This design proposes "water hubs" along the south shore of Staten Island: public open spaces protected by offshore breakwaters. In addition to providing amenities for swimming, kayaking, bird watching, community science labs, and other recreation pursuits, the breakwaters and open beach space would help buffer inland communities from storm surges, rising sea levels due to global warming. SCAPE/Landscape Architecture & Rebuild By Design

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Ten proposals are vying for funding to prepare the New York metro region for disasters like Superstorm Sandy and make recovery from such events easier, cheaper, and faster. Organized by a project called Rebuild By Design, some of the plans have evocative names, like “Blue Dunes,” while others hit the conceptual nail on the head: “Commercial Corridor Resiliency Project,” anyone? But they share a bottom-up approach for creating urban and regional design solutions that invest in the concerns and needs of local communities.

The project accomplished this by organizing multi-day tours and meetings last fall that brought its design-build teams, selected from architecture and consulting firms worldwide, together with citizens and civic leaders of towns and neighborhoods hard-hit by Superstorm Sandy. The teams were required to use what they learned in these encounters to inform their solutions, which combine flood protection with additional community concerns like improving environmental health, increasing local job and business opportunities, restoring wildlife habitat, and keeping the “flavor” of waterfront and beachfront communities alive.

Rebuild By Design is a public-private partnership organized under the President’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, including several regional urban design and development groups, and funded in large part by The Rockefeller Foundation. (Full disclosure: I reported on Rebuild by Design last year for the blog 100 Resilient Cities, a project that is also funded by The Rockefeller Foundation.)

The community-design team partnerships have “far exceeded our expectations,” says Amy Chester, project manager of Rebuild By Design. “Each one of them have been able to create real, solid community coalitions, and demonstrate how those coalitions shaped the ultimate designs.” Several teams have been joined by their community coalitions at this week’s presentations to the competition’s jury, Chester says. Once the jury makes its final recommendations, the winners will be selected by Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, and receive Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funding. Even if HUD declines some projects, they might be eligible for other funding through federal or state agencies, local transportation agencies, or other entities.

This gallery features selected highlights from the design proposals; see and read everything at the Rebuild By Design web site.

The Big U

The “Big U” would run 10 miles, from Manhattan’s West 57th street south to the tip of the island (the Battery), and back up to East 42th street. The system’s berms, storm walls, and other structures would shield several densely populated, economically active, low-laying neighborhoods from storm surges, while also providing new park and other public spaces.
The Big U would include “deployable walls” attached to the underside of the FDR Drive, along Manhattan’s east side. Flipped down they would block storm surges and flooding. When flipped up, they would be “decorated by neighborhood artists” to “create an inviting ceiling above the East River Esplanade,” and lit at night to make the area safer for pedestrians.

Protection for Long Island’s South Shore

This proposal for protecting the south shore of Nassau County on Long Island (directly east of Brooklyn and Queens) would create an integrated system of open spaces and waterways, including new marsh islands and an inland “blue-green corridor” of rivers and streams, to contain, store, and filter storm water.

The Marshy Edges

The design team’s “buffered bay” scenario includes restoring or replacing coastal marshlands along Nassau County’s southern coastline, to help protect areas inland while also improving the bay’s water quality, wildlife habitat, and coastal recreation options. They would be coupled with improved “housing options in high and dry areas near public transportation” to lessen the human and infrastructure costs of the next superstorm.

A Comprehensive Strategy for Hoboken

Superstorm Sandy’s flood surge devastated Hoboken, the low-lying New Jersey city just across the Hudson River from downtown Manhattan. The proposal for strengthening Hoboken’s resilience includes both hard (walls) and soft (open landscapes) defenses to “resist” future flooding; infrastructure that would slow down and “delay” rainwater runoff, giving natural and artificial drainage systems more time to cope with the flow; extra capacity to “store” heavy quantities of flood and rainwater; and, new pumping systems and drainage routes to “discharge” floodwaters safely.

Hunts Point Lifelines

South Bronx’s Hunts Point peninsula sits at the confluence of the Bronx and East rivers (the latter actually a tidal strait that connects New York Bay to Long Island Sound). The area contains a massive distribution hub for the metro area’s food supply. It’s also part of the poorest congressional district in the country, and residents contend with scarce green space, as well as high air pollution, which have contributed to high rates of illness including diabetes, respiratory and heart disease. The Hunts Point Lifelines proposal seeks to integrate economic growth and environmental health into its solutions resilience:Building and maintaining storm-ready waterside infrastructure would create jobs, as well as new parks and esplanades, and “local investment in newly protected ground.”

Marine Emergency Supply Chain

A proposed marine hub for emergency aid during disasters takes advantage of Hunts Point’s location at the meeting of two major regional waterways. The same pier could be used for community events and commercial fishing operations at other times.

Resilience + The Beach

The scenario for improving the resilience of New Jersey shore towns is one of the most complex: It has to to tackle the economic, cultural, and emotional needs people associate with “the beach,” while also incorporating different geological and environmental factors. For Asbury Park, the proposal includes a protective, yet accessible, boardwalk-dune combo infrastructure along the oceanfront; and creation of “green, hyper-absorbent streets” to contain and filter flood water while draining it into coastal lakes ringed with with wetlands.

Blue Dunes

The most daring of all the proposals, “Blue Dunes: The Future of Coastal Protection” envisions the creation of a chain of offshore barrier islands running hundreds of miles, from the open ocean waters off New Jersey’s northern beaches, past New York City (which alone has 573 miles of coastline), to a bit beyond Montauk Point, the southeastern tip of Long Island. The islands would not prevent storm surges, but would weaken them on their way toward land, where they could be further mitigated by other adaptation measures. The new islands could also restore lost coastal habitat for birds, fish and other aquatic species. The design team’s “ultimate goal is not the mastery of nature, or the avoidance of sea level rise,” according to its public materials. “Instead we seek to understand and work with the processes of nature to create a multi-layered system with the inherent capacity to adapt and change over time.”