Workshop on Coastal Communities,Tools for Resilient Reconstruction

Workshop on Coastal Communities,Tools for Resilient Reconstruction

  • by Architecture for Humanity
  • May 30, 2014
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The Workshop on Coastal Communities, Tools for Resilient Reconstruction held by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) on March 31, was the second of three gatherings dedicated to sharing experiences in post-Sandy recovery efforts across the affected region to build back better. This event brought together stakeholders from four states (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island) and multiple organizations that are working with coastal communities through all stages of planning, disaster mitigation and reconstruction.

The AIA was represented by New York City, New York State, Rhode Island and New Jersey components, all of which stressed the importance of working together to battle climate change. These areas are facing similar post-disaster issues from Hurricane Sandy, and can learn from one another while moving forward and preparing for the future.

An “action-oriented attitude” was suggested by Henk Ovink, the principal of Rebuild by Design, in order to address the larger problems of our urban environments. Rebuild by Design advocates for design-driven strategies to change the way we make decisions and policies. Sandy has surfaced the region’s vulnerabilities, and now is the time to unite communities and initiate local leadership to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Don Watson of Connecticut Regional Planning brought up one idea for community resilience. It discussed how we could all be first responders through Communities Planning for Resilience (CPR). However, a major hurdle in first response is liability insurance. A training course for local first responders was created at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) but is still waiting for their bill to be signed, according to Jack Purvis of AIA New Jersey. A more feasible community response could use trained professionals as second responders, similar to the Rhode Island AIA. They hold training seminars a couple times a year and are linked to state emergency organizations as well as provide a basis for FEMA’s evaluation and funding process and are also pushing for liability insurance for first and second responders.

Another aim of the workshop was to discuss changes in the building code and how regulations across the region can integrate resiliency into the everyday. The International Code Council (ICC) exists to align the NYC and NYS building codes, but even the building departments within Long Island have various requirements and standards that make it difficult to implement any large-scale or region wide planning proposals. Similarly, the efforts of the Army Corps of Engineers are relocating coastal areas through a buyout program but cannot protect everywhere, such as parkland along the South shore of Long Island.

While the workshop did identify cases of scattered efforts, it also explored good practices, such as updating the flood plain regulations to fill in the gaps that Sandy has pointed out and can be used as a primary tool for mitigating future disaster. The city of Long Beach has waived height regulations to allow residents to elevate their homes, while Freeport is forcing the designed flood elevation to be two feet higher than surrounding towns. However Henk Ovink did raised a major concern about the area’s flood plains, as they currently host 80% of fuel supplies and 75% of electrical. This is obviously not a resilient strategy and insurance companies are urging them to move above the base flood elevation, but it is these issues that must be addressed in order to become more resilient and be able to withstand a future Sandy.

Among good practices in the rebuilding process, Architecture for Humanity has worked with community partners to launch a program that helps Sandy-affected communities with free consultations. Regional Program Manager, Brian Baer presented on our Sandy program focusing specifically on the Sandy Design Help Desk, held in Red Hook and the Rockaways. This program provided homeowners with technical assistance, design solutions and information on recovery programs to help build community resiliency. Learn more about the program here.

One of the most important ideas to come forth was that of Dan Horn who suggested we create a database of resilient ideas so that we can communicate our efforts together. All parties agreed that in order to combat climate change we must work together and communicate between scale and region to implement effective, resilient planning.

In conclusion, the workshop was a good way to consolidate rebuilding schemes to focus on resilience. There are many ways we are addressing this to create a holistic recovery plan and sustainable future, from response teams and building codes to communication schemes and flood plain planning. There is still a lot of work to be done but the next workshop will cover further topics on infrastructure and transportation. To keep up to date with our unified recovery efforts, the final workshop on regional resiliency will be on July 11, 2014 in Florham Park New Jersey


(Article by Tara Whelan. Photos by Gail Gambarini and Dan Chibarro)