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Billion Oyster Partner: SCAPE // Landscape Architecture

By admin
October 15, 2015

LB Social Resiliency


SCAPE is a landscape architecture firm that combines research and practice to reimagine the ecological and cultural potential of the urban landscape.  One area of focus for them has been urban waterfront design, and Kate Orff, SCAPE’s principal partner, has long been a friend of the Billion Oyster Project.  Through her work with Harbor School, she became interested in the possibilities for urban resilience offered by oysters.  Given this background, it was natural that SCAPE and BOP should join together for one of their most ambitious projects yet: the creation of “living breakwaters” off the coast of Staten Island.


LB Social Resiliency 2


Those living breakwaters, naturally, are oyster reefs.  Their underwater structure serves to dissipate the energy of powerful waves, moderating any damage that might be expected from any future instances of extreme weather; the habitat they create offers shelter to aquatic species of all kinds; and the interest they generate is the occasion for public education and engagement which will reconnect Staten Islanders to their waterfront and increase social resiliency in the area.

This project had its origin in the Rebuild by Design competition.  As a response to Hurricane Sandy’s disastrous impact on the Northeast, U.S. HUD Secretary Donovan launched Rebuild by Design, along with The Institute for Public Knowledge at NYU, The Municipal Art Society, the Regional Plan Association and The Van Alen Institute in June 2013.   Urban design and architecture firms were challenged to come up with well-researched, rigorously-planned initiatives in collaboration with local stakeholders which would go beyond simply repairing or rebuilding the areas that had been devastated.  Instead, projects aimed to create ecological, architectural and social infrastructure that would reflect the new reality where such extreme weather events are becoming increasingly the norm.  These projects would emphasize resilience, replicability, and site-specificity.


As SCAPE describes it:

The Living Breakwaters concept was one of six winning proposals in the global competition. The proposal was awarded to New York State and is in the process of being implemented by the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery with $60 million of CDBG-DR funding allocated specifically for this project.

The Living Breakwaters project reduces risk, revives ecologies, and connects educators to the shoreline, inspiring a new generation of Harbor stewards and a more resilient region over time. Staten Island sits at the mouth of the New York Bight, and is vulnerable to wave action and erosion. Rather than create a wall between people and water, our project embraces the water, increases awareness of risk, and steps down that risk with a necklace of breakwaters to buffer against wave damage, flooding and erosion.

We have designed “reef street” micro-pockets of habitat complexity to host finfish, shellfish, and lobsters, and also modeled the breakwater system at a macro scale to understand how and where they can most effectively protect communities. This living infrastructure will be paired with social resiliency frameworks in adjacent neighborhoods. Through the Billion Oyster Project and an associated network of programmed water hubs, local schools will be empowered with science, recreation, education, and access.

Our approach is especially suited to Staten Island’s south shore, but it is also replicable in other waterfront communities faced with the similar duality of risk and opportunity presented by their connection to the water. Tottenville, the site of our proposed Phase One pilot, was once known as “the Town the Oyster Built.” During Sandy, lives were tragically lost, and homes and parks were severely damaged. Moving forward, we can foster a vibrant water-based culture, invest in our students, shoreline ecologies and economies, and Tottenville can claim the mantle as the Town the reef re-built.

LB Reef Cross Section

And BOP is at the heart of this project.  We work with local schools; we will be supplying the water hubs with curriculum and programming, and we are tasked with doing hand-on work of restoration and reef construction that the project requires.  The community support we’ve built out on Staten Island is already considerable, and we look forward to continuing to build the social and ecological resilience of the region as we, along with SCAPE, move forward on the project.