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Sandy Aftermath Highlights Need For Storm Surge Protection Design

CCA LiveE | Thursday December 27th, 2012 | 0 Comments
Image Credit: Architecture Research Office and dlandstudio

Architecture Research Office and dlandstudio’s New Urban Ground transforms Lower Manhattan with an infrastructural ecology

This is part of a series of articles by MBA students at California College of the Arts dMBA program. Follow along here.

By Nick Lawrence

The devastation left in hurricane Sandy’s wake is incalculable. From the tragic loss of life, homes being swept off their foundations, to the loss of family heirlooms that have survived generations, it is nearly impossible to place a monetary value on any aspect of it. For several years, a storm such as Sandy has not seemed completely unfeasible. Heedless amounts of greenhouse gas emissions are significantly altering the composition of the earth’s atmosphere and aren’t being reduced quickly enough to address the challenges associated with climate change. Sandy caused sea levels to rise 13 feet in some areas and climate scientists project sea levels will rise the same amount by 2200. Collective action must be taken to prevent these rising currents.

The latest projections from government agencies estimate the damage in the United States is in the excess of $60 billion, a majority of that is attributed to the destruction and disruption of business to the coastal communities in the tri-state area. To achieve some perspective, $30 billion is the budget for the state of New Jersey for the fiscal year 2013. $15 billion was the estimated cost of a sustainable storm surge control system discussed in 2009 at a seminar hosted at the Polytechnic Institute at New York University.  In 2010, The Museum of Modern Art and P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center collaborated on a prescient project, Rising Currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront, to exhibit designs that addressed the urgent issue of rising sea levels as a result of global climate change. Between the convening of the seminar and the design installation, a hurricane of this magnitude was almost a prophecy and highlighted that a super storm such as Sandy was not far off from being a harsh reality for a densely populated region with miles of vulnerable coastline and complex embedded infrastructure.

Museums and research institutions play an integral role in disseminating valuable information to the public. They serve an important purpose to convey culturally and socially relevant information with the hope that the patron will carry on the discourse in their daily interactions. These projects weren’t for the sole purpose of posterity, in order to address our current needs the landscape must be transformed now. In many cases, it is imperative that these sensitive and pressing issues reach the desks of individuals in public policy and urban design. The “shovel ready projects” to build infrastructure that could prevent storm surge should have been slated to break ground four years ago with the veritable mountain of empirical evidence they had then. Areas such as the Rockaways are faced with the plight of having to completely rebuild while knowing they are still vulnerable to rising sea levels and increasing volatile weather patterns as the result of a warming planet. Safeguarding the coastlines through efficient engineering and creative architectural solutions is compulsory and should not be delayed any longer.

Image credit: Marit Larson

A salt marsh recently restored in Bronx with waterfowl barrier (string and stakes), undisturbed by Hurricane Sandy’s destructive force

The 2010 MoMA exhibition explored the importance of re-envisioning New York and New Jersey’s coastlines and outfitting them with “soft adaptable solutions that are sympathetic to the needs of a sound ecology.” The multiple disciplinary teams at MoMA were pointing to the importance of expanding the footprint of tidal wetlands along the shoreline. Marit Larson, an expert on wetland restoration, indicates that marshes can be created by “excavating thousands of yards of landfill and waste that was placed on top of them, or by adding clean dredged sand onto former wetlands to achieve a sustainable elevation.”

Reconstructed wetlands and salt marshes have proven to be undisturbed and structurally sound in response to violent storms in the past. We have reached a point of urgency when we need to transcend the technical and regulatory impediments and make storm surge protection a scalable and sustainable solution. These soft design practices are meant to insulate vulnerable communities and mitigate the risk of rapidly rising sea levels. The threat of another catastrophic event such as Sandy is imminent. In conjunction with the re-building efforts, New York and its surrounding communities will need to equip their coastlines with designs that will continue to preserve and secure the richness of a region that has thrived for so long.

[image credit: Architecture Research Office and dlandstudio]

[image credit: Marit Larson]


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