Restoring the Riparian Edge: Pier One Brooklyn Bridge Park

Ecological gardens are spreading in Brooklyn! It seems that one of the latest trends in the cities public parks is creating distinctly native sections of planting to compliment more traditional uses of street trees and large urban lawns. Pier One at Brooklyn Bridge Park has evolved over the season to reveal a mix of tough urban species and lush nooks of native plantings. Guided by the concepts of Dr. Steven Handel, MVV and Associates transformed a forgotten trade harbor into a landscape supporting a balance of human and natural causes.

The Riparian Edge is arguably the most important part of our ecosystem that is offered very little protection. As climate continues to evolve and speculative water rises are on the move these systems will provide a series of vital amenities who’s value goes beyond numbers and could potentially save the city millions in superficial services. Soil generation and stabilization, water treatment, filtering nutrient runoff to rivers, partial climate stabilization and flood mitigation are problems that will only increase in the future. Building the foundation for natural systems that have the potential to provide these services at no cost could help secure the economic and environmental future of the city.

Though the riparian zones at Pier One make up a small percentage of the overall park space they represent an important paradigm shift in design. Showcasing our most vital ecosystem as iconic beauty in the urban landscape is the first step towards a public supported ecological restoration movement.  Bringing native ecosystems into urban environments allows the public to experience their affect on the health and quality of life first hand; revealing their importance to a large portion of America’s voting population and helping to build public support for habitat restoration.

Though the patches at Brooklyn Bridge Park are small, their size is not proportionate to their importance. Having several riparian zones spread along our waterfront provides habitat insurance. If one zone becomes temporarily damaged or destroyed, other patches can provide support for wildlife. The addition of each habitat increases the value and safety of surrounding habitats, strengthening the network through ecological redundancy. And their impact does not end here. Many potential habitat patches around the city are so isolated from our surviving native habitats that they have no chance of rebounding. By recreating strong patches of native habitat within the urban boundary we increase the potential for native plants species to spread through the city, rebuilding and rebounding through their own energy and cycles; reducing the future cost of having to mitigate each individual site.

It is inspiring to see the incorporation of native systems in the public works of our city. Our open spaces will be continually confronted with the challenge of balancing human and environmental need. Though the more we incorporate habitats into our leisure spaces the more closely related the two movements will become. We will always desire large gathering spaces for play but we may begin to recognize the ornamental beauty of our wild habitats, protecting and accepting our native heritage and embracing a modern citizenship as stewards of our landscape.

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