Design firms pitch new ideas for Sandy rebuilding

 PennDesign/OLIN's proposal includes this

PennDesign/OLIN's proposal includes this "Cleanway," which uses plants to filter storm water. (Image via Rebuild by Design)

What could New Jersey and surrounding states do to prepare for future storms in radically different ways than they are currently rebuilding?

Build a series of artificial barrier islands off the coast of New York and New Jersey. Create a system of parksmarshes and berms in New Jersey’s Meadowlands. Build a series of parks, pumps, and other infrastructure to channel rainwater and storm surges in Hoboken.

Those are some of ten final proposals created by teams of architects, planners, and engineers for the Rebuild by Design competition, an initiative of President Barack Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, led by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs.

In the rush to recover from Superstorm Sandy, many municipalities and homeowners are rebuilding much as they had before, though perhaps at higher elevations above the ground. What’s been largely missing from recovery conversations are drastically different approaches to rebuilding that include innovative designs and sea level rise predictions, in addition to damage caused by Sandy.

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That dialogue is one goal of this competition, but organizers also hope these final proposals — or pieces of them — will actually be implemented.

Sandy exposed local vulnerabilities and not addressing them would be a missed opportunity, said Henk Ovink, principle of the Rebuild by Design competition.

“If we rebuild, we tend to rebuild back what was there,” said Ovink. “That is not the right way forward. So if we rebuild, we also have to rethink the way we build.”

Other proposals include a commercial corridor of elevated streets and water management systems to protect retail stores and their inventory from flooding.

A proposal by PennDesign and Olin, a landscape design studio, would create flood protection for Hunts Point in New York, with a series of tidal inlets, levees, planted eel grass. The group also imagines that the waterways surrounding the Hunts Point peninsula could be an emergency supply route should a disaster occur that made area roads, tunnels and bridges impassable.

But just how many proposals might actually be built, when, and with what funding is not yet clear.

The ten proposals have time horizons that span five to twenty years and could collectively cost well over $2 billion, according to Chris Daggett, president and CEO of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, one of several philanthropic organizations that provided funding for the research and design phase of the competition.

“So we have to think about how we develop the coalitions of governments and non-government organizations to find the money and the will that carries beyond the elected officials that are there today,” Daggett said.

HUD is expected to allocate some federal Sandy recovery funding when it announces a winner later this spring, but the award amount is not yet clear.


WHYY and have also been recipients of grant funding from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

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