Cornell University: Facing high water, Hudson towns reimagine waterfronts

With waters rising on the Hudson River from a fast-warming climate, the cities and towns along the river’s banks now have an opportunity to save and reimagine – in terms of economic development and conserving natural resources – their municipal waterfronts.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, in partnership with Cornell, is announcing a chance for Hudson riverfront communities to host the university’s Department of Landscape Architecture’s Climate-Adaptive Design Studio in fall 2022 – to explore the creation of climate-resilient waterfronts.

“The Hudson River Valley is a wonderful place to live and work,” said studio director Josh Cerra, associate professor of landscape architecture in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “It has such sensitive, natural beauty, character and community. How can we put that together in a future where climate change is in the mix? That is what this project is all about.”

By July, Cornell and the DEC will select a town along the Hudson, where Cornell students will create new waterfront plan ideas in the fall.

Interested town planners, mayors and city council members may attend an informational webinar about the Climate-Adaptive Studio on April 5 from 1:30 to 3 p.m.

To be considered to host the Cornell Climate-Adaptive Studio, towns and cities must submit a letter of interest to Lyndsey Cooper, Hudson River Estuary Program Climate Outreach Specialist, via email at Lyndsey.Cooper@dec.ny.gov by 5 p.m. on Monday, May 2. Visit the Cornell Climate-Adaptive Studio website for instructions on submitting a letter of interest.

Cerra’s students will study the selected municipality to work with local constituents and assemble waterfront designs.

Over the past eight years, Cornell students have worked to develop waterfronts with the cities of Kingston, Hudson and Poughkeepsie, and the villages of Piermont, Ossining and Catskill. Last year, DEC awarded $250,000 grants to Ossining and Hudson to advance the design and implementation of Climate-Adaptive Studio-inspired projects on their riverfronts.

“We work with small communities, which are limited in terms of staff and financial resources,” said Libby Zemaitis, the resilient communities program manager at the DEC, who has been working with Cerra on this project since 2015. “To have a group of Cornell students come in and offer great design assistance is really a huge benefit to these towns. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

In a report released in 2018, the DEC projected that the lower Hudson River could rise 2 to 10 inches by the late 2020s. That projection soars to 8 to 30 inches in the 2050s, and rises by as many as 58 inches – nearly five feet – by the 2080s. The Hudson may rise up to 75 inches higher, from the current base, by the turn of the next century.

Funding for the CAD Studio is provided by New York’s Environmental Protection Fund and is administered by DEC’s Hudson River Estuary Program in partnership with the New York State Water Resources Institute at Cornell.

“The Climate-Adaptive Design Studio opportunity … supports New York State’s ongoing efforts to boost and improve community readiness for the threats posed by extreme weather events and sea-level rise on the tidal Hudson River,” said Basil Seggos, DEC Commissioner. “[This] is an example of the all-hands-on-deck approach required to meeting the climate challenge head on.”

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