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The Urban Space Lab is devoting time to the study of peoples' many and varied interactions with estuarial waterscapes.  We are interested in three main domains of interaction.  First, we are conducting a general survey of scholarship and practice in the development of accessible water features in cities around the world.  Second, we are taking a close look at the planning, design, and results of saltwater marsh restoration projects in New York City, with an emphasis on human and more-than-human interactions.  And third, we want to understand how people conceptualize and experience nature through their access (or lack of access) to urban waterways in the Hudson-Raritan Estuary.


There is a substantial body of literature on the Hudson River ecosystem and the estuarial waters that flow around the islands of New York and New Jersey.  Many of the hydrodynamic and ecological features of the estuaries are well known.  Scientists have made significant advances in the understanding of crucial factors such as tidal effects on the water column, variations in salinity cycles, heavy metal toxin vectors, storm surge inundation, and the distribution of diverse microbiotic and macrobiotic life. Researchers have also identified and studied a wide range of environmental and ecological challenges to the health of the estuaries, from eutrophication to sedimentation, pollution, habitat destruction, diminished nutrient budgets, and increasing average temperatures.  And we also have an increasingly better understanding of the governance challenges for such a complex regional ecosystem, which requires cooperation, negotiation, adaptation, and the mobilization of multiple actors.  We look forward to contributing to this broader arena of scholarship and practice through careful examination of the human and more-than-human experiences of the great Hudson-Raritan regional estuary.

Urban Shoreline Ecologies:

Salt Marsh Restoration in New York City

One of the most significant large-scale projects in which New Yorkers have been engaged over the last decade has been the restoration of marshlands along coastal waterways. 


Over the last 200 years, substantial amounts of the region's shoreline and marsh ecologies have been destroyed by urban expansion, which has led to loss of habitat, coastal erosion, reduction of natural rainwater sinks, and increased vulnerability to storm water surges and flooding.


How are cities restoring marshes and other estuarial ecosystems?  At what scales?  What are the approaches and tentative outcomes?  What needs to be done?  These are some of the questions that we address in this research project, looking at sites such as Randall's Island, Soundview Park in the Bronx, and Jamaica Bay Wildlife Preserve.


Of course, NYC cannot prevent severe storm surges by coastal restoration alone.  Coastal restoration is one in a suite of measures that will need to happen, including reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in order to lower oceanic temperatures, the creation of a few key moveable storm barriers, and a socially just and equitable 'retreat' from coasts.

 And yet, coastal restoration is not just about protecting New Yorkers from storm surges.  It is also crucial for repairing long-term ecological damage, creating biodiverse, multispecies habitats, and expanding oxygenation from biomass.

The Experience of Nature in Marginalized Communities at

Three Public Access Sites in the Hudson-Raritan Estuary


For this project we propose to study perceptions and experiences of nature among socially marginalized communities through their use of three publicly accessible waterside sites within the Hudson-Raritan Estuary.  The goal of the study is to develop a richer, more robust understanding of how immigrant communities and communities of color in New York City access, interact with, and experience the water world in which they live.  Rather than using a survey with pre-determined questions, our investigation will make use of in-depth interviews and site observation, which we will analyze using Atlas.ti qualitative software.  Information gathered through our research will enable planners and policymakers to create more targeted programs for expanding access to green and blue spaces in the estuary. 

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