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June 1, 2016updated 20 Jul 2021 3:04pm

The US government is spending nearly $1bn on six projects to protect Greater New York from floods

By City Monitor Staff

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the north eastern United States. The storm plunged many of the region’s cities into darkness, left millions without electricity and several dozen dead.

Much of the worst damage done by the storm was the result of flooding, when waves three feet higher than had ever been recorded hit New York City. Among the many shocking images to come out of the disaster, perhaps the most striking were those of the city’s subway tunnels flooded with water.

And so, in the aftermath of the storm, the US Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) launched its “Rebuild by Design” competition. Its goal was to bring together architects, engineers, ecologists and communities to find ways of making the heavily populated coastal region less vulnerable to flooding.

In June 2014, HUD announced that six projects would be going ahead, and sharing $930m in government funding. Each seeks not only to improve the city’s flood protection, but to regenerate areas of its waterfront. And on Friday, Rebuild By Design is holding an event to celebrate its second anniversary and discuss how the projects are going.

So, what are these projects? Here’s a quick guide:


The Big U – Lower Manhattan

The Big U is named for the fact that it is, in fact, a Big U: a 10 mile “flood protection ribbon”, stretching from West 57th Street, round the tip of Manhattan, to East 42nd street.

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The initial stage of the project will be a 24 foot berm (that is, raised strip of land) at the East River Park on the Lower East side. A key part of the scheme is improving the physical connections between the new and improved waterfront and communities inland, previously cut off from the park by a raised highway. That road, FDR Drive, will also be fitted with deployable walls, which can be closed when the flood waters rise, protecting the homes and businesses behind it.

The project will also feature the “big bench” – a strip of raised land, doubling as street furniture. Cool. Here’s a video:

Proposers: BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) with One Architecture, Starr Whitehouse, James Lima Planning + Development, Project Projects, Green Shield Ecology, AEA Consulting, Level Agency for Infrastructure, Arcadis, and the Parsons School of Constructed Environments.


Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge – Hudson County, New Jersey

This one is meant to improve flood protection on the Jersey Shore, west of Manhattan, and, well, it does what it says on the tin. The main interventions involved are:

  • “hard infrastructure and soft landscape” to improve coastal defences (resist);
  • exploring ways of slowing the path of rainwater runoff (delay);

  • introducing green infrastructure to hold and direct water (store);
  • and introducing water pumps and alternative drainage routes (discharge).

The idea of the project is both to both reduce flooding itself, and limit its impact when it does happen.

Proposers: OMA with Royal HaskoningDHV; Balmori Associates; and HR&A Advisors.


Living with the Bay – Nassau County, Long Island

This project starts with the obviously-true-but-mildly-depressing comment that there are no “silver bullet” solutions on offer to the problem of flooding in a coastal city. Boo.


Instead, though, it promises a series of connected interventions. In no particular order, that means:

  • creating new marshes and dikes; 

  • improving rivers to store and dispose of flood waters, and turning the areas round them into new public space;

  • creating new marsh islands in the wetlands;
  • and adding flood defences-cum-public amenities to the Barrier Island.

Interboro / Apex / Bosch Slabbers / Deltares / H+N+S / Palmbout / IMG Rebel with Center for Urban Pedagogy, David Rusk, NJIT Infrastructure Planning Program, Project Projects, RFA Investments, TU Delft.


Living Breakwaters – Staten Island

This one’s fun, not least because part of it’s called the “Billion Oyster Project”.


It promises a “reef street” of new breakwaters – new habitats for finfish, shellfish, and lobsters, which will double as flood protection.


In addition, there’ll be a new network of “programmed waterhubs”, community centres where the locals can rent kayaks, hold meetings, or learn about the local aquatic habitat.

Proposers: SCAPE/LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE with Parsons Brinckerhoff, Dr. Philip Orton / Stevens Institute of Technology, Ocean & Coastal Consultants, SeArc Ecological Consulting, LOT-EK, MTWTF, The Harbor School and Paul Greenberg.


New Meadowlands – Bergen County, New Jersey

This one will combine transport links and ecology with a whole new development zone.


It’ll create new wetlands in the form of the Meadowpark – a big natural reserve open to the public, featuring a whole system or berms and marshes. Behind that will sit the “Meadowband” (yes), featuring streets, a new Bus Rapid Transit line (woohoo!), and series of public spaces.

The plan is to replace single storey warehouses with a new, more urban zone: basically, it’s regeneration and property development, with added flood protection.

Proposers: MIT CAU + ZUS + URBANISTEN with Deltares; 75B; and Volker Infra Design.


Hunts Point Lifelines – South Bronx

This area is the food storage hub for much of New York City, but also one of the poorest communities in the region. The Lifelines project will protect it from future flooding by turning the underused industrial riverfront into a “waterfront greenway”.


Once again, flood protection combined with new public amenities is the order of the day. The centrepiece of the project is a new open air market, to make more of the district’s role as the city’s bread basket and boost the local economy.

There’ll also be a “a Levee Lab of designed ecologies and applied material research”. So, there you go.

Proposers: PennDesign / OLIN with HR&A Advisors, eDesign Dynamics, Level Infrastructure, Barretto Bay Strategies, McLaren Engineering Group, Philip Habib & Associates, Buro Happold.

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All images courtesy of RebuildByDesign.org and the project teams.

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