2013-08-30 / Columnists

From The Councilman’s Desk

Rebuilding the Boardwalk Together
Commentary By Councilman Eric Ulrich

Soon, the City is expected to unveil some of the proposed designs for the reconstruction of Rockaway’s boardwalk. While several firms have already submitted their conceptual plans to the Economic Development Corporation, it’s the local residents and community stakeholders who should have the final word on what the future of Rockaway Beach will look like.

Rockaway residents are concerned, and rightfully so, about how this process will work out. After all, history has shown time and again the City’s unwillingness to work with the community on important projects. The absurd amount of taxpayer money that the Parks Department recently paid for the ‘bathrooms in the sky’ and lifeguard ‘shacks’ are just the latest examples of this disconnect between the decisionmakers and the people who actually have to live with those decisions. Surely, we can do better.

The City of New York must put into action a true and transparent community review process that engages people and builds support for the final outcome.

The model used for Participatory Budgeting might be a good place to start. When people clearly understand their role as real partners and know that they aren’t wasting their time, a positive outcome will almost always be the end result.

The advice and consent of the local Community Board should also have a real role in this process. The advisory opinion of the board would provide the City with useful recommendations, insight and the local knowledge and expertise that a city bureaucrat simply lacks. It will also be a forum for the pub- lic to ask questions and hold agencies accountable.

The proposed designs should also meet a certain criteria or threshold which incorporate protection measures and flood mitigation. If a design firm or general contractor does not meet the requirements set forth by the RFP, it should be flatly rejected.

They should also be creative and include proven design techniques that are already in use in other coastal communities.

For instance, graduated concrete stairs from the beach up to the boardwalk, would act as a seawall of sorts without the sand erosion problems that a straight, vertical seawall might cause. Additionally, a reinforced concrete seawall that supports an elevated boardwalk, similar to what is used in Ocean City Maryland, could also provide another layer of protection for homes and businesses.

By giving the community a seat at the table, the City will guarantee a more resilient future for Rockaway.

A new boardwalk, built with community support and consensus, also represents a new beginning.

The City of New York now has the opportunity to showcase the beach and strengthen its ties with the peninsula. Let us seize this opportunity together.

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