Hunter's Point South Waterfront Park, Phase 1
Landscape Performance Benefits
- Intercepts, infiltrates, and evaporates 73% of average annual rainfall in permeable pavers and a biofiltration swale.
- Increases flood storage capacity by approximately 557,800 gallons, accommodating up to a 6-ft storm-surge flood event.
- Generates 37,000 kWh of energy annually using photovoltaic solar cells, saving a total of $29,600 from 2014 to 2017.
- Attracts an estimated 1,170 daily visitors on a typical June weekday.
- Promotes physical activity for 465 users who engage in active recreation activities on a typical June weekday.
- Creates iconic views of Manhattan as demonstrated by 11,037 social media posts from 2013 to 2018 referring to the Manhattan skyline and the site.
- Contributes to an increase in ridership for the East River route of the New York City Ferry. Annual ridership was roughly estimated to be around 200,000 in 2018, up from 19,055 in 2010.
- Contributed to a 49% average increase in assessed property value for 8 randomly selected parcels within a 3-block radius from 2012 to 2017.
At a Glance
Former Land Use
Long Island City, New York 11101
9.5 acres (Phase 1)
$66 million (park, re-alignment of roadway, water and electrical infrastructure)
Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park is part of a 30-acre, mixed-use neighborhood development on a formerly abandoned post-industrial site in Long Island City, Queens, New York. The site was previously a rail depot, coal yard, and marshy wetland offering no public access to its iconic views of the Manhattan skyline along the East River. The new park was a result of a bid for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, which re-zoned the Queens waterfront for a significant new housing development. After not being selected, the City re-evaluated the site and deemed that it should provide new affordable housing, retail, roadways, a public school, and a new park along the waterfront while better connecting the city to the water’s edge. In order to ensure that Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park is prepared for the impacts of climate change, its shoreline is significantly augmented, employing bulkheads and riprap to better withstand future flooding in the East River. A synthetic turf oval lawn provides significant flood storage for major events. During construction, the park proved that it was “built to bend and not break” after successfully weathering the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy in 2014. Though it has a dog run, ball courts, a playground, and a cafe, Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park is not merely a public amenity. It is also a first line of defense against storm surges for what will become a densely developed residential quarter in Long Island City.
- The park was designed with a variety of techniques to withstand and accommodate future flooding along the East River. The park’s design makes it difficult, but not impossible, for a storm surge to enter the site. It is important that water is able to enter and leave the site in a controlled way, so that the park’s infrastructure is not damaged by the force of overtopping in a storm surge.
- A 29,825-sf multipurpose synthetic turf oval lawn is ringed by a 30-in-high precast concrete retaining wall with steps for seating. The lawn and retaining wall not only provide space for passive and active recreation, but they also create an overflow catchment area for flood control should a storm surge breach the existing concrete bulkhead. The lawn is tilted back towards the East River to create a natural pathway for drainage as floodwaters recede.
- Riprap along the existing sand beach armors the concrete bulkhead against wave action. Marsh plantings on the beach, waterside of the bulkhead, create an attractive infrastructural soft edge.
- A waterside promenade over the concrete bulkhead has a walking surface of wood decking and cast-in-place concrete. 3 strategically-placed wooden overlooks, as well as an elevated wooden pier deck on the park’s southern edge, provide a place for visitors to enjoy expansive views of Manhattan along the promenade.
- The waterside promenade decking, elevated pier deck, and site furniture are made of environmentally sustainable southern yellow pine. This wood has been kebonized, or treated with a sugarcane biowaste that gives it a durability similar to a tropical hardwood, which can weather extreme events better than other alternatives.
- Approximately 760 ft of continuous rock-filled gabions are located along a biofiltration swale adjacent to Center Boulevard, which runs the entire length of the park’s east side. The gabions interrupt and slow large volumes of stormwater coming from the new development, and the swales filter sediment before it drains, preventing the municipal storm sewer from being overwhelmed and clogging during large storm events.
- The park uses a planting palette of primarily native and adapted species of trees, shrubs, and grasses that can tolerate urban, inundated conditions. These include black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), pitch pine (Pinus rigida), willow oak (Quercus phellos), beach plum (Prunus maritima), and shrub rose (Rosa blanca).
- The site’s industrial heritage is referenced in the rail garden, which uses the historic rail tracks to define planting beds for approximately 1,600 sf of interpretive rain gardens. Perennial and grass species in the rail garden include purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), and crinkled hair grass (Deschampsia flexulosa).
- Spaces for active recreation include a play area, ball courts, a dog park, and an adult fitness area.
- The 13,000-sf pavilion and shade structure offers public amenities such as a cafe concession stand and restrooms and also houses offices and maintenance facilities for the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation. The canopy on the pavilion was designed to minimize wind uplift and has 64 photovoltaic solar panels on its roof, keeping them well above potential flooding.
- Subsurface soils were previously laden with elevated levels of heavy metals including arsenic, cadmium, copper, and lead as a result of the site’s previous industrial use. Soils were capped using a demarcation layer below 2 ft of clean fill. When possible, contaminated soils were re-used and capped on site to create the park’s landforms, such as the oval lawn and the mounds in the dog run and playground area.
- Central Boulevard was realigned to create a curvilinear roadway parallel to the water’s edge and offers transportation enhancements such as a Class I bike path and pedestrian pathways. Canopy trees and paths along the Boulevard create visual connections to the park and provide the neighborhood with access to the park and the river.
- The southern edge of the site has a ferry stop, which connects park visitors and neighborhood residents to Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan through the NYC Ferry Service.
