etropolitan New York is notthe world’s largest megacity—an urban region exceeding 10million inhabitants—but it isthe most experienced in the art of copingwith being huge. In 1900, the newly con-solidated Greater New York of 4.2 millioninhabitants ranked second only to GreaterLondon among the top 10 cities; exceptfor Tokyo, the rest were all situated inEurope or North America. Today, the NewYork urban region is the only survivor of the old industrial West among the present10 largest urban regions, which otherwiseare in East Asia (Tokyo, Jakarta, andDhaka), India (Mumbai, Delhi, and Cal-cutta), and Latin America (Mexico City,São Paulo, and Buenos Aires).
As thematriarch of the world’s megacities, NewYork has much experience to share withthe later generation of city-regions aroundthe world.As New York swelled from a post-colonial port of 60,000 in 1800 to a worldcity a century later, it experienced many of the same challenges of hyperurbanizationthat developing world cities face today:poverty, filthy air and water, overcrowdedhousing, epidemics, infant mortality,fires, crime, natural disasters, and civilunrest. In the face of such threats, NewYork radically redefined the meaning andfunctions of municipal governance, givingbirth (with due credit to civic plannerGeorges Haussmann, who modernizedParis in the mid-nineteenth century) tothe modern metropolis.
Notwithstandinga long history of political corruption,New York has been eminently resourcefulin developing and applying new formsof technology, law, finance, and publicadministration to confront ongoingthreats to its habitability.Iconic legacies of New York’s pastresourcefulness include Central Park,Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, sub-way and elevated mass transit lines, andskyscrapers (with a nod to Chicago).The consolidation of Manhattan withthe four outlying boroughs in 1898 wasa creative legal response to fragmentedlocal governments and public services.Landmark investigations of New York slums by physician John H. Griscom
and journalist Jacob Riis
in the nine-teenth century prompted the advent of building and sanitary laws in New York and across the United States.
In thedevelopment of regional infrastructure,New York opened the Croton River waterdiversion in 1842—the first long-distancewater diversion project since the RomanEmpire—and later expanded the systemtenfold with the trans-Hudson reservoirsin the twentieth century. In 1997, thefuture water quality of the latter was pro-tected through a unique Watershed Mem-orandum of Agreement between the cityand local watershed governments, envi-ronmental agencies, and other parties.
To the art of city planning, New York contributed the 1811 Commissioners’Plan for Manhattan’s future streets, thenation’s first land-use zoning ordinancein 1916, various metropolitan plans of the Regional Plan Association, and, mostrecently, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’sPlaNYC.
Today, amid broad economic declineas myriad tract homes and McMansionsstand vacant in the nation’s exurbs andSun Belt utopias, New York is gain-ing new attention as a model for high-density, low-carbon, ecology-sensitivecities of the twenty-first century.
NewYork under Mayor Bloomberg and hisPlaNYC stands at the forefront of a newera in urban sustainability: the “humanemetropolis.”
A humane metropolis isan urban community at any scale—cityblock to metro region—that seeks tobecome more•
—promoting ecological resto-ration, tree planting, rain gardens, andgreen buildings;•
—combating obesity andencouraging fitness;•
—shielding residents from natu-ral and environmental hazards, floods,wildfires, and toxic waste;•
—conserving energy, materi-als, time, and money;•
—creating access to hous-ing and jobs and focusing on environmen-tal and social justice; and•
—fostering a sense of community, social interaction in sharedspaces, and cultural enrichment.
Piers to Parks: TransformingNew York City’s Waterfront
New York’s quest to become a morehumane megacity is reflected in the gradualtransformation of its long-degraded water-fronts for new uses and users. Accord-ing to the Metropolitan Waterfront Alli-ance, “More than half of the BloombergAdministration’s action items for movingNew York City towards sustainability willcreate the dual benefit of an economicallyproductive and environmentally healthywaterfront and waterways.”
Proposals to upgrade New York’s water-front are longstanding. As early as 1944,urban theorist and architect Percival Good-man and his brother Paul Goodman, awriter, proposed that Manhattan “open outtoward the water”—lining its gritty water-front with new parks and (shocking torelate) even surrendering Central Park forhousing and commerce.
No one plansto give up Central Park, but the dreamof a green shoreline accessible to NewYork’s huddled and stressed-out masses isactually happening. Manhattan’s maritimeedge—long dominated by shipping, powerplants, waste facilities, and highways—isevolving into a chain of parks, greenways,and bike lanes; this development is nowhopefully designated the Manhattan Water-front Greenway.
Figure 1 on pages 49–50highlights features of the greenway.Some elements of the greenway, such asa stretch of bike lanes along the midtownHudson River waterfront, are “green” onlyin the imagination of waterfront advocates,and in places the designated greenwaybike route veers around obstacles like theUnited Nations onto city streets. But thetransformation of swathes of the island’s32-mile waterfront from “no-man’s-land”to a “highly desirable zone of parks”
isa spectacular planning work-in-progress:a potential twenty-first century maritimecounterpart to Central Park.Like Central Park, the evolving water-front greenway is the product of civicvision, legal and financial creativity, andtireless advocacy extending over genera-tions. But unlike Central Park, which wasa single vast city project under the unified
48 ENVIRONMENT WWW.ENVIRONMENTMAGAZINE.ORG VOLUME 51 NUMBER 4