Infrastructure

New York City May Plank the Way to Sustainable Boardwalk Design

With summer still fresh on the mind, it is easy to conjure up memories of beach trips, walks and bike rides along coastal boardwalks. Delve deeper into these bright, carefree memories though, and you may just find yourself standing atop a highly debated environmental issue. That is, you may discover the boardwalk you stood, walked, or biked on is made of tropical hardwood, a valuable rain forest timber being logged for urban use.

In New York City recently, Manhattan architect Scott Francisco thrust this issue into the spotlight. The use of tropical hardwood on city boardwalks and other infrastructure is a long-debated topic, and New York City is no stranger to the issue. The Brooklyn Bridge boardwalk, with 11,000 tropical wood planks, is just one of the many icons at the heart of this issue. Though some favor tropical hardwood for its aesthetic, Mayor Bloomberg is committed to reducing the amount of tropical hardwood the city uses, and countless activist groups work to protect the rainforest’s timber supply.

Francisco wants to ensure the Brooklyn Bridge boardwalk will always be planked with natural wood, and to do so, he is proposing a plan that he hopes environmental advocates will approve. His initiative, The Brooklyn Bridge Forest, aims to create a 2,000-10,000 acre forest to sustainably grow tropical hardwood specifically for the bridge’s boardwalk planks. That way, as the boards wear out, they can be replaced with this timber and without permanently destroying acres of rainforest.

Tropical hardwood is ideal for boardwalks because, even with high foot traffic, it can last up to 35 years. Because of its durability, the wood is extremely popular in cities across the country. In New York City alone, 12.5 miles of coastal boardwalks have been converted to this tropical hardwood. Estimates say this required approximately 10 million board feet and the logging of over 130,000 acres of Amazon rainforest. Attention to the issue is not lacking. In 2008, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his plan for reducing the city’s use of tropical hardwoods before the United Nations General Assembly.

While Francisco values sustainability, he also values the iconic nature of the Brooklyn Bridge, and he feels the boardwalk should thus be made of natural wood. He notes that the wood has a different feel than other green alternatives, many of which he adds are not actually as environmentally friendly as natural wood.

Though plans are still in the works, the project is already committed to meeting Forest Stewardship Council standards and to allowing visitors to experience the forest. The project hopes to get at least 11,000 committed sponsors and to have the project up and running before the boardwalk planks need to be replaced (6-8 years by their estimates). Sponsor specifics are still in the works, but it is estimated sponsoring one plank will cost approximately $1,000. Additionally, the project seeks companies and organizations to sponsor research and development.

More information on the project, still in its early stages, can be found at http://www.brooklynbridgeforest.com

Tags: infrastructure, new york, east coast, environment, mayor bloomberg, sustainable, alternative, rain forest, boardwalk, scott francisco