- Create a dynamic waterfront park that accommodates both active and passive recreation.
- Incorporate and introduce native plant communities on-site.
- Establish and protect the site’s iconic views of the Manhattan skyline.
- Use sustainable and resilient design practices and high-quality materials to withstand urban waterfront conditions which are prone to flooding, particularly in the context of climate change.
- Provide flood protection for the greater Hunter’s Point South area.
- Ensure a smooth transition from the upland Hunter’s Point South neighborhood to the waterfront, creating an urban fabric where none previously existed.
- Encourage alternative transportation with new pedestrian and bicycle-friendly streetscapes and enhanced connections to water-based transportation.
The synthetic turf in the oval lawn had a higher installation cost of $31.25 per sf, compared to $3.75 per sf for natural turf installation. However, the maintenance cost for synthetic turf is projected to be $3,500 total annually, compared to $40,300 total for natural turf. Based on these projected annual costs, 7 years is the break-even point at which the synthetic turf will begin saving in maintenance costs, well before it needs to be replaced at 10 years.
- Waterfront projects that are above the 100-year flood elevation can and do flood. Although the finished grade of the park was above the 100-year floodplain, a storm surge entered the park during Hurricane Sandy. Because the park was designed to allow surges to enter in order to protect the park from the force of overtopping, the park’s infrastructure proved to be undamaged by the force of water. After the water receded from Hurricane Sandy, it became evident that the kebonized southern yellow pine decking had weathered the storm with minimal damage and the synthetic turf and planting areas were able to quickly bounce back after salt water inundation. High water marks remained on concrete, but faded with time. The design process for Phase 2 of the project, completed 5 years after the first phase, reflected the team’s increased understanding of how water enters and leaves the site and which materials are most resilient to rapid inundation.
- The oval lawn was originally designed with only synthetic turf. However, the NYC Parks Commissioner expressed a desire for natural turf within the park, so a crescent form containing natural turf with tree plantings was placed within a portion of the oval lawn and was delineated by a precast concrete retaining wall. This modification somewhat reduced the area available for flood storage capacity in extreme flood events, but the compromise still allowed the oval lawn to function as desired. The 4 ft of standing water left in the park after Hurricane Sandy still quickly found an outlet instead of ponding on-site.
- Prior to Hurricane Sandy, the designers voiced concern that the pavilion and shade structures were over-engineered, even though their bid price came in under budget. A pavilion mock-up was installed during construction to review its engineering and scale. After the mock-up survived the hurricane force winds of Sandy, the team realized that over-engineered structures can be acceptable if they are under budget, especially on sites that have the potential for extreme and unpredictable weather events.
- Originally, all utilities were planned to be encased in underground vaults. After Hurricane Sandy, electrical services originally planned for these vaults were instead raised above the finished grade on concrete pads in order to minimize their risk of inundation in a flood. As this decision occurred during construction, the designers had to be cognizant of the visual presence of these utilities and placed many within planted areas.
Plants: New Moon Nursery
Soils: Island Topsoil
Precast concrete hexagonal pavers: Hanover Architectural Products
Granite cobble pavers: Coldspring
Precast concrete oval edge and water runnels: Sun Precast Co.
Beach sand: Evergreen
Light poles: Holophane – Pechina light fixture on davit pole, silver finish
Step lights: Bega – Type AXA1, silver finish
Custom wood slat lounge chairs and banquette seats and custom precast concrete benches: Designed by Thomas Balsley Associates
Benches: Landscape Forms – Parc Vue bench, graphite finish
Drainage: Advanced Drainage Systems, Inc.
Fences/Gates/Walls: In City Enterprises
Lumber/Decking/Edging: Kebony – Kebonized Southern Yellow Pine
Steel frame structure and canopy: Powell Steel Corporation
Play Equipment: Landscape Structures
Safety Tile: Mitchell Rubber
Adult Fitness Equipment: Outdoor Fitness
Gabion Wall: Gabion USA
Mist Station: Water Odyssey
Paver Jet Sprays: Hobbs
Drinking Fountain: Haws 3202
Synthetic Turf: Astroturf
Clients: New York City Economic Development Corporation Office of the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development; Queens West Development Corporation
Landscape Architect: SWA/Balsley
Prime Consultant and Infrastructure Designer: ARUP
Ecological Systems and Restoration Ecologist: E-Design Dynamics
Marine Engineering: Halcrow
Public Art: Karyn Olivier
MEP/FP Engineer: A.G. Consulting Engineering, P.C.
Environmental Engineer: Yu & Associates
Cost Estimator: VJ Associates
Traffic Engineer: B-A Engineering, P.C.
Graphic Designer: Two Twelve
Historical Researcher: AKRF
Resident Engineer: The LiRo Group
Permitting Expeditor: KM Associates of New York, Inc.
Role of the Landscape Architect
The landscape architect was responsible for full landscape design services for the park and collaborated closely with project architect. Materials, layout, and planting were detailed by the landscape architect including the connection to existing ferry dock and gangway, the rail garden, dog run, northern gateway, play area, overlook, and ball court areas. The pavilion and pier deck, precast elements at the lawn, and pavilions were detailed by the architect.
Case Study Prepared By
Research Fellow: Lisa DuRussel, Visiting Assistant Professor, Pennsylvania State University
Research Assistant: Aastha Singh, MSLA Candidate, Pennsylvania State University
Firm Liaison: Anya Domlesky, SWA Group
DuRussel, Lisa, and Aastha Singh. “Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park, Phase 1.” Landscape Performance Series. Landscape Architecture Foundation, 2018. https://doi.org/10.31353/cs1370