2017 Merit Award

Gardens Rising Green Infrastructure Feasibility Study

Category: Analysis, Planning, Research and Communications

Landscape Architect:

WE Design Landscape Architecture


Project Team:
Tricia Martin, RLA, LEED AP
Principal WE Design
Role: Landscape Architect

Eric Rothstein Managing Partner
eDesign Dynamics
Role: Engineer

Megan Marini Principal
3×3 Design
Role: Consultant

Aziz Dehkan
Executive Director
New York City Community Garden Coalition (NYCCGC)
Role: Client

About the Project:

As national environmental efforts tend toward reversal, an opportunity to address the risks of climate change presents itself in our own urban “back yards”: networks of existing community gardens activated to support social and environmental resiliency. The NYC Community Garden Coalition selected our team to develop a feasibility study for green infrastructure in 46 Lower East Side community gardens. Incorporating community participation, urban planning, landscape architecture, and engineering, the resulting plan will increase the permeability and stormwater capture in the gardens (many of which were severely impacted by Superstorm Sandy), improve native habitat, and beautify the neighborhood. This replicable approach demonstrates, through specific hydrological metrics, the critical role community gardens can play in any city’s climate change resiliency plan.

Project Location: New York, NY

Special Factors

Gardens Rising, funded by a $2 million grant from the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, is a community-based approach to enhancing the sustainability and resiliency of 46 community gardens in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. A convergence of design, engineering, and community engagement, the project addresses climate change adaptation in this vulnerable coastal community through the use of applied resiliency strategies.

After extensive fieldwork, the design team educated gardeners about the benefits and responsibilities involved with potential strategies through community workshops, presentations, and a “Play Shop” before incorporating their feedback for each garden. The toolkit of strategies included ways to treat stormwater runoff, address issues of water supply, enhance local habitat, and create sources for renewable energy.

The resulting report outlines each strategy’s benefits, considerations, maintenance requirements, and costs, extending its relevance beyond the scope of this project. In addition to ecological resilience recommendations, proposed social resilience strategies entrust responsibility on these publicly owned and volunteer operated community gardens to function as socially cohesive spaces, both daily and during extreme events where social networks are critical for safety and relief.

Of the awarded funds, $500,000 went towards the feasibility study, while the remaining $1.5 million must be allocated among 46 gardens. Using the evaluation criteria set forth in the study, the team recommended investing in a limited number of “showcase gardens” with the highest potential for social and ecological impact in order to leverage existing resources and pursue additional interest and funding. Increasing the perceived social, financial, and ecological value of these city-leased sites would also make them less vulnerable to private development.

In outlining the fieldwork and community engagement process, assessing relevant opportunities, and developing technical and community-based criteria for evaluating community gardens, the study provides a replicable framework for implementing sustainability and resiliency goals in other community gardens districts.