How has New York’s waterfront changed in recent years?

The compulsion to live by the water seems to be an original one that affects people in cities and countries.

It used to be out of necessity — easy access to fresh water made daily life easier — but today, especially in the face of climate change-related disasters like Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina, wanting to live on one seems almost counterintuitive Bodies of water, especially in a city like New York, an island that has been brought to its knees by weather-related disasters in the past.

All of this raises a number of questions: Why are New Yorkers still obsessed with life by the water? How are developers responding to the trend and how is the city’s waterfront constantly changing?

“It seemed in those hellish, chaotic days afterwards [Hurricane Sandy]as people in Dumbo cleared the lobbies of expensive condos and walked through the demolitions in the Rockaways that New Yorkers would finally pull out of the port,” writes Ginia Bellafante The New York Times. “But that didn’t happen. Over the past decade, we’ve taken a very different direction, populating the boardwalks even more enthusiastically, particularly along the East River in Brooklyn and Queens.”

The journalist further notes that, according to the New York City Department of Construction, since January 1, 2013, 225 permits have been issued for new homes in flood zones. That’s a pretty amazing number considering the damage Hurricane Sandy did to similar neighborhoods the year before, in 2012.

“Just looking at the water feels like heart opening, and being able to enjoy it from my own balcony, in the comfort of my home, is even more therapeutic,” says Paulina Hagiage, who lives in New York City . She lives on the East River and admits that potential disasters like Sandy weren’t really considered when her family’s choice of neighborhood.

River Park in Broklyn
Photo: Courtesy of River Park

“I don’t see any immediate effects of climate change on where I am yet,” Hagiage says, arguing that the frequency of hurricanes and storms is not yet urgent enough to dictate their circumstances. “I’ve thought about possibly inhabiting a new planet because of this, but haven’t considered moving to this one.”

It is that unobstructed views of the city and water that Upper East Side resident Debbie Klyman keeps in her waterfront apartment.

“With floor-to-ceiling windows throughout the apartment, we never tire of the view,” she tells us. “Even our toddler spends half his time watching boats go by on the river. He loves life by the water.” Even children seem to have the urge to catch a glimpse of a river.

When asked if issues related to climate change played a role in her family’s decision to live by the East River, Klyman mentions that choosing an apartment on an upper floor kept some of her worries at bay.

“The only thing we thought about is the fact that our street is windy because it’s on the water,” she says. “But that didn’t change our decision to move here.”

The idea of ​​rest and relaxation associated with water seems to be a major theme in conversations about life by the water, especially when contrasted with the hustle and bustle of New York City.

“When I looked at the units in my building, most of them had a view pointing in directions out of the water,” says Daniel Nabavian, who lives in Williamsburg. “When I saw the unit overlooking the water, I fell in love. It was like adding 100 square meters to the apartment. I paid the reasonable premium for it — I canceled my gym membership.”

That being said, Nabavian is unaware of the potential dangers associated with his way of life.

“My building is in a flood zone,” he says. “I moved in just after Sandy and I remember considering that, but it didn’t really matter. There are so many other more important factors that affect your everyday life. I know the odds and severity of these storms have increased. Sandy has been described as a century storm. Maybe now it’s a storm that only comes once in a decade. I’m still willing to deal with it because I’m in an unsafe, rodent-infested, noisy, and cramped neighborhood.”

The beauty of the water clearly outweighs the potential risks of a flood – but rats are a whole different story it seems!

City dwellers are not alone in their thinking. Developers and real estate magnates have invested heavily in waterfront properties in recent years in response to that seemingly primordial urge to have a glimpse of some form of water from your living room.

For example, Bjarke Engels and Two Trees are behind River Ring, a former industrial site being converted into a residential complex on North Brooklyn’s continuous public waterfront. Not only will the area benefit from its proximity to the East River on the property front, but it will actually use the water as part of its design, with a circular breakwater structure jutting into the river and surrounded by salt marshes and tidal flats designed to soak up storm surges .

