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New Jersey By Design: Five Visionary Projects for Rebuilding After Sandy

Beyond short-term goals, these teams are looking to build a 'culture of resiliency' that melds environmental considerations with economic opportunities

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development wants to make sure that Hurricane Sandy rebuilding efforts are not just focused on short-term goals.

That’s why HUD is holding a competition called Rebuild by Design that it hopes not only will rebuild the areas damaged by the October 2012 storm, but also will help those areas become both more resilient in the face of future storms and rising sea levels and more sustainable economically and environmentally.

RBD was announced by HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan in June 2013. Winners of the competition will be eligible for Sandy-related Community Development Block Grants, though actual funding has not been set aside. Rebuild by Design officials have said funding decisions will not be made until the end of the competition.

The competition is taking place in four stages, which began with an initial study of the larger region that was narrowed down to more specific proposals now being turned into master plans and designs for specific projects for places as diverse as Hoboken and the Connecticut coastline.

Initially, more than 140 teams entered the competition. Ten teams were chosen for the second round and submitted 41 “design opportunities,” or general concepts for various regions. For the third round, Donovan selected one option from each team in November, and each team is now moving forward with detailed designs and master plans.

The planning and design work being done by the teams, which include architects, designers, academics, and others, is being funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Community Foundation of New Jersey, and other nonprofits. Each participating team was given $100,000 for round two and another $100,000 to fund round-three work. The deadline for phase three plans is the end of March.

'A Culture of Resiliency'

The goal is to build a “culture of resiliency” that addresses current and future climate and ocean conditions, Rebuild by Design co-chairman Henk Ovink said, while also using contemporary design and engineering approaches to create economic opportunities in the Sandy-affected region.

Ovink, who has served as director general of Spatial Planning and Water Affairs for the Dutch government, was asked by Donovan to oversee the competition because of the Netherlands’ experience with flooding and water-control issues. Nearly 60 percent of the Netherlands is prone to flooding, he said during a press briefing recently, which is why the Dutch have created a multidisciplinary approach to addressing flood risk that takes into account reduction of risk and growth. The intent is to bring many disciplines --architecture, design and planning, but also environmentalists, and business groups -- together so that the goal is not just on protecting economic assets or safeguarding housing. Bringing everyone to the table, he said, will allow all of the concerns -- the immediate danger to human life and economic stability, the impact that development has on these dangers, and the expected effects of seal-level rise -- to be addressed.

Ovink and HUD officials said they are hoping for projects that both use and alter existing landscapes in ways to minimize the need for extensive flood walls, while at the same time using other assets -- boardwalks, streetscapes, urban gardens and new green designs -- to reduce storm surges and control water when it does breach the coastline.

The New Jersey Five

Of the final 10 teams, five are working on New Jersey projects that focus on the Shore, Hoboken, and the Meadowlands:

  • Coastal Commercial Financing, HR&A Advisors, Inc. with Cooper, Robertson & Partners

  • New Meadowlands: Productive City and Regional Park, MIT CAU/ZUS/Urbanisten

  • The Hoboken Plan, OMA Team

  • Resilience and the Beach, Sasaki/Rutgers/Arup

  • Designing with Nature for the Future of the Mid-Atlantic Coast, WXY/West 8

Five other teams are focusing on Manhattan; the Hunts Point neighborhood of the Bronx; Staten Island; Nassau County, NY.; and southern Bridgeport in Connecticut.

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