New York City has a 578-mile shoreline that is held in “public trust” for all the people. The Public Trust Doctrine protects our right to access the water and land adjacent to it, including the beaches along the coast and shoreline of Jamaica Bay, the edges of the Hudson, Harlem, Bronx and East Rivers, as well as the creeks, sounds, channels and industrial canals in the five boroughs.
When approving plans and new uses along the waterfront, city policies and zoning ensure some degree of public access in keeping with the “public trust” concept that is rooted in English common law, and practiced in New York City through regulation and public ownership. The common law means that private property ownership ends at the edge of all waterways, at the high tide waterline, where water and the land beneath it belongs to the state and the city, held in public trust for the common good. Ensuring that our waterfront remains accessible and actively used for the common good requires local advocacy and community input whenever changes are proposed.
To advocate for a waterfront property, first take a look at the unique conditions of the site. Waterfront properties often have protected land uses, sensitive natural ecologies or historic pollution that needs attention. Is the site in a natural area where wildlife is thriving? Is it part of the working waterfront where important jobs are located? Is it known to be a contaminated site?
Once you understand the property, start talking to local groups and citywide organizations about what the community would like to see happen to the waterfront site. In all five boroughs waterfront advocates have organized for the following:
There are also rules that need to be followed when something new is proposed on the waterfront. Read more about about how zoning, permits, and waterfront regulations affect urban design, land uses, and public access to the waterfront, and how you can have a say in the process.