by Alexandra Tell
If New Yorkers were surprised by the breadth of destruction Hurricane Sandy brought, climate scientists are generally in agreement that coastal natural disasters will only increase in severity over the coming years. As many as 50% of Americans presently live in coastal cities, as AIANY President Tomas Rossant, AIA, noted in his introduction to the AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee’s event, “Looking Inland: Planning for Protection of At-Risk Coastal Cities,” at the Center on 01.29.15. That staggering number serves to underline the necessity of creating more resilient urban coastlines. Rossant opened the evening by noting that the city government is enacting policy shifts, including Mayor de Blasio’s “80×50” plan to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. Design professionals can (and many certainly have done) work to compound these efforts through self-directed “proactive policy directives,” as Rossant said. The speakers, who included urban designers, civil engineers, and landscape architects, each looked to the water’s edge to understand more fully how water and land interact in order to determine how to build stronger coastal cities.
Collaborative, interdisciplinary efforts are crucial to producing workable solutions to the threat of coastal urban disasters. Dr. Alan Blumberg and Alexandros Washburn, Assoc. AIA, of the Stevens Institute of Technology, provided a case study in such collaboration. Blumberg, a professor of Urban Engineering, introduced a complex modeling system for understanding the movement of water during a storm. Through massive data collection and an in-depth study of ocean physics, Blumberg built his predictive modeling program. When Hurricane Sandy hit New York Harbor and the Hudson River rose drastically, the city of Hoboken was prone to flooding in what many thought was an unpredictable pattern. However Blumberg, using his modeling capabilities to describe how water would move through the city, accurately predicting what areas of the city were prone to and safe from flooding. Blumberg and Washburn, an urban designer, are working together to apply Blumberg’s unique knowledge of water’s movement during a storm to urban design solutions.
Washburn, formerly chief urban designer at the NYC Department of City Planning, began his presentation by recounting the damage to his own home in Red Hook, Brooklyn, during Hurricane Sandy. He extrapolated from his personal anecdote to present an acute concern for the quality of life in coastline communities. His “Surf and Turf” model combined Blumberg’s fluid modeling with solid modeling of architectural spaces to design coastal communities that can withstand sea-level rises and storm surges. More than a concern with constructing buildings that will merely survive future storms, Washburn spoke passionately about strengthening waterfront neighborhoods, from community engagement to efficient buildings designed to protect the neighborhood.
Walter Meyer, ASLA, expanded the conversation of urban infrastructure to include a discussion of “living infrastructure.” Meyer, co-founder of New York City-based Local Office Landscape Architecture, focused on natural features that can be designed to provide a protective barrier for cities on the coast, such as dunes, wetlands, and positive drainage systems. He described designing coastal landscapes for a positive impact using features that not only help protect bustling urban areas just several feet beyond them, and become even stronger during storms, but also improve water quality. Local Office’s Rockaway East Resiliency Preserve project at New York’s Rockaway Beach restores and strengthens naturally occurring features that were damaged during Hurricane Sandy. The double-dune system protects against storm surges and provides an immediately effective natural defense to a vulnerable and economically disadvantaged urban area.
Anthony Ciorra, chief of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Coastal Restoration project, spoke about government-backed measures to rebuild after Sandy. He discussed the Army Corps of Engineers’ two-year North Atlantic Coast Comprehensive Study, which proposed solutions for hurricane damage to ecosystems, communities, and infrastructure in several states along the Atlantic Coast. The geographic scale and relatively larger budget of this project, compared to the others, highlighted the importance of government involvement in fostering coastal resiliency, in addition to the important work of academics and designers.
A brief panel discussion, moderated by Jonie Fu, AIA, drove home this point. The panelists talked about the most effective tools that are needed for widespread change as natural disasters threaten to make coastal regions more vulnerable than ever. Meyer noted that a union between academics, activists, and governments, local and national, each drawing upon their expertise, research, and resources, was necessary in order to strengthen coastal regions. Washburn echoed that sentiment, speaking to the trifecta crucial to enacting change: politics, money, and design. With those forces working in collaboration, communities weakened by Hurricane Sandy can rebuild with an eye towards effective resilience.
Alex Tell is a Public Information Assistant at the Center for Architecture.
Event: Looking Inland: Planning for Protection of At-Risk Coastal Cities
Location: Center for Architecture, 01.29.15
Speakers: Tomas Rossant, AIA, 2015 President, AIANY; Jennifer Nitzky, 2015 President, ASLA NY; Donna Walcavage, FASLA, LEED AP, Program Leader, AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee (DfRR); Dr. Alan Blumberg, Director, Stevens Institute of Technology’s Center for Maritime Systems; Anthony Ciorra, Chief, Coastal Restoration & Special Projects Branch, and Director, Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Sandy Recovery Program for the New York District; Walter Meyer, ASLA, Founding Partner, Local Office Landscape Architecture, and Adjunct Professor, Parsons The New School for Design; Alexandros Washburn, Assoc. AIA, Professor and Founding Director, Stevens Institute of Technology’s Center for Coastal Resiliency and Urban eXcellence (CRUX), and former Chief of Urban Design, NYC Department of City Planning; and Jonie Fu, AIA, Founding Partner, Fu Wilmers Design|Architecture + Urbanism (moderator)
Organizers: AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee (DfRR)
Co-sponsor: ASLA NY
Sponsors: Bartlett Tree Experts and McLaren Engineering Group