Check Out This Century-Old Plan To Fill The East River

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On Friday, Gizmodo posted about some of the craziest urban plans ever proposed for New York City. One of the most fascinating and bizarre is Dr. Kennard Thomson’s 1916 proposal to fill the East River and create a new waterway between Brooklyn and Queens. The project would have united Manhattan and Brooklyn to create more space for housing and business.

Despite how crazy the proposal seems now, Thomson was a well respected and experienced urban designer. He called the proposal “A Really Greater New York” and published it in Popular Science, writing that it would “prepare New York for a population of twenty million.” The project would add fifty square miles of land and one hundred miles of waterfront and cost $50-100 million (about $1-10 billion now) for each year of construction. “As a result of the construction,” Thomson wrote, “it would not be much harder to get to Brooklyn than to cross Broadway.”

It seems that nothing was ever made of the project, but it wasn’t long before someone else proposed something similar. In 1924 the city’s traffic commissioner proposed a plan to drain the East River and convert the land into a highway in order to alleviate traffic problems.

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These projects seem insanely ambitious now, but the website BigThink writes that “land reclamation” was in vogue at the time, coinciding with the growing popularity of the zeppelin and exploration by air. Around the same time, there were proposals in Europe to connect England with the mainland and to dam the Mediterranean.

It’s clear today that at least someone thought Thomson’s plan was a bad idea. Had the city gone through with the project, Brooklyn no doubt would have taken on Manhattan’s aesthetics and costliness and most of us would probably be living on Long Island.

Check out the full proposal here, thanks to the magic of Google Books.

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