How to turn a Robert Moses road into a dune forest (in time for the next superstorm)

how-turn-robert-moses-road-dune-forest-time-next-superstorm
A rendering of the proposed double-dune. (Local Office Landscape Architecture)
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Walter Meyer, a surfer, sometime-Rockaway resident, and urban designer, has an idea on how to protect the Rockaways from some of the devastating impacts of the next Hurricane Sandy, and he says the city is listening.

“I had a meeting last week with [Parks Department first deputy commissioner] Liam Kavanagh, and he says this actually makes a lot of sense,”said Meyer, the weekend before last, during a talk at PS1’s geodesic dome on a parking lot near the water. “This solves a lot of problems.”

The Parks Department, which has been faulted for lack of community engagement in the rebuilding process, did not respond to requests for comment, but during his talk and in a follow-up interview, Meyer elaborated on what his idea might mean for the Rockaways.

Before Hurricane Sandy lifted the boardwalk from its moorings and sent it surging blocks inland, tearing at everything in its way, swimmers and sunbathers had to cross the broad, Robert Moses-designed four-lane Shore Front Parkway, complete with a median, to reach the boardwalk to get to the beach.

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Moses intended Shore Front Parkway to link Brooklyn to the Hamptons, but his plans never quite panned out. Today, the parkway is lightly used, and some of its lanes have been converted to parking.

Meyer wants to halve the width of that parkway and turn it into a regular two-way, two-lane road, so that the city can build a dune forest on its southern half.

That dune system would host a forest of pitch pine, that, like the coconut palm tree of warmer climates, develops roots that lock together, holding the beach in place and creating a formidable bulwark against future floods. A typical dune forest would take two to three summers to become operational.

“But once it gets locked in, it’s amazing how strong and resilient it is,” said Meyer.

Closer to the edge of the water he's recommending the city create another, lower wall of dunes, these planted with a collection of fast-growing sand grasses that are naturally resistant to high wind and heavy salt water. The grasses, if planted soon, could be well-established by next summer.

“The primary dune is protecting the secondary from wind, and the secondary dune is protecting the primary dune from disappearing into the sea,” said Meyer.

In between the two sets of dunes, Meyer thinks the city should build a “beachwalk,” using a sort of glue pioneered in the aftermath of the first Gulf War to harden the sand into a crust and thereby prevent tanks from getting stuck.

The beachwalk would be wide enough to accommodate ambulances and bikes and pedestrians.

Also in between the dunes, Meyer would build a sheet pile wall that would begin underground and rise a couple feet above it. That way, even if the primary dune took a hit from a Sandy-like storm, there would still be some form of protection.

Meyer’s proposal mimics the sort of double-dune system commonly found in nature.

“All we’re doing is learning from nature and kind of turbocharging it a little bit,” said Meyer, whose firm, Local Office Landscape Architecture, designed the award-winning Parque del Litoral, in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. “What would have been there 500 years ago were those dunes.”

The pilot project that Meyer’s proposed, and which the city is apparently receptive to, would run from Beach 87th Street to Beach 97th Street and cost less than $10 million.

Here’s what the Parks Department is building now.

And here are some renderings of Meyer's proposal.