GCC: Rebuilding with Resilience - Lessons from the Rebuild by Design Competition After Hurricane Sandy

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the Obama administration and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation, launched the innovative Rebuild by Design (RBD) competition, which sought to inspire affected communities to rebuild differently in ways that would enhance their physical, economic, social, and environmental resilience. Two years into implementation, these projects are providing important lessons about how officials at all levels of government can design and construct infrastructure projects that deliver multiple community benefits.

This Georgetown Climate Center report aims to capture and share lessons learned from the innovative process for developing the RBD proposals and the novel projects that were generated through this competition. The report describes how the projects are demonstrating approaches for rebuilding in ways that will make communities more resilient to future climate impacts and other environmental changes, as well as to social and economic stressors. It presents the lessons that can be learned about how these approaches can be institutionalized and replicated in other communities and regions across the nation. 

The report includes case studies detailing how the state and local government recipients of the funding ("the grantees" - the State of New York, State of New Jersey, and City of New York) are working to transition from the innovative conceptual proposals developed during the competition - to physical projects that can be implemented on the ground. The case studies explore each of the individual Rebuild by Design projects and how the grantees are navigating and overcoming legal and policy barriers as they work to implement these projects.  The projects described include:

The BIG U – $335 million was allocated to build a mix of structural and nature-based flood defenses and recreational amenities in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City, where large blocks of affordable and public housing were affected by the storm. 

Living Breakwaters – $60 million was allocated to implement a living breakwater project along the South Shore of Staten Island in Tottenville, New York. The proposal called for natural and nature-based flood protection—including oyster-seeded breakwaters and living shorelines—which together would reduce risks for communities along the southern tip of Staten Island and improve habitats and the environment, and the creation of regional resilience "hubs". 

Living with the Bay  – $125 million was allocated to implement a "buffered bay approach" including stream restoration and green infrastructure improvements along the Mill River in Nassau County on Long Island, New York. The proposal recommended different interventions for different parts of the watershed to protect against storm surge and coastal erosion at the oceanfront and in the bay, and to better manage stormwater and interior flooding in upland parts of the river system that drain into the bay.

Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge – $230 million was allocated for construction of a comprehensive water management strategy for reducing the city’s flood risk, including: engineered and landscape-based coastal defenses (or resist strategies) to reduce storm-surge flooding, and green and gray infrastructure approaches (delay, store, and discharge strategies) to manage stormwater runoff and excess rainwater during heavy rainfall events. 

New Meadowlands – $150 million was allocated to implement flood risk reduction measures in the towns of Little Ferry, Moonachie, Carlstadt, Teterboro, and a portion of South Hackensack in the Meadowlands region in New Jersey. To rebuild and protect the region from storm surges, the New Meadowlands proposal called for an integrated and linked system of berms (the “Meadowband”) with restored wetlands (the “Meadowpark”) to provide flood protection across the Meadowlands region.

Hunts Point Lifelines – $20 million was allocated to assist with continued study, analysis, planning, community engagement, design, and engineering for a pilot project considered in the RBD proposal in the Hunts Point region of the South Bronx in New York City, New York and the city contributed an additional $25 million. The proposal called for four integrated components, called “Lifelines,” to protect critical economic assets in the region (like the food distribution center); and transportation improvements to increase safety, connectivity, and environmental quality.

The report also includes a comparative summary chapter that captures lessons learned across all six projects and describes opportunities for scaling up and institutionalizing resilience across government programs and policies. This chapter explores the comparable resilience approaches that are being implemented in Sandy affected communities including nature-based coastal defenses to protect against storm surges, green infrastructure approaches for managing stormwater, and land-use approaches for requiring or encouraging private development to be constructed to better withstand flood impacts.

This summary chapter also presents the key lessons that officials at all levels of government are learning about how to design and construct infrastructure projects to enhance resilience and deliver multiple community benefits. The hope is that local, state, and federal decision-makers can use the lessons the grantees are learning to make reforms to laws, policies, and regulations, where needed, so that these types of innovative projects will have easier pathways forward in the future.

Key lessons analyzed in this report include:

  • Infrastructure projects should be designed to deliver multiple community benefits and to solve multiple community challenges.
  • Achieving comprehensive resilience will require policymakers to take a long-term approach that can be built out in phases over time as additional funds become available and as the impacts of climate change become more severe.
  • Implementing multi-benefit projects (like the RBD projects) requires officials to tap multiple different funding sources, and federal agencies can make this easier by aligning the administrative requirements of different federal sources, especially disaster recovery programs.
  • To quantify the benefits delivered by these innovative approaches, officials will need to develop or identify funding sources to pay for the long-term monitoring of these projects over time.
  • The RBD projects provide an opportunity for regulators at all levels of government to analyze and reform regulatory barriers to innovative resilience projects.
  • Enhancing community resilience will require unprecedented coordination across jurisdictions, agencies, and levels of government to ensure that resilience projects are implemented at the scale needed to effectively reduce risks.
  • To ensure comprehensive resilience, governments also need to institutionalize resilience approaches to encourage or require implementation by private parties and public agencies.

GCC and Rebuild by Design as prepared a short summary of key take-aways from the RBD experiment, Ten Key Lessons from the Rebuild by Design Competition After Hurricane Sandy.



Publication Date: November 15, 2016

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