by Camila Schaulson Frenz
At “Coordinated Disaster Recovery: Lessons from Hurricane Sandy,” AIANY 2014 President and AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee (DfRR) founding co-chair Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, took a holistic look at disaster recovery, imparting lessons learned through a thorough account of the many different initiatives that AIANY and the DfRR participated in after Superstorm Sandy.
Although “resilience” has become a highly-debated topic since Sandy, Brown has been leading AIANY’s discussions on disaster preparedness since 2011when he co-founded DfRR with Co-chair Illya Azaroff, AIA, one of this year’s Young Architect Award winners. In his talk, Brown mentioned AIANY’s A Platform for the Future of the City, which was developed prior to the storm in collaboration with the Chapter’s 27 specialized program committees, DfRR included. Meant to influence future public officials, the platform focuses on the big picture, pointing out major challenges in the urban environment across five different scales. As might be expected, one of these issues was sea-level change. As Brown stated during his presentation, “We’ve created a defenseless environment, and our land-use patterns promote it.”
DfRR’s leadership in resiliency really emerged, however, after the storm hit. In the weeks following the Sandy, DfRR collaborated with a wide range of regional professional organizations in what later became known as the Post-Sandy Initiative, the planning and design community’s response to the devastating storm. The results of the working groups were presented in a report published by AIANY. Brown refers to these results as “opportunities, not recommendations,” since the reality of Sandy has allowed the design community to re-evaluate the existing patterns that have made our built environment vulnerable.
Brown made connections between this publication and those of other organizations, including NYC’s “A Stronger More Resilient New York” and the Municipal Art Society’s “The Road Forward.” He urged other chapters and organizations in different cities to develop similar reports before a disaster strikes, noting the importance of thinking about disasters proactively. “Without a document,” said Brown, “you’re already behind the curb.”
Brown’s presentation also highlighted the knowledge gaps within resilience, another reason to develop resiliency reports. While speaker Christopher P. Jones, a consulting engineer, suggested a number of resiliency guidelines, including those published by FEMA, Brown noted that many of these regulations are exurban, and that that responses of cities are also specific to their particular geographies.
The Post-Sandy Initiative’s collaborative nature was another important lesson imparted by Brown. While discussing the report’s findings on transportation and infrastructure, he noted: “Nature does not respect political boundaries.” Collaborating with other regional organizations, including NJIT, the Regional Planning Association, and other local AIA chapters has been fundamental in adequately assessing the threats of similar disasters. Thus, it is no surprise that the AIANY Post-Sandy Initiative was also a recipient of the 2014 AIA Honors for Collaborative and Professional Achievement.
Brown finished his talk with another model for finding collaborative, innovative examples of resilient design – the design competition. He guided the audience through Operation Resilient Long Island’s Comprehensive Coastal Communities competition, to the AIANY-sponsored For a Resilient Rockaway (FAR ROC) competition, and HUD’s Rebuild by Design. While some of these competitions are only meant to foster ideas, others will lead to built results. Brown concluded his presentation with one such project, NYC’s Office of Emergency Management’s recently opened Post-Disaster Housing Prototype, designed by Garrison Architects, initially part of the What If NYC competition.
The road to resiliency is long and hard, as Brown knows well. However, by accumulating lessons learned across different region and sharing results, we can come closer to protecting our cities from disasters.