Rising Currents and Green Streets: Looking Ahead 100 Years

Rendering from the Rising Currents exhibit. Image via dland studio.

A show at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City brings together five interdisciplinary teams to share proposals on the future of New York City and its surrounding areas amidst climate change and the city’s aging infrastructure. The exhibit, “Rising Currents: Projects For New York’s Waterfront,” is on display for a few more weeks and articulates an optimistic vision for a sustainable and climate change-ready New York City, bringing grassroots solutions into the dialogue of a massive global issue.

The impact of climate change will be felt in the long-term but the measures proposed in the exhibit will make “cities more livable, greener, safer, equitable, and productive now as a result,” according to the MoMA blog.

Architecture Research Office and dland studio developed a concept around the idea of ecological infrastructure — what the architecture firms refer to as “urban ecology” — that mediates the effects of storm surges and climate change.  The designers assume a six-foot rise in sea level over the next few years.  Their design integrates occupiable green space with existing infrastructure.

Permeable streets can help manage storm water -- a growing problem exacerbated by climate change. Image via dland studio.

Permeable streets can help manage storm water -- a growing problem exacerbated by climate change. Image via dland studio.

One piece of the project plan that has implications across diverse cityscapes for sustainable urban development and better mobility is the concept of permeable streets. Just as they sound, these streets would allow for water absorption through their surface. They mitigate the effects of periodic storm surges, storm water runoff, as well as rises in sea level. (They can also help keep hot cities cool.) In New York City, the storm water management system cannot properly handle the volume of water it receives, so even when there’s not a huge amount of rain, raw sewage is dumped into the harbor. Permeable streets reduce the load of water on storm systems due to fresh water runoff and put clean water back into the natural ground cycle.

Example of these green streets include:

  • inter-woven concrete or plastic “pavers” with space in between for vegetation to poke through; and,
  • porous asphalt mixed without fine particles to allow for water to pass through the surface (generally with crushed rock stored beneath to slowly release water into underlying soils and with a filter fabric beneath the floor to prevent fine soils from migrating downward.)
An example of permeable pavers. Photo via Re-Nest.com

An example of permeable pavers. Photo via Re-Nest.com

The streets are durable enough for cars to drive on, but their most common uses include walkways, residential streets without truck traffic, driveways, and parking lots. One barrier to widespread use in the streets is that they are far more expensive to construct.

In major cities, street area comprises about one-third of the urban landscape. And according to UN-HABITAT, “of the 20 mega-cities in the world, 15 of them are coastal,” which means dealing with the challenge of water is essential.

For more a complete summary of different designs in permeable streets, The University of Rhode Island produced a useful study.  Also, the City of Vancouver implemented permeable street design in much of its newer construction projects.

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