The Waterfront Alliance released the region’s first-ever Harbor Scorecard during the Rally for Our Waterfronts on the steps of City Hall on the first day of hurricane season, Thursday, June 1. The Scorecard evaluates and scores each of New York’s 59 community districts by their waterfront access, water quality, and coastal resiliency.
The release comes nearly five years after waterfront communities in New York were devastated by Superstorm Sandy. Hours after the rally, President Donald Trump announced that he will withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord.
The Waterfront Alliance, which “works to protect, transform, and revitalize our harbor and waterfront,” intends for the Scorecard to be used by individuals and community groups to assess their waterfronts and easily articulate what improvements are needed. The tool measures how protected neighborhoods are from coastal flooding, if their waterways are fishable and swimmable, and whether residents and boats have access to the water.
According to the Scorecard, which was compiled using data from research major institutions, government agencies, and scientists, over 400,000 New Yorkers have a 50 percent chance of a major flood in their homes by 2060. Some 41 percent of these New Yorkers are economically and socially vulnerable.
Many residents also have limited access to safe and clean water. There’s one boating access site for every four miles on the waterfront, and around one-fourth of the water sampled by the EPA failed safe swimming standards.
The Thursday rally was led by President and CEO of Waterfront Alliance Roland Lewis and City Council member Donovan Richards. Mr. Lewis began by introducing the Scorecard. “All of the City can know, in a very simple and understandable fashion, how to find out how healthy their water is, how strong their coastline is, and how much access to the water there is,” Lewis explained, adding that, “the next Sandy is coming; I repeat, the next Sandy is coming.”
Mr. Lewis and Council member Richards were joined by representatives from various waterfront organizations and public-service organizations, such as South Bronx Unite, the Billion Oyster Project, New Yorkers for Parks, and Guardians of Flushing Bay. Many of the representatives spoke about their organization’s work and voiced enthusiasm for the Waterfront Alliance’s Scorecard.
Julie Welch, program manager of S.W.I.M. Coalition (Stormwater Infrastructure Matters), praised the Scorecard’s capacity to unify organizations and residents across New York, saying that it, “provides a comprehensive overview of where the gaps and needs are throughout the city.” She added, “we can all use this as our guide as we move forward in years ahead,” and noted that the Scorecard provides, “a common language for which all stakeholders… can use as we work together.”
Lower Manhattan residents in particular may view with alarm some of the metrics contain in the Harbor Scorecard, which documents that 23 percent of the local population (some 14,000 people) faces a 50 percent chances of having their homes flooded by 2060. This is more than three times the risk faced by New York City residents overall (who have a seven percent chance of the same risk), and almost five times more serious than for Manhattan as a whole (where the average resident stands a five percent chance of such flooding before 2060). The Scorecard also documents that there are 75 sites in Lower Manhattan that are vulnerable to contamination during flooding, which is more than one-third of the total number of such sites in Manhattan as a whole.
In terms of access to the water, the Harbor Scorecard paints a mixed picture of Lower Manhattan. With seven places to get on or off a ferry, Downtown has more than half of the total for Manhattan, and almost a quarter of all the embarkation points anywhere in the City. With six marinas or facilities that host boat charters, the area hosts almost a third of all such locations in Manhattan, and ten percent of all those in the five boroughs. And with three locations for free or non-powered boating (such as kayak launches), residents of Lower Manhattan appear to have decent access to water-borne recreation. But with no bathing beaches, no sites offering even limited access to the rivers that surround Downtown, people who live here are limited by a “look, but don’t touch” rule when it comes to the rivers that surround them.
And the Scorecard also offers sobering metrics about the health of those waters. The rivers that border Downtown contain levels of bacteria considered unhealthy for humans in ten percent of all samples taken by the Environmental Protection Agency, which also found the waters unhealthy for fish (based on depleted oxygen levels) in two percent of all samples.
The Harbor Scorecard is available as an online tool through Waterfront Alliance’s website, waterfront alliance.org.