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What's Underneath Harlem's Montefiore Square?


New York City has tripled the small patch of ground known as “Montefiore Square.”

The Harlem plaza has granite pathways and new places to sit.

But the most impressive thing might be what is underneath it.

Rebekah Robinson has more:


The redesigned plaza slopes down along Broadway in West Harlem.

Dozens of newly planted trees dot the grassy area and line the perimeter of the park.

Sarang Sharma and his dog Candy live across the street.


we've been here for the last year and a half, this has all been blocked off, right? And now like this is her favorite place. I take her off leash and she just runs around on the grass. So she loves it. I love it. It's convenient. It's fun.


What he and Candy can’t see are the upgrades to the water infrastructure beneath the park.

A vast network of water mains and storm drains. City parks might not seem like a danger to the environment… but bad park design can create problems.

During Hurricane Sandy, New York City got soaked and the rain overwhelmed parks.

Sending massive amounts of stormwater into the sewer system.

It was a particular problem for areas with lots of sidewalks.


And on the many impervious surfaces that you have in urban areas, of course, the water has no chance to somehow settle, or stand and then just slowly infiltrate into the ground.

ROBINSON: Dr. Mike Piasecki is a professor in the Civil Engineering Department at nearby City College of New York. His research covers everything related to water.

PIASECKI: And so at some point, all these masses of water sort of collect at a certain point, and very often, the system simply gets overwhelmed.


And by overwhelmed, he means the sewers fill up and send all the nasty stuff into the rivers.

So when the City looked at redoing Montefiore Square, they tried to come up with ways to hold the water during storms. To keep it out of the sewer system until the rains stop.

Jacob Glazer is an Associate at SWA Balsley, the landscape architecture firm that redesigned the square. He served as project manager. He says they dug deep under the park and installed giant tanks for rain.

Jacob Glazer: All projects now have some element of stormwater detention just to slow down the amount of water.


After the tanks (they are called retention basins) are installed, then they can put in grass and cobblestones. Professor Piasecki says this kind of tank system will become more common.


If I look at climate change and the changing weather patterns, you know, it is predicted that for the North East, we will have more rain coming our way. And not only more rain, but also more intense storms… And so therefore, retention basins are a very important component of actually water management.


An upgraded water management system helps to protect the local community from potential damaging floods. But park go-er Yensy Carty is more excited about the visible upgrades to the park:

Yensy Carty:

So now that it's reopened, I guess, you know, it opens up to new things…you know, it brings a lot of new joy to this area


And keeps a lot of bad stuff out of the river. Rebekah Robinson, Columbia Radio News


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