Rezoned Circular Economy

Credits: PI, Mitchell Joachim
Team: Melanie Fessel, Nurhan
Gokturk, Maria Aiolova, Oliver
Research Fellows: Amanda O’Keefe,
Royal Aaron, Kiril Bejoulev,
Lafayette Compton, Emmanuelle
Emmel, Lila Faria, Daniella Garcia,
Dan Gehr, Nick Gervasi, Marcos
Gonzalez-Bode, Jesslyn Guntur,
Hugo Husnu, Michelle Lavin, Jorge
Lopez, Estefania Maldonado, Anna
Murnane, Dilan Ozka, Michelle Qu,
Matt Solomon, Allie Sutherland, Eda
Yetim, Peter Zhang, Jennifer Zhao,
Rayne Holm, Kristopher Menos, Ivy
Feibig, Swati Mamgain
Consultant: Pablo Berger
Photos: Micaela Rossato

Carbon output from cities is
embedded in everyday life, directly
affecting climate change and rising
sea levels everywhere in the world.
New York City’s sea level rise is
projected to reach a high estimate of
11 inches by the 2020s and 31
inches by the 2050s. Instead of only
investing in mitigation efforts and
building for resiliency, what if we let
the East and Hudson River submerge
parts of Manhattan and rebuild the
new city in its surrounding rivers?
We accept the inevitable and
prepare for the aftermath by
imagining the Post Carbon City-
State, a future Manhattan cleansed
through the physical and spatial
inversion of the East and Hudson
River. New bulk/use zoning envelopes
maximize solar exposure, regulate
population size, and optimize
resources. Zoning occupies more
area that extends into both the
Hudson River and East River. It is a
bold combination of plans for the
East River redirection and drainage
by T. Kennard Thomson (Really
Greater New York) and the Hudson
River infill strategy by William
Zeckendorf (New York City’s Dream
Airport). Grafting Manhattan to
physically join with New Jersey,
Brooklyn, Queens and Governors
Island is the definitive advancement
structure for the whole city. This is
not a unique idea, Battery Park City,
for example, increased a massive
portion of the city about .2 miles out
into the River—using earth that was
excavated from the construction of
the World Trade Center’s foundation.
Upcycled car tire patterns represent
the embedded post carbon materials
that are the building blocks of the
new city. We imagine the void that
was once Manhattan as an algae
production plant for sequestering
carbon and supplying amino acids
for food production and biomass for
energy generation capable of
reformative growth.

New York has, over the last few
centuries, become one of the world’s
most densely packed cities. But what
if you could redraw the city’s map –
and build it from scratch?
If we were designing New York today,
how different would it look?
The new New York City would
balance the relationship between the
information networks that the
metropolis depends on and Earth’s
finite resources.
All vital components of life would be
monitored and attuned to the needs
of every organism, not just humans.
Supplies of food and water, our
energy and waste and even our air
would be sensibly scrutinised. Thanks
to masses of miniaturised low-cost
electronic components deployed
across the city, communication
becomes far easier. New York will
grow and adapt to millions of new
minds entering it everyday.
The city would make sure every need
is provided for within its borders. How
we provide nutrients, transports, and
shelter would be updated.
Dilapidated buildings would be
replaced with vertical agriculture and
new kinds of housing would join
cleaner, greener ways to get around
the city. What were once streets
become snaking arteries of livable
spaces, embedded with renewable
energy sources, low-tech, green
vehicles for mobility and productive
nutrient zones. The former street grid
could provide the foundation for new
flexible networks. By reengineering
the obsolete streets, we can create
robust and ecologically active
While all this may sound optimistic,
some of this city of tomorrow is
already taking shape.
The Highline is a perfect case of
adaptive reuse. This former elevated
railway was converted into a public
promenade and restorative
ecological spine for the city. The
raised streetscape helps retain
rainwater, over 200 plant species,
recreational green space; the freight
trains are gone, replaced by people
walking and cycling.
The Lowline, meanwhile, is a
strategy to position state-of-the-art
solar equipment to illuminate a
discarded underground trolley station
on the Lower East Side of NYC. This
concept is to create an appealing
underground common space,
delivering an attractive ecological
space within the heart of this
crowded metropolitan environment.
Then there is Vision 42. This
enterprise re-imagines an upgraded
light rail transport at Midtown
Manhattan as an alternative to traffic
congestion. It’s designed as a
crosstown, low-floor moderate speed
train line traversing river-to-river at
42nd Street. Alongside is a
landscaped tree-lined pedestrian
street path. Vision 42 is a prototype
for an entire network of walkable
streets, greenways, and smart
transports throughout a future New
Brooklyn Navy Yard (BNY) is a
national model for sustainable
industrial parks and green
development, and home to
companies that aim to be socially
responsible and tech-driven, such as
Terreform. The BNY is a former
military industrial complex,
converted into a clean technology
and local manufacturing site;
something that will be of utmost
importance in any future metropolis.
This future city will still have traffic
fumes as long as there are gas-
guzzling vehicles plying its streets.
But improving technology will enable
the populace to steer clear of the
most polluted zones. NYC Breathe is
a wireless pollution sensor that keeps
track of urban contaminants. These
sensors are added to trucks, taxis, and
automobiles and thus accumulate
comprehensive pollution data in real-
time – all of which is conveniently
displayed as a detailed map.
But steps are already being taken to
make the city help cleans its air.
Million Trees NYC has a goal of
increasing its cosmopolitan
woodland by planting many more
trees. Street trees, park trees, and
trees on public, private and
commercial land are highly
valuable. By planting a million trees,
we can increase New York’s urban
forest by an overwhelming 20%,
while accomplishing the numerous
quality-of-life advantages that come
with them. The City of New York will
plant 70% of trees in parks and other
public spaces. The other 30% will
come from private organisations,
homeowners, and community
And what of food? Vertical
Aquaponics can yield up to 800%
more produce than traditional land
farming in an equivalent space,
while consuming 90-95% less water
and power. Farms will be constructed
in stacks, rising into the air. By
assembling aquaponic farms
vertically, it multiplies the power of
its food-growing equipment, possibly
yielding far more food than
conventional farming – and all the
time using a fraction of the space
and energy.
But revisioning Manhattan is more
than just an academic exercise, and
needs more than what is on the
drawing board now. The climate is
skewed and cities are partly
responsible. We need to act now to
observe action later. Many advocates
of sustainability encourage
operations to achieve the bare
minimum or zero impact. These
efforts try to do no further harm, but
do not try to heal. We need to
elevate subsistence-based systems to
approaches that not only have a
positive impact but are abundant
throughout the city. Calculating an
ecological footprint is suitable for
endurance living. Reversing the
effects of pollution is better still.
If Manhattan was restructured to be
proactive in resetting the climate,
other cites may follow. How can we
do this? This next version of New York
is dependent on planning and
preparation. This next version of New
York is dependent on us.
Nonprofit Organization for Philanthropic Architecture, Urban + Ecological Design.