Sustainable Design Ideas in Wake of Hurricane Sandy

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the Northeastern region of the United States, leaving many coastal areas decimated afterward. It was the deadliest storm to hit the US in 2012 and the second most expensive storm in US history. One of the hardest areas hit by Hurricane Sandy was New York City and its surrounding municipalities. The region received major flood damage, electrical outages, and a series of fires that leveled neighborhoods in Queens, and coastal areas of New Jersey. The devastation was a wakeup call to residents, politicians, and environmentalists in understanding climate change and the effect that it has on the magnitude of storms on coastal regions.

Planning A Rebuild

After the devastation, federal organizations such as the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) came together to form the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force and began to develop a strategy to reconstruct areas heavily affected by the storm. In June of 2013, Shaun Donovan, Secretary of HUD and Chair of the Task Force, launched the Rebuild By Design Initiative, a multilevel competition that would develop innovative designs to solve the physical damage of Hurricane Sandy and protect the northern coastal regions from storms to come. Out of 148 applicants, 10 teams were chosen to develop design proposals during the year-long competition. These teams consisted of architects, engineers, transportation planners, and community organizers.


OMA’s proposed Hoboken waterfront for the Rebuild By Design Competition. Image via OMA.

The Design Process

The design process began in August 2013 and involved heavy investigation, community outreach, and research. This was done after being led through a series of experiences from community residences affected by Hurricane Sandy and investigation into the infrastructure, ecology, and the role of water in the region. In addition, investigation was conducted on the social issues, funding availability, and the governmental structure of the municipalities located within the region. Once the research was complete, the ten teams began to refine their ideas into workable, fundable, and implementable design strategies. This involved meeting with several community stakeholders, business owners, nonprofits, residents, and others interested in the redevelopment of the region, post Hurricane Sandy. Throughout the region of New York and New Jersey, the ten teams facilitated more than 350 small group meetings and over 50 workshops. In total, 535 organizations and 180 government agencies participated. In addition, 141 cities and neighborhoods were involved between November 2013 and April of 2014.


Living, growing breakwaters build ecological resiliency. Image via Rebuild By Design.

Public Involvement

The final showcase occurred in April 2014 when the designers displayed the proposals to the public. The designs were shown to over one thousand attendees at receptions held in New York and New Jersey. Each team presented the specifics of their designs by elaborating on the implementation process and the cost benefits to the Rebuild By Design Jury. Once HUD selects the final winner, the wining design will be funded through the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR); a grant sponsored through HUD. Other public and private sector sources would also be allocated for the winning design to be implemented.

The Rebuild By Design Competition not only seeks to develop an effective strategy for the Northeastern region, but other coastal areas as well. The competition itself is a catalyst for better environmental planning ideas and possibilities for areas that are affected by potential storms like Hurricane Sandy and the gradual rise of sea levels due to climate change. Overall, Rebuild By Design creates a dialogue about how to address the need of coastal cities and municipalities in preparation for the major effects of rising sea levels and natural disasters.

Feature Image: Rebuild by Design Competition selects one design firm to implement the Hurricane Sandy Rebuild effort. Image via BIG Team, Rebuild By Design.

About The Author

Originally from the rural suburbs of Maryland, Jonathan Terrell Midgett has always had a curiosity for urban life. His exposure to city life in the areas of Richmond, Washington D.C and Baltimore, would later lead him to travel throughout his college career. Jonathan began studying at Virginia Commonwealth University and then later transferred to Towson University where he would gain his Bachelors of Science in Metropolitan Studies. While studying at Towson, Jonathan studied urban design in Denmark at the Danish Institute for Studies Abroad. Currently, Jonathan is a freelance photographer and is enrolled in the Graduate Architecture program at Morgan State. He continues to express his love for urbanism and sustainable design through academics, Research, and freelance photography.