New York will have a vast island-laboratory to explore the effects of climate change
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New York will have a vast island-laboratory to explore the effects of climate change

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Author | Elvira Esparza

Governors Island in New York is set to become a cutting-edge laboratory, where groundbreaking solutions for addressing climate change will undergo testing and implementation. This initiative will not only impact the city but also extend its influence globally. The Climate Solutions Challenge offers companies a platform to test these innovations, aiming to foster more sustainable cities. This year, under the theme Water Abundance Challenge, they are analyzing how water management can help to power climate solutions that grow blue and green jobs and create healthier communities.

What is Governors Island?

Governors island

It is an island spanning 86 hectares, predominantly consisting of landfill, situated 800 meters south of Manhattan in the New York Bay. The island earned its name due to its historical significance as the residence of New York’s colonial governors since the late 18th century. Later on, it served as a military outpost to defend the city until its closure as a military base in 1996.

In 2003, the federal government transferred ownership of the island to New York City under the condition that it would not be utilized for residential housing development. The concept was to establish a public space accessible to New York residents, featuring cultural, recreational, and educational activities.

Governors island

Today, Governors Island hosts a sprawling 61-hectare public park designed to address rising sea levels, along with 11 kilometers of pedestrian streets. It also boasts 50 historical buildings and provides space for experimenting with creative and sustainable solutions across various fields. In addition to the abovementioned features, Governors Island is also home to an oyster restoration project, a public high school focused on maritime education, and a technology incubator for green tech businesses.

What is Governors Island used for?

Governors island

The Trust for Governors Island, a non-profit organization established by New York City, is tasked with planning and overseeing the activities conducted on the island for the benefit and enjoyment of New York residents. A year ago, they initiated the Living Lab program, inviting small businesses and local non-profit organizations to participate in testing climate solutions aimed at addressing global warming. As part of its activities, the Climate Solutions Program includes the annual Climate Solutions Challenge. This initiative provides companies with the opportunity to use the island’s natural environment to test ideas that accelerate climate innovation and validate their social impact.

In addition, plans are underway for the construction of the New York Climate Exchange, a campus led by Stony Brook University. This campus will serve as a hub for research, education, and employment focused on climate-related issues. The sprawling 40,000 square meter campus will prioritize research and development, specifically focusing on the creation of innovative climate solutions to be implemented within New York City. The construction of the campus will adhere to innovation and sustainability requirements, with a commitment to utilizing existing historical buildings on the island. The project, with a budget of €700 million, is expected to commence in 2025 and is projected to be operational by 2028.

The Water Abundance projects

governors island climate exchange

Water management is emerging as a global challenge exacerbated by the impacts of climate change. Nearly half of the global population lacks access to safe sanitation, and a significant portion of wastewater, over 80%, is discharged into the environment without proper treatment or reuse. However, there are initiatives advocating for smart water management in urban areas, exemplified by projects like the one pioneered in Barcelona.

The ongoing Climate Solutions Challenge programs primarily concentrate on proposals that harness water to enhance climate solutions. They address a range of water management issues in New York City, including wastewater and drinking water infrastructures, industrial pollution, and the challenges posed by rising tides.

The six winning projects receive a $10,000 grant along with access to a $100,000 fund to realize their idea, enabling them to be tested by the public visiting the island for a period ranging from 6 to 18 months.

These are the selected projects:

Cycleau: An affordable gray water treatment system.

Laero has brought its product  Cycleau to the island, offering a low-cost compact system that converts gray water into drinking water within buildings. The Parade Ground water station and the Yankee Pier bathrooms are set to be installed on Governors Island. The goal is to raise visitor awareness about the impact of wastewater pollution in New York City.

Duro UAS: Hardware to measure water quality

Duro UAS specializes in developing advanced environmental monitoring technologies aimed at enhancing the collection of data. On Governors, it will test mobile devices for collecting data about water quality: pH, dissolved oxygen, electrical conductivity, oxidation-reduction potential and temperature. Visitors will have the opportunity to assess the quality of water in the New York Harbor in real time.

Seaweed City: Farming seaweed to mitigate erosion.

Seaweed City cultivates seaweed in the New York Harbor to restore the marine ecosystem, clean the water and reduce erosion by reducing the wave effect. Visitors to Governors Island can observe the process of seaweed farming firsthand at the inaugural seaweed nursery.

Tidal Planter: A system for cleaning waterways.

Just Ecocities will test the Tidal Planter project, a modular wetland system fused with living shoreline design to expand habitat, improve water quality, and engage communities with their waterways. On Governors, this project is designed to create salt marshes that remove pollutants from the New York Harbor.

Intertidal Objects: Infrastructures to stop erosion

Object Territories has presented intertidal objects, which are concrete ecological coastal infrastructures designed to promote a thriving coastal ecosystem while offering protection against erosion. These objects will be installed along the shoreline of Governors Island to cultivate habitat conditions for wildlife and alleviate stress caused by heat. They have already been tested on Randalls Island and in Hong Kong.

BlueBlocks Gardens: Modular floating marshes

On Governors, the RETI Center will install the BlueBlocks Gardens, a modular floating marsh system built entirely of salvaged and reclaimed materials that float on a bed of recycled corks. These floating gardens will enable the marine habitat to thrive both in and above the water.

The overarching goal of all these initiatives is to transform Governors Island into a prominent global climate hub.

Images | Eloi_Omella/iStock, mauinow1/iStock, Alex Potemkinm/iStock, EXTREME-PHOTOGRAPHER/iStock, New York Climate Exchange

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