Dozens of Ideas Pitched to Protect New York, New Jersey Coastlines

Ten teams of global experts participating in a federally funded design competition unveiled 41 projects Monday they said could help protect the New York and New Jersey coastlines from the type of flooding seen a year ago during Sandy.

The ideas, exhibited at a forum at New York University, range from the simple and seemingly common sense, to imaginative proposals that would dramatically remake the seaside for an age of rising sea levels.

One team, led by the Bjarke Ingels Group, an architectural firm based in Denmark, proposed an 8-mile-long system of levees and berms that would protect low-lying areas of Manhattan, but would be largely hidden inside parks and public art.

Another suggested systems of artificial reefs, restored marshland and tidal flats that would take the punch out of surf hitting exposed coast and prevent big floods from pushing deep into bays and tidal estuaries.

"These are the most protective landscapes that we have," said Kate Orff, a partner at SCAPE, a landscape architecture studio. She noted that many of those natural barriers once protected New York harbor, but were erased long ago by dredging and waterfront development.

Each of the final projects that will come out of the Rebuild by Design competition are intended to have a real-world application, and some might be implemented through HUD disaster recovery grants, but the larger goal is to have design solutions that could be imitated or replicated anywhere along the coast, or at least inspire similar projects.

Many of the ideas were aimed at protecting the coast as it looks now, but some envisioned a future predicted by many climate scientists, where a sea swollen by the planet's melting ice caps has swallowed much of the current shoreline.

A group of designers called the Unabridged Coastal Collective had a plan looking ahead to the year 2080 on the Jersey shore. It suggested that, by then, people would get to what remained of Long Beach Island by water taxi, rather than road, and visit amusement parks that would sit on barges, rather than piers.

Other ideas included a system of channels that would help divert flood water surging up from Long Island's bays and a huge water collection basin that could absorb floodwaters on Manhattan's low-lying Lower East Side.

In the coming weeks the ideas will be whittled down to just 10 by U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, who led President Obama's Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force.

Henk Ovink, co-chairman of the jury that will be helping Donovan make the selections, told an audience of planners, architects and engineers the goal is to turn the broad concepts unveiled Monday into practical projects that could get federal funding.

"Although teams came up with ideas, they are not really solutions," Ovink said.

Working with the Rockefeller Foundation, the design teams spent several months doing research and touring storm-damaged areas while they prepared their projects. More than 140 teams originally entered the competition, but that number was previously slimmed to the current finalists.

Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin said in a statement that the competition is part of an effort to "revolutionize" how coastal communities are planned.

"We're eager to see which ideas move into the design phase, and hope that they all inspire new ways of thinking around planning and development," she said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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