The Works

Ten Teams Advance in Post-Sandy Resiliency Competition

From oysters to starchitects to subways, these 10 proposals have got it all. But which will actually pan out?

Credit: Sasaki/Rutgers/Arup

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After Hurricane Sandy hit New York City last year, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan launched the “Rebuild by Design” competition, which worked with the Rockefeller Foundation and a number of local civic groups on projects that would seek to prevent the same sort of damaging from happening in the event of another large storm.

The competition focused on four areas — coastal communities, cities, natural environments and a mysterious “fourth category that will include other innovative questions and proposals” — and on Thursday announced 10 projects chosen to advance to the next stage. Here’s a rundown of four ideas we found the most interesting:

The Big ‘U’

A proposal by boy(ish) architect Bjarke Ingels and his practice suggests an expansive protective system around much of Manhattan below Central Park, starting at West 57th Street on the Hudson and wrapping around the bottom of the island and then back up to East 40th Street on the East River.

The description includes requisite platitudes and buzzwords (“multivalent,” “‘Robert Moses’ hard infrastructure combined with the local community-driven sensitivity of Jane Jacobs”), as well as a grab-bag of infrastructure. Some of this we can discern (“an integrated coastal subway line using rights of way provided for by re-construction of the protective edge”) and some we really can’t (“Art-protection in Chelsea? Culture-berm at the Battery?”). Yes, the question marks are included in the description.

Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge

Dutch architectural practice OMA, headed by skyscraper hater and designer Rem Koolhaas, was a bit more modest in its ambitions, setting its sights on Hoboken. Taking a page from Bloomberg’s Seaport City idea, Rem & Co. write, “the redevelopment of Hoboken station” — a bizarrely undeveloped strip of land that welcomes visitors to the tiny north Jersey city — “can help offset the costs of a coastal defense.” The plan involves “landscape as drainage circuit,” “canal as water storage,” and “building as wall,” plus some more active infrastructure like a pumping station. The rail yard and tracks are greened to absorb water, and Weehawken Bay is harnessed with plants to absorb storm surge.

Living, Growing Breakwaters

What kind of resiliency competition would this be without bivalves? “Our layered strategy,” writes landscape architecture firm SCAPE on its idea for Staten Island and Raritan Bay, “introduces protective breakwaters and interior tidal flats that can dissipate wave energy and slow the water, while rebuilding sustainable oyster populations within the Harbor Imaginatively-named landscape architects.”

Quoth the designers:

Staten Island and Raritan Bay offers many potential breeding oyster colony sites that can continuously nourish this regional reef restoration network, slowing and cleaning harbor waters. The shape and depth of the harbor, its central location, water quality conditions, tidal current flow, successful oyster restoration efforts, and risk-reduction potentials all point to this thread of shallow bathymetry as the right site in the Hudson-Raritan Estuary system to cultivate a network of large scale habitat breakwaters and reefs.

Resilience + The Beach

Sasaki Associates, a planning firm, joins with Rutgers University and multinational design/construction/planning consultant Arup on a beach-themed proposal for the Jersey Shore’s three regions: Its barrier islands, the Headlands and Inland Bay. For the barrier islands, the team suggests that “the iconic language of the perpendicular beach pier extends into an ecotourism gradient that redefines the coast a the entire ecosystem between the beach and the N.J. Pinelands” — otherwise known as the Pine Barrens, an area few currently see unless they’re going to a drug-soaked rave or trying to dump a dead body). It also calls for shifting development from the shore to “stable inland areas,” pushing tourists to explore areas further from the coast.

For the Headlands portion, the group takes aim at the shore’s iconic boardwalks, writing: “The Boardwalk is an ever-present cultural icon — yet it does little for coastal ecology and remains vulnerable to storm surge.” The team suggests “a more organic boardwalk form and topographic section that provides the infrastructure to capture sand and form dunes, creating protection while serving as habitat area for beach wildlife to attract visitors.” It also envisions “improvement of inland lakes and green infrastructure to absorb surge and improve character,” with Asbury Park as the project’s target location.

Finally there’s Inland Bay, “the most complex region of the New Jersey shore” — take that, other regions of the Jersey shore! — “where a legacy of industrial uses, densely-populated maritime communities, and increasing integration into the New York City economy intersect with a rich estuarine environment.” The team wants to reintegrate “marsh functions” back into marinas “to enhance coastal protection while providing new sources of value for adjacent ecosystems and communities.” The Natco Lake district would be the focus for this portion.

With these and another six projects advancing, Rebuild by Design will now enter its third stage in which it will take the ideas to the people (okay, “local community leaders”) to evaluate the proposals. You can read more about the competition and proposals chosen at

The Works is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

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Stephen J. Smith is a reporter based in New York. He has written about transportation, infrastructure and real estate for a variety of publications including New York Yimby, where he is currently an editor, Next City, City Lab and the New York Observer.

Tags: new york cityinfrastructureresilient citiesclimate changethe workshurricane sandyrebuild by design

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