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Products > Publications Printer Friendly Version
Plan For The Manhattan Waterfront cover Plan For The Manhattan Waterfront, 1993. ($5.00)
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The Plan for the Manhattan Waterfront, a part of New York City's Comprehensive Waterfront Plan issued in August 1992, presents detailed studies of the five reaches that make up the Manhattan waterfront.

The city's prominence stemmed originally from its importance as a port, and the development of Manhattan in particular has been closely tied to its waterfront and maritime activity. For many years, Manhattan's waterfront was a center for both shipping and shipbuilding. As late as the 1850s many of the clipper ships used in the China trade, such as the Flying Cloud, were constructed and launched from the East River. As maritime activity declined, piers deteriorated or were abandoned. Several factors led to this decline: the construction of the arterial highway system in the 1930s, which created a barrier between the waterfront and upland communities; the change from breakbulk to container shipping, which required more upland area; and competition from other ports. Today only a few vestiges of the great port remain, notably the superliner terminal in the West Fifties and Pier 42 on the Lower East Side.

The Manhattan waterfront presents great contrasts in land uses, ranging from the affluent residential neighborhoods of the Upper East Side to the abandoned piers of the West Side. Long stretches of parkland in Upper Manhattan and the Lower East Side offer wonderful river views. Other less scenic but equally necessary activities include heliports, industrial uses like power plants and marine transfer stations that require a waterfront location. The waterfront has also become the repository for other municipal and commercial uses such as bus garages, salt depots and parking lots that have no functional connection to their maritime setting. Since the waterfront was isolated until recently, it was often the location of last resort for many of these non-maritime uses that were difficult to locate in inland areas.

Interest in the reuse of the waterfront has been spurred in part by the debate over redevelopment proposals such as those for the West Side Highway, Riverwalk and the Penn Yards. Proposals for improving all or part of the Manhattan waterfront are contained in a variety of recent studies including the Department of City Planning's East River Esplanade study, the Hudson River Waterfront Plan developed by the city/state West Side Waterfront Panel, the Park Department's Riverside Park Master Plan, and the Manhattan Borough President's Plan for the Waterfront.

This plan for Manhattan's waterfront builds on, and integrates, the plans and studies recently completed or under way. Its guiding principle is to reunite the upland with the waterfront so that more of it becomes accessible and enjoyable to the public. In many places in Manhattan, deteriorated conditions along the shoreline and the difficulty of access have made the waterfront seem undesirable and remote.

The central recommendation for Manhattan's waterfront is a continuous esplanade/pathway around most of the island. Manhattan is unique among the boroughs in that most of the shoreline is owned by the city or state. A waterfront esplanade would reconnect the upland with the water, increase waterfront recreationalopportunities, and provide a shorefront link between communities. An esplanade can be created in part by improving public land, such as underutilized or unconnected public lands and parks, and in part by requiring private developers to provide waterfront access and amenities to the public. The waterfront zoning introduces new height and setback controls and provides specific public access standards for new mid- to high-density residential and commercial development.

An intermittent path now exists -- or is planned as part of expected developments --along much of the shoreline of the Hudson and East rivers. Closing the gaps between existing public spaces, such as the one between Battery Park and Battery Park City, is a high priority for opening the waterfront to more people. However, in some places, such as along parts of the Harlem River, topographic conditions and the intervening highway preclude a waterfront esplanade. Instead, continuous access would be provided via bridge links to the proposed Harlem River Esplanade on the Bronx side of the river.

Increased public access would be required as part of new development on the limited number of remaining redevelopment sites. The two most prominent sites are located along the lower Hudson River: Riverside South and the proposed Hudson River Park, which contains three redevelopment sites. The Hudson River Park Plan would provide a continuous esplanade and public spaces from Battery Park to 59th Street, where the proposed Riverside South development begins. Development by the Hudson River Park Conservancy (the agency empowered to carry out the Hudson River Park Plan) would be limited to three sites: Pier 40 (at Houston Street), the Chelsea Piers, and the piers at 40th Street. A separate city plan would develop Pier 76 opposite the Convention Center. The approved Riverside South development proposal would provide a 21.5 acre waterfront park, linking the Hudson River Park esplanade to Riverside Park.

Taken together, these two plans would complete a continuous esplanade from the southern tip of Manhattan to 125th Street. Other smaller connections are planned to provide a continuous path all the way to the northern tip of the island. Ultimately, a continuous path/esplanade would line all of the Manhattan waterfront except for a portion along the Harlem River.

Public access is the central issue in planning for the Manhattan waterfront. It is particularly important in Manhattan where many high-density commercial and residential areas lack sufficient open space and recreation resources, but are within walking distance of the shoreline. In most of these areas, the waterfront presents the only opportunity for new public open space. Except for the waters of the Hudson and East rivers, little remains of Manhattan's natural waterfront. The borough's major working waterfront uses -- the passenger ship terminal, heliports, utilities, and the coffee pier -- are scattered and not likely to increase significantly. Only one working waterfront use, ferries and ferry landings, is expected to grow in importance. Manhattan's few waterfront redevelopment sites -- together with other public and private sites -- are critical to providing public access.

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