Hofstra Pulse Magazine

New York City Architects Talk Rebuilding Plans After Hurricane Sandy

Sandy victims are in the eye of the storm of the climate change debate.

By Carson Olivares

Superstorm Storm Surge Barrier

Design of possible solution for the sea level rise in the New York Harbor.
Photo Credit: Sherwood Design Engineers

In the heart of the West Village, adjacent to Washington Square Park, on a rainy, winter night a summit of some of the most progressive, valuable architects our generation has gathers. And only now, in our post-Sandy reality are we beginning to realize just how dependent we are on them.

The crowd lowly chatters to their sides, munching on the complementary wine, fruit and cheese. Two floors below street level in an open, mod white room punched up by bright graphic designs of what our landscape may one day look like, testaments to the intelligence that passes through.

“Do we protect, do we retreat, do we elevate?” begins Signe Nielsen, age withheld, president of the Public Design Commission of the City of New York.

With a figure of a triangle and square house next to a blue body of water the panel begins explaining the overly complex issue in the simplest of terms. The seawater is rising. It has risen one foot in the past 100 years and will rise another foot in the next hundred at least.

“New York City is predicted to experience a six and a half foot rise. And there is nothing we can do,” explains Jason Loiselle, 38, senior associate for Sherwood Design Engineers in New York, who lead the efforts for flood management and water reuse design for the Hudson Yards East Development.

“If we could build a wall blocking off half the Atlantic Ocean, then the other half will only get bigger,” said Loiselle.

When New York and the Northeast experienced Sandy late last October, the category one hurricane, a long duration of time and a high tide was a formula for destruction. But Hurricane Sandy, known as the “50 year storm” seems minor in the grand scheme of what we could face one day. Experts are calling that the “100 year storm.”

“Sandy was something that should happen every 50 years so there is something much worse that should happen every 100 years,” explained Loiselle.

“There is one fundamental fact: If you’re low-lying, you’re low-lying. If you weren’t screwed already, you’re going to be screwed in the future,” said Nielsen.

Hands shoot up, a question from the audience.

“What can we do if a reater category hits New York? How can we prepare?”

There is a silence over the panel.

“Move,” said Nielsen and the room trails with laughter.

NYC’s finest architects meet in our post-Sandy reality. Photo Credit: Carson Olivares

NYC’s finest architects meet in our post-Sandy reality.
Photo Credit: Carson Olivares

But there is promise in the rebuilding plans that are in the works. In Rockaway Beach, proposals include a new boardwalk made of reclaimed wood and walkways, new Pavilions and also the most radical change for the Rockaways, new lifeguard stations which stand 12-feet above the sand and are in compliance with FEMA’s 500-year flood plan. They are set to open at the start of the summer beach season. Other sustainable options are various barriers, such as dunes and new technologies, and landscaping, such as wetlands, according to the panel.

The proposals are met with community-wide debate, though.

“There is very strong social feeling that this is their community and they don’t want someone else dictating what it can be,” said Nielsen.

Hurricane Sandy forced New Yorkers to examine an old issue. The conversation of rising sea level in New York City is nothing new. In October 2010, the Museum of Modern Art showcased an exhibit, “Rising Currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront.” The installation included infrastructure proposals for this exact scenario that we are forced to face today.

But for many hurricane victims still tracking down a contractor to install the drywall on their dilapidated house, the rising sea level may feel out of their span of control. As they sift through old photographs and insurance claims, they are unquestionably caught in the eye of the storm in the climate change debate circling New York.

“As we move on, we have to decide if we are going to say, ‘you can’t move here. It was a mistake in the first place.’ That takes a political will that I don’t know if anybody has and I don’t know if I can look somebody in the eye and say that, even though I truly believe it as an environmentalist,” said Nielsen.

Graph illustrating heights of storm surge water. Photo Credit: Sherwood Design Engineers

Graph illustrating heights of storm surge water.
Photo Credit: Sherwood Design Engineers

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