Turning the tide in a new direction
Over the last three years, Gary has adapted his research program to build on the previous years’ discoveries. Early on, he collaborated with Rutgers University School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and the Center for Urban Environmental Sustainably. He guided the work of graduate students in Rutgers’ landscape architecture program as they researched the shoreline in some of the grittiest neighborhoods along the Hudson River and New York Harbor. Says Gary, “We studied shoreline resiliency in urban environments and documented how developed parcels of land in these very densely populated and industrialized communities were more susceptible and vulnerable to sea level rise. What we discovered was that adaptation of standards is required to provide the best solutions for these vulnerable locations.”
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This is when Gary’s research took an unexpected turn. What began with a focus on urban shoreline restoration transformed into a mission to create a series of standards—or guidelines—on shoreline restoration for residential, commercial, and public sector property owners. Shorelines in the US can be under the purview of several layers of government, but the final arbiter in nearly all situations is the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). As Gary headed down this new path, he knew it was time to weave in a larger community of scientists, engineers, regulators, and property owners.
At the Restore America’s Estuaries Summit in December 2016, Gary presented the culmination of his research in “An Ecologically Balanced Approach to Structured Shorelines.” He also brought together a panel reflecting the complexity and reach of his ongoing exploration: the New York City Parks and Recreation Department, the Nature Conservancy, Stantec engineers, and regulatory experts. The panel examined how a typical USACE design detail could be adapted to add crevices, articulated surfaces, and different types of materials to standard concrete blocks to incrementally benefit a living shoreline.
“We’ve gained a basis of knowledge that we’re applying to projects now, and we’re also gaining recognition in the industry through an orchestrated effort by our policy, design, and technical experts across many disciplines,” Gary says of Stantec’s work.
Although he needs to conduct more research and update and share the reference manual with government and developers, Gary knows that this work will be realized in many estuary communities. And these communities won’t necessarily have to pay more for this balanced design approach.
“You may still be using the same amount of traditional materials, but I think there’s a spirit of long-term thinking in our communities—they want to add this level of value to their projects,” he explained. “They want something that is going to contribute to the quality of the water they rely on for health, commerce, and recreation.”