There’s also River Park Brooklyn, a cluster of five residences along the Brooklyn waterfront between Cobble Hill, Brooklyn Heights and Dumbo that, according to an official press release, consist of “restored landmarks, contemporary townhouses and sculptural spiers soaring over an idyllic neighborhood and the East River.”

flow ring
Photo: Courtesy of James Corner Field Operations and Bjarke Ingels Group

Lest you think Queens is immune to this trend, think again: Astoria West is a new housing development in west Astoria, located on Cove Beach on the banks of the East River and also making headlines.

“We live in a very busy city where everyone is running at full speed all the time and people like to be able to go home and clear their minds and the river is a huge help with that,” says Craig Wood of Cape Advisors. the developers behind Astoria West, who are also noting the shift in New York’s waterfront real estate. The areas that were once targets for industrial warehouses are not a hotbed for luxury residential real estate.

The real estate expert is also quick to note that proximity to the water is not only aesthetically pleasing, but can also provide quick transportation options in a city plagued by constant traffic. “The fact that we have the ferry directly opposite works wonders,” he says. “I think a lot of neighborhoods in New York are going to start moving across water.”

So intense is the commitment to a waterfront lifestyle that it is affecting other aspects of the real estate market and affecting projects unrelated to where people live.

Take, for example, the Gansevoort Peninsula in the Meatpacking District, which is set to become Manhattan’s first public beach once the project is complete in spring 2023. The four-mile-long park between Gansevoort Street and Little West 12th Street will be part of Hudson River Park and will include Little Island, the recently opened man-made island park on the Hudson River, and even house a permanent installation by artist David Hammons, which will be developed by the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Sarah Patton, Managing Director of New Development at Compass, finds that New Yorkers’ inherent love of life by the water is consistent with a post-COVID-19 world that reminds us of the importance of green and nature.

“It has a lot to do with wellness,” she says. “But post-COVID, we’ve also seen how many people have moved into cars and homes outside of the city — and it’s a lot easier to get away from a waterfront location than it is from central Manhattan.”

However, Patton acknowledges that developers cannot be blind to the potential dangers associated with the rivers. “American Copper, for example, was built with a specific resiliency plan in mind,” she explains while discussing Murray Hill’s luxury residential skyscrapers overlooking the East River.

The structure’s generators were placed high in the building to allow all 10 elevators to run should a flood ever occur. Patton also explains that the developers “ensured that all generators power all refrigerators in the building, plus one outlet per unit.”

Astoria West on Cove Beach by Cape Advisors
Photo: Courtesy of Cape AdvisorsAstoria West on Cove Beach by Cape Advisors

Given the city’s popularity and real estate history, it’s no surprise that developers are willing to convert even the smallest square into a home. For example, five or six years ago, Long Island City was considered a no man’s land. Today, New Yorkers born and raised flock to the area.

That being said, what does New Yorkers’ mockery of the potential dangers of living by the water say about our city? Maybe that we don’t find climate change as catastrophic as we claim. Or maybe that the romance involved in naming a body of water its neighbor makes a doomed future more palatable.

Or maybe everything points to our trust in the power of the city and our officials.

“New York City has invested heavily in its waterfront since the rededication,” says the Brooklyn resident. “I hope they also invest in flood damage mitigation systems.”

For what it’s worth, New York does some. For example, back in July, the city released its Rainfall Ready NYC outline, which includes updated flood zone maps designed to help citizens understand whether or not they live in an at-risk area. The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) also plans to provide sandbags and flood barriers for residents in vulnerable neighborhoods, but whether that will make a difference in the event of a disaster remains to be seen.

Unfortunately, it might take another storm to really prove the value of this effort. Until then, we’ll sip our morning coffee while staring at the boats crossing the river and delighting in the fact that although we live in a concrete jungle, there’s a calming body of water right here to gaze upon whenever we need it.