Head for the Water!

Q&A with Roland Lewis, president and CEO of the Waterfront Alliance

The Waterfront Alliance works to protect, transform, and revitalize the waterways of the New York and New Jersey metropolitan region. A coalition of more than 950 business and civic organizations, Alliance Partners range from small boathouses and waterfront restaurants to global shipping companies and The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. Roland Lewis, president and CEO of the Alliance, is shepherding this organization into its next decade of waterfront advocacy and leadership. We sat down with Roland to learn more about the Waterfront Alliance’s annual Waterfront Conference on May 10, which the Queens Chamber of Commerce is proudly supporting, and about how the Alliance is making the Queens waterfront a great place to live, work, and play.

Tell us about the annual Waterfront Conference, this year on May 10. 

Everyone is welcome at our annual Waterfront Conference, but waterfront advocates, policymakers, scientists, and planners especially will find much food for thought here. A day-long event that takes place aboard the Hornblower Infinity, the 2017 Waterfront Conference will focus on measuring the value of our harbor and waterfronts; assessing educational opportunities, good-paying jobs, public recreation, and waterborne transit. Resiliency and governance will be common discussion threads. Add your voice to the discussion on May 10; information on tickets and sponsorship are here!

Many Queens residents are within a walk or short subway ride to the waterfront. Tell us how the Waterfront Alliance is advocating for accessible waterfronts. What are some of the events and resources you can point our members to if they want to get out on the Queens waterfront?

Since it was founded in 2007, the Waterfront Alliance has advocated for better public access to the city’s waterfront, especially in Queens. Our Alliance Partners sponsor all sorts of waterfront events in Queens, from public boating programs to shoreline cleanups, waterfront walks, and more. Last summer, we enabled a visit to the Queens shoreline by the Polynesian voyaging canoe Hōkūle‘a, whose long voyage traversing the waters of the world using only the stars, winds, and waves as guides brought attention to the importance of living sustainably. Later this summer, I recommend checking out the Waterfront Alliance/HarborLAB kayaking program at the Gantry Plaza State Park Community Eco Dock, at the Long Island City waterfront, and activities at Little Bay Park, near Fort Totten in northeast Queens, all free! And of course, on City of Water Day–our annual, free, family-oriented celebration of the waterways of New York and New Jersey, this year on Saturday, July 15–there will be free City of Water Day In Your Neighborhood events along the Queens waterfront. Check out our events calendar and biweekly WaterWire for information on these events and programs, and many more, near you.

How does the Waterfront Alliance advocate for shoreline resilience and sustainability?

One of the Waterfront Alliance’s core programs is Waterfront Edge Design Guidelines (WEDG). In a nutshell, this is an easy-to-use ratings system that guides planners, professionals, and community advocates toward waterfronts that are resilient, environmentally healthy, accessible, and equitable to all. Hunter’s Point South is a great example of a Queens waterfront project that achieved an exemplary WEDG score based on its emphasis on sustainable design and equitable development. Members of the Queens Chamber of Commerce can get more information about WEDG here.

Citywide Ferry Service is coming this summer to the Rockaway and Astoria neighborhoods in Queens, along with stops in other boroughs. Tell us about the Waterfront Alliance’s history in advocating for waterborne transit. 

From day one, the Waterfront Alliance has advocated for a ferry network in New York City that is affordable, extensive, reliable, and equitable. Through the years, we have helped organize grassroots activism in waterfront communities calling for ferry service, and we have guided elected officials on maritime transportation policy and plans. It took a few years, but in 2015, mayor de Blasio announced a new citywide ferry network, with five new routes serving 12 destinations. The first routes, including Rockaway and Astoria, begin service this summer and a one-way fare will cost the same as a subway ride!

Thank you, Roland. We look forward to seeing you at the Waterfront Conference on May 10! 

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