid the city in multiple ways.”
Barr feels the city is more worried about upsetting New Yorkers than fixing problems.
“If you look at the city’s housing and resiliency plans, we can see they are basically trying to ‘tiptoe’ toward solutions to avoid angering residents who are concerned about the distribution and the impacts on their neighborhoods – a seawall here, a coastal reinforcement there, a ‘blue belt’ there,” Barr explained. “New York is trying to get its way to resiliency without creating a larger, more rational framework that recognizes that climate change resiliency and housing and transportation need to be linked within a larger planning framework. In my plan, resiliency, transportation, and housing are connected.”
Instead of taking a piecemeal approach, Barr thinks New Yorkers should get excited about a Manhattan expansion project.
“New Yorkers have a history of thinking big and boldly, be it Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, the subway system, the Empire State Building, or Hudson Yards. New Yorkers have a chance to return this element of its history to help carry Gotham forward in the 21st century,” Barr told PIX11.