resilient living

draw visits

draw makes a visit to staten island’s living breakwaters project.

David Brooke Robinson


February 28, 2022

For many years now I have been an advocate of caring for the earth and am always trying to learn about ways to design a built environment that is good for people and the places in which we live. When Superstorm Sandy struck our region in 2012, it was a stark reminder of nature’s power and the delicacy of our world. And I was reminded once again, how much we still have to learn.

Not too long after the storm, a competition called Rebuild By Design was established to come up with ideas to protect the coastal areas of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. The competition brought together multidisciplinary teams to research and develop resilient coastal design solutions that would protect against future storms and sea level rise. In the spirit of continuous learning, I have been following one particular winning proposal called Living Breakwaters, as it is meaningful to a local community on the Raritan Bay.

Designed by a multi-disciplinary team led by SCAPE, it is considered a model for climate-adaptive green infrastructure that takes a layered approach to risk reduction. Essentially, it’s a 2,400-foot long, near-shore breakwater of partially submerged structures built of stone and ecologically enhanced concrete. These structures are designed to create wave breaks, slow and reverse beach erosion, and provide a range of habitats for oysters, fish, and other marine species…all while reducing the impact of climate-intensified weather events along the low-lying coastal community of Tottenville, NY, which was hit pretty hard by Superstorm Sandy.

Cycling along the "bayshore" provides views of the southern tip of Staten Island, across Raritan Bay.

Not too long ago, I cobbled together a short “Bayshore” bike ride that is a combination of local roads, paved promenades, elevated boardwalks, and scruffy bayside beaches…great for a fat tire scoot, especially in the deep sand along the water’s edge. The ride offers picturesque views of Raritan Bay and nearby towns on the Jersey side, as well as Staten Island and the skyline of the great city of New York beyond. It’s an awesome way to “reconnect” with the place I live, clear the mind, and breathe some salty air without eating up too much of the day!

On one of those rides, late last summer, I noticed a barge crane working on the far side of the bay, just off the southeastern shore of Staten Island. It caught my eye because it didn’t look like the usual barge cranes that are often digging shipping channels for the large tankers that regularly ply the bay. This one was bright red, dinosaur-like in profile, with a long neck pivoting from an elevated body. Spying it from afar, I wondered if it had anything to do with the Living Breakwaters project, and being the curious soul I am, a visit was planned.

The living breakwaters crane.

So, a few days later the draw-mobile set off on a brief adventure to get a closer look. Arriving at Conference House Park on the southeastern tip of Staten Island, I made my way into the park trail system hoping to find this strange gangly crane. A brief ramble through the woods led to a bay-front beach that revealed a captivating view of the “Jersey side”, yet no sign of the crane. So, off I went along the scrappy beachfront. Rounding a nearby bend in the shoreline, the red dinosaur-like crane revealed itself, busily lifting its cargo from an adjacent barge and setting it in the shallow bay bottom. I don't know why, but it seemed rather special...this souped-up crane, almost alive in its movements and evoking a natural beast…constructing a boifilic reef, in an effort to answer some of the local climatic challenges we face.

After watching the crane at work for a while, I made my way back along the trail, and approaching the “draw mobile”, couldn’t help but wonder if the little red Volkswagen shared a kindred spirit with the long-necked red crane. Perhaps yes, perhaps no. Either way, one drew me there and the other brought me there.

It turns out that the crane activity was in fact part of the beginning stages of the Living Breakwaters project, and while the crane has left the bay for the winter, I am hopeful it will return in the spring to continue its good work. Either way, I’m really looking forward to seeing this project come to fruition and learning more about its challenges and successes, as well as other creative ideas designed to improve the planet we call home.