A plan hatched by a world-renowned Dutch design firm to protect Hoboken from another Hurricane Sandy-type event has qualified for the next round of a contest administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The contest will dispense nearly $10 billion in funding for such projects around the Tri-State area, the agency announced recently.
The plan, entitled “Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge: A Comprehensive Strategy for Hoboken,” was one of 10 projects that was chosen to advance to the next stage of HUD’s Rebuild by Design competition. The contest was created by President Barack Obama in Sandy’s aftermath in order to find the most innovative and collaborative ideas for increasing storm resiliency on the eastern seaboard.
The plan for Hoboken, one of four submitted to the contest by the Rotterdam, Netherlands-based firm OMA, was selected out of 148 submissions from 15 countries around the world. OMA’s design was based on observations made during a trip to Hoboken and was inspired the “comprehensive” plan that Mayor Dawn Zimmer has argued for since the storm hit last October.
“The contest is about setting a standard for new innovation and a tone for the future.” – Henk Ovink
Henk Ovink, the Dutch Director-General of Spatial Planning and Water Affairs who is acting as a special advisor to HUD secretary Shaun Donovan, said on Monday that he thought OMA’s proposal for Hoboken was particularly promising because it focuses on Hoboken’s weaknesses and turns them into strengths.
“OMA focused on a broad set of issues came up with a whole new way to talking about disasters,” he said. “They looked at exactly what puts Hoboken in danger, the flooding, and began to think about the ways in which that floodwater could be used as a benefit to the city. It’s a whole new way of thinking about disasters.”
Four layers of protection
OMA’s plan for Hoboken suggests that protecting the city from a future storm surge could be achieved in ways that also benefit the everyday lives of Hoboken residents. The designers have suggested an expansion of Pier A Park in an effort to absorb more rainwater and to build a “green belt” around the city – half park, half train tracks – that would act as a natural barrier.
The firm’s design is meant to combat flooding from a storm surge like Hurricane Sandy as well as flooding resulting from rainstorms during high tide. The plan is reminiscent of its title – it “deploys both hard infrastructure and soft landscape for coastal defense (resist); recommends policies to enable the urban fabric to slow down water (delay); and includes a green circuit to trap water (store) and water pumps to support drainage (discharge),” according to the Rebuild by Design website.
The project also plays into Zimmer’s willingness to implement new flood-proof construction laws and green infrastructure incentives. OMA said their plan for the city “capitalizes on a combination of political, ecological and economic factors.” and Zimmer said she thought her City Council slate’s victory in the Nov. 5 election could serve to streamline the implementation of OMA’s plan, should it win the contest.
“I think now that I have a council willing to work on these issues, we can pass some of the ordinances that would complement OMA’s designs,” she said.
HUD has not said how it plans to distribute the available funds once they decide on the contest winners – the money could be designated for one project or several – but with the next step of the competition hedging on gathering local support for the plan, Zimmer said that she thinks OMA stands a good chance.
“In one square mile we’ve got lots of stakeholders,” she said. “In addition to members of the community, we can protect infrastructure belonging to PSE&G, New Jersey Transit, Stevens Institute of Technology, and I think HUD will see the value of that.”
In addition to courting the support of local stakeholders, the teams are also in the process of hammering out the financial feasibility of their proposals. In March, the finalists will present their proposals before a HUD panel. Inevitably, Ovink said, it will be the teams that have pushed the boundaries furthest that prevail.
“The contest is about setting a standard for new innovation and a tone for the future,” he said. “Sometimes so many people are involved with projects like this, you end up having to compromise on something that’s really not as imaginative as you’d like. With this, we’re pushing people to reach for the next level and not the current.”
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org