Harlem River Park Project

About the Project

In 2002 the first “Design the Edge” project in Harlem River Park, funded in part by New York State Department of State, began as an effort to provide alternatives to the industrial steel bulkheads which were installed to facilitate industry and shipping. A $40,000 grant allowed the design team more time to imagine, research, and brainstorm with an unusual combination of scientists and artists, and extend community involvement to inform and redirect what would otherwise have been a standard city park with a vertical seawall separating park use from the river.

Planning for the Harlem River Park Design the Edge Project began with a workshop adjacent to the park in East Harlem, a landscape architect and a planner, marine engineer, marine biologist, and environmental artists, joined with MWA, the Harlem River Park Task Force, community members, and other interested citizens and professionals to develop a series of ideas specific to the Harlem River conditions. Along with input from Community Boards 10 and 11, elected officials, community organizations, tenant groups and other residents of East Harlem, the Parks design team developed a range of solutions based on many of the ideas, issues, and concerns raised in the workshop.

Our aim for the Harlem River site was to design a stable shoreline that improves fish habitat along the shoreline, makes the waterfront edge more compatible with recreational use, and creates safe public access to the water. Beginning with a workshop held adjacent to the park in East Harlem, a landscape architect and a planner, marine engineer, marine biologist, and environmental artists, joined with MWA, the Harlem River Park Task Force, community members, and other interested citizens and professionals to develop a series of ideas specific to the Harlem River conditions. Plastic models of three prototypes of porous shorelines were tested in a wave tank so that the effect of the shoreline shape and alignment of water flow and velocity could be analyzed. The results influenced the final design. Construction of Harlem River Park Phase Two began in Summer 2007. Phase Three Construction also began in 2007.

With these portions complete, Harlem River Park presents an ideal location to compare durability, amenities, and habitat value of the traditional steel sheet pile wall in Phase One with shell and rock-filled gabions and tide pools in Phase Two, and planted “Greenwall” structures in Phase Three.

Through the collective efforts of the Harlem River Edge design team as well as incorporation of green development principals, a comprehensive list of Design the Edge Criteria was created as a guide for future waterway edge development.

Read the comprehensive Harlem River Park report.

About the Photos

Plastic models of three prototypes of porous shorelines were tested in a wave tank so that the effect of the shoreline shape and alignment of water flow and velocity could be analyzed. Early designs of the Harlem River Park edge began by looking at cross-sections of a typical Harlem River section and then augmenting the preexisting structure with the sustainable Design the Edge Criteria.

Artist renderings show the typical cross section of the Harlem River with the new designs being implemented.

Site visits of the Harlem River Park in March 2008 showed signs of progress and allowed members of local civic groups to see the step by step construction of their new ecologically upgraded river edge. The Harlem River Park was completed in May 2009 and is now an essential community park, with easy acces into the park and onto the water. All completed Harlem River Park Photos are courtesy of Thomas Lunke of the Harlem Community Development Corporation.

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