The Impact of Population Growth on New York City's Urban Landscape

Development is a constant in New York City's history, and it was especially rapid during the 19th century. In 1800, the city had a population of 60,000; by 1900 it had grown to 3.4 million people. During this period of time, the built-up area grew from lower Manhattan (essentially below 14th Street) to the entire island. When city commissioners drew up the street network in 1811, they assumed that it would take several centuries before growth reached 155th Street.

However, by 1860, development had already spread to that point. The New York City skyline is now iconic, and there are many public places to take in its beauty. The Empire State Building, 86th floor observatory (1,050 feet high) offers a spectacular view for a nominal fee. The Brooklyn Bridge provides a stunning view of the city and the waterfront along the East River.

The Brooklyn Heights Promenade is a park that extends above the Brooklyn-Queens Highway with fantastic views of Wall Street, the East River and the Brooklyn Bridge. Central Park has wonderful views of Midtown and the incredible buildings that border Central Park West and the Upper East Side. Roosevelt Island can be accessed with a nominal fee and offers an aerial streetcar ride between Manhattan's 61st Street and Roosevelt Island with exquisite views of Midtown and the East River at its southernmost tip. Riverside Church is located on Riverside Drive between 120th and 122nd Streets of the Upper West Side and has an elevated public observation platform high above the surrounding urban landscape.

Battery Park is located on the southern tip of Manhattan and offers wonderful views of the harbor and Wall Street towers. Times Square is located at the intersection of Broadway, 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue and provides unparalleled views of downtown. The Transit Authority reports that public transportation (trains and buses) accounts for about 5.3 million passenger trips per day in New York City, but this represents perhaps between a third and a half of all transportation in the city. In Manhattan alone, there are nearly 6,000 miles of streets and highways, with half of the workforce travelling daily to Manhattan through its 18 connecting bridges and 21 traffic and train tunnels. Estimates prepared by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection suggest that during severe drought conditions, the reservoir system should still be able to maintain about 1.3 billion gallons of water per day, which would require limiting per capita use to 200 gallons per person per day (including commercial use). Individual use is probably closer to 120-130 gallons per day. The city is constantly examining alternative water sources, including the Hudson River, and long-distance transportation options from the Great Lakes region or beyond.

One of the main environmental concerns is how diversion of water to the city's supply affects water quality of the already stressed Hudson River. Upstream withdrawal would increase salinity of upstream estuary while massive emission of additional wastewater (essentially fresh water) to lower estuary and bays has equally harmful environmental consequences for saltwater tolerant species. It is regrettable that we have to make such modifications in our environment to supply water to our growing population. Fortunately, most organisms can migrate to new habitats that fit their habitat needs and life cycles. Perhaps in the future ways will be discovered to better manage our water demands and production of wastewater to better adapt them to our regional terrestrial and marine ecosystems. In Newark Basin, Coastal Plain, and Long Island much of municipal water comes from water wells.

Groundwater pollution continues to be a major concern throughout this area. Unfortunately from beginning of American Industrial Revolution until 1960s problems of groundwater pollution were largely ignored resulting in New York Bight region being home to record number of Superfund sites. These are specific sources of pollution such as old landfills or chemical plant landfills where improperly discarded hazardous compounds leak into environment especially groundwater. Fortunately great strides have been made in managing containing or eliminating these problem points but at extremely high cost.

Biggest concern in future will be management of non-specific pollution sources which are usually small waste dumps with no trackable sources. Non-point sources include improperly discarded engine oil garden fertilizers pesticides animal waste household solvents paints etc. While these small chemical spills seem essentially harmless their frequency in large urban population is cumulative addressing problems of non-specific pollution is extremely difficult requiring both final prohibition of many frequently used chemicals and intensive ongoing public education on how to properly dispose waste. Fresh Kills is only part of problem in New York Bay there are numerous landfills that have been closed or will be closed soon standing out as large grassy hills along highways and rivers throughout region.

They are lasting legacy of our times and past times most materials deposited in landfills (especially paper and metals) eventually decay into inert compounds found naturally in environment (clays iron oxides organic waste etc.) In humid coastal environment this process is nearly complete in about 30 years. However to reduce generation leachate most landfills are sealed preventing air and water from entering which greatly slows down aerobic decomposition process increasing methane generation materials such as glass ceramics certain plastics will remain recognizable form for perhaps thousands even millions years another problem is landfills often located near residential areas creating potential health hazards for local residents.

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Beatrice Flesher
Beatrice Flesher

Professional web geek. Passionate food scholar. Subtly charming twitter practitioner. Amateur travel junkie. Certified beer junkie. Hardcore foodaholic.

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