Bight: Coastal Urbanism

In January 2017, RPA launched a design competition which called on architects, landscape architects, designers and urban planners to visually demonstrate how policy changes, new investments, and innovative thinking proposed in the 4th Regional Plan -  A Region Transformed (to be released October 2017) can transform different geographic areas in the Tri-State region and prepare them for the next 25 years. Rafi Segal and DLANDstudio were selected to propose visions and designs for the future of the Bight, the region’s Ocean Corridor. 

The Bight is the notch in the region’s coast where ocean currents conspire to pile sand, forever redrawing the shore. “The Bight” is also an invention — a hard coastline extensively built during the 20th century, now stiff with aging settlements determined (but ill-suited) to stand their ground against storms and sea level rise. These opposing forces, where the immovable city meets an unstoppable nature, define its uncertain future. It’s time to blur the line.  To relieve this tension, which threatens hundreds of miles of coast, hundreds of thousands of residents, and hundreds of billions of dollars in property losses, we propose replacing the hardened edge separating the city and nature with a new “landscape economic zone” — a buffer in which land and water commingle, creating new spaces for habitation, conservation, work and play.

Rather than futilely trying to hold the line, the project proposes an approach of “receive, protect, adapt.”  Strengthen urban spines and nodes on higher ground to receive new residents at higher densities. Protect low-lying areas using the absorptive capacity of the buffer, and adapt to a more amphibious lifestyle in the zone — transforming the coastline into the new urban frontier.

The result is a less sprawling and more productive coast, made all the more resilient by tailoring homes, neighborhoods, suburbs, towns and cities to this new reality. The transition to renewable energy and the future of work-leisure in an era of intense automation inform the reimagined Bight as a new open space for America’s most populous region, rather than an increasingly untenable line in the sand.


Team: Rafi Segal & DLANDstudio (Susannah Drake), Sarah Williams, Greg Lindsay, Brent Ryan, Benjamin Albrecht
Project team: Mary Lynch-Lloyd, Chaewon Ahn, Jan Casimir, Mary Hohlt, Erin Wythoff, Charles Huang, Chang Liu, Ching Ngan
Research team: Dennis Harvey, Zach Postone, Ellen Shakespear, Xinhui Li


02: “Elevation-Based Zoning” proposes different zoning and building regulations based on grade elevation to address the risks of storm surges and flooding.

03: Jamaica Bay 2067: Densified urban development on higher ground creates a vibrant new city around the waterfront of Jamaica Bay. 

04: Jamaica Bay: projected flooding (left), proposed plan for future development (right). Flooded ground becomes parks and open water, while dry areas such as JFK are protected and intensified. The result: a new square-toothed “Bight City” comprised of waterside neighborhoods.

05: Bight City, Jamaica Bay 2067, view across lagoon: ‘wet city’ housing along the lagoon’s edges protects the ‘dry city’ behind it.

06: Sending and receiving neighborhoods: a strategy of switching people and densities over time from high-risk areas to safer ground.

07: Densifying high ground

08: Cross-sections demonstrating how landscapes act as a buffer between wet and dry (left), new building offering access from both water and land on the edges of protected neighborhoods (right).

09: Gateway Station, Jamaica Bay 2050: a series of plazas and beaches form an intermodal station and recreation center built along the existing elevated rail of the Rockaways.

10: Existing elevated rail, Rockaways, 2017

11: View of proposed Gateway Station from the ocean side.

12: New Mastic, Long Island, 2050: a new “landscape economic zone” acts as a protective buffer, aquatic farm, and parkland while preserving scattered clusters of elevated houses amidst wetlands.

13: Street sections showing the transition between higher dry ground and lower wet areas.

14: New Mastic, 2050: projected flooding (left), proposed plan for future development (right), densifying high, dry ground while permitting some homes to remain in wet areas as they evolve into a new elevated neighborhood built along docks.    

15: Sending and receiving blocks: a strategy of switching people and densities over time from high risk areas to dry ground.

16: Densifying high ground for New Mastic.

17:Mastic Beach today: elevating homes sporadically without an overall plan to address flooding.

18: Water rising all across the region. Photo of bayside, Sea Bright, New Jersey

19: Sea Bright, New Jersey, 2017: a barrier island flooded from both ocean- and bay sides. The sea wall and elevated beach clubs will remain as the island disappears under water.