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The City of Climate Solutions: Indigo River and New York City 

The City of Climate Solutions: Indigo River and New York City 

By Luke Carothers

Like many coastal cities around the world, the stakes are much higher for developing climate solutions in New York City.  Facing direct threats stemming from climate change, New York City has developed into an epicenter for climate change planning, action, and research.  One firm built to thrive in such an environment is Indigo River.  Founded in 2018 by Dena Prastos, Indigo River is a Waterfront Solutions company with specialists in a growing number of disciplines including architects, landscape architects, naval architects, urban planners, climate adaptation specialists as well as civil, geotechnical, structural, marine, and coastal engineers.  

United by a common purpose to improve the waterfront and driven by the impact on their own communities, Indigo River is at the forefront of progress in their growing fields.  Indigo River’s dedication to this common purpose is gaining a growing influence on the built environment of New York City’s waterfronts and shorelines.  Indigo River is currently working with entities such as the Governors Island Trust, Scenic Hudson, and New York City Economic Development Corporation to both improve the city’s waterfronts and prepare a new workforce for jobs in green fields.

Facing direct threats from climate change, New York City is responding by launching projects such as the Center for Climate Solutions on Governors Island that will not only help the city and its surrounding communities by researching and developing climate solutions, but also by providing workforce training and green jobs.  Located off the southern shore of Manhattan, Governors Island has a long history of use for military purposes dating back to the 17th century.  Since the military ceased operations on the Island in 1995, multiple improvements have been made to open the space up to the public including ferries and walking paths as well as museums and public spaces.  In September 2020, plans were announced to develop a Center for Climate Solutions on the Island.  This center will bring together communities of researchers, educators, advocates, innovators, and policymakers to create, test, and implement climate solutions.  

While the Center for Climate Solutions is currently in the process of awarding the final scope to an academic institution, Prastos and Indigo River are helping prepare the Island to be the focus of climate solutions locally and globally, Indigo River was awarded the contracts to redesign and re-envision two of the Island’s primary piers: Yankee and Lima.  Awarded in late 2022, this project is still in the early stages, but Prastos is quick to pick out the importance of this project–both symbolic and practical.

In the practical sense, the redesign of Yankee and Lima piers is a tremendous opportunity to build an important piece of infrastructure within the city.  Hosting millions of visitors per year prior to the Center for Climate Solutions, Governors Island is only accessible via these piers, making them vital to the current and future functions of the Island.  Prastos believes such a project is the perfect opportunity for Indigo River, as it aligns with their core beliefs.  In such a rare opportunity, the symbolic meaning of this pier redesign project is on par with its practical implications.  Being one of the primary access points for the Island’s millions of visitors, Indigo River is responsible for a design that reflects its status as a leader for climate solutions.  This is a task that Prastos doesn’t shy away from, emphasizing the importance of creating a “landing onto the climate solutions center of the world.”  

As New York City positions itself as a leader in climate solutions, there is a simultaneous push to continue improving its waterfronts for both ecological and recreational purposes.  Indigo River is also playing a large role in this endeavor, partnering with groups such as Scenic Hudson to improve waterfront access.  The largest environmental group in the Hudson Valley, Scenic Hudson has decades of expertise in preservation, land use, community advocacy, and strategic planning.  One of Scenic Hudson’s ongoing projects is the Westchester RiverWalk, which is a proposed 51-mile trail.  So far, 32 miles of the trail have been completed, and Indigo River is part of the team providing a critical link in the trail.  

Indigo River is providing owner’s representative services to Scenic Hudson for the development of the Westchester Riverwalk Connection–a 0.9-mile shared-use trail along the Hudson River shoreline in Tarrytown.  On top of providing a crucial link, this proposed project will provide an alternative to automobile travel–including a direct pedestrian and bicycle connection to the Tarrytown Metro-North Station.  During the project, Indigo River will manage environmental review and associated studies in coordination with a consultant team.  They will also manage project permitting and design development.  By lending their waterfront expertise to the design and permitting of the trail along the Hudson River, Indigo River is again aligning the symbolic with the physical, as this new trail will not only greatly improve access to the riverfront but will do so in a way that reflects Indigo River’s driving passion for improving such spaces.

While Indigo River’s commitment to improving waterfront spaces is evident in their influence on the built environment, it is also evident in equal measures through their commitment to workforce development.  In what Prastos calls a “moment of opportunity,” Indigo River has recently entered into offshore wind.  This opportunity was born out of a synthesis of experience  with land-side port planning and a desire to invest in minority and disadvantaged communities.  Indigo River is part of a joint venture aimed at improving the workforce for offshore wind; launched in March 2023, the first part of this venture between the New York City Economic Development Council (NYCEDC) and TMI Waterfront Solutions was an offshore wind training program for Minority, Women-Owned, and Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (MWDBEs).  The goal of this program, named OSW NYC Waterfront Pathways Program, is to eliminate barriers and ease participation in contracts.  Indigo River’s role in the program shows their dedication towards their core values as they seek to pivot the waterfront construction and offshore wind industries.

Another component of this joint venture is seeking to eliminate many of the barriers that currently exist in offshore wind workforce training.  In an effort to eliminate any barriers imposed by a single location, Indigo River is part of a group that purchased a barge and fitted it with an offshore wind training school.  By providing workforce development and training on a floating platform, Prastos believes this converted barge is an important step in providing environmental justice to disadvantaged communities.  According to Prastos, a mobile workforce development tool is important because it lessens the need for potential users to rely upon transportation.  In this manner, this paradigm-shifting idea changes the way the AEC industry defines its assets and forces us to challenge our way of doing things.

As New York City continues to build spaces and attract talent to make it the center of climate change research for the United States, and perhaps the world, the changing of its built environment serves as vanguard.  Updates and changes in the built environment reflect progress in this status, and Indigo River’s influence in this regard is increasing with the announcement of each new project.  As a tangent result of this influence, Indigo River is seeking to build a future that not only protects us from climate change, but one that is free of the barriers that defined the past.

Luke Carothers is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at lcarothers@zweiggroup.com.