Turning the tide on flood protection
Hurricane Sandy demonstrated that New York’s metropolitan area is insufficiently equipped to deal with such natural events. The New Meadowlands project aims to change this. Integrating specific protective measures in the natural environment, the project also targets the area’s growth potential.
In many parts of the world, extreme weather events are becoming more frequent due to climate change. Storms and torrential rain often give rise to flooding, and this can cause considerable damage, particularly in densely populated areas close to the coasts. The need for advanced flood protection strategies is therefore becoming more and more acute. In the USA, the Government-initiated Rebuild by Design competition communicates an impression of the integrated approaches of today and tomorrow. The USA is a storm-hardened nation. No other country is exposed to a similar abundance of extreme weather scenarios, be they blizzards, hurricanes, tornados, floods and even extreme droughts. In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the American East Coast with wind speeds of 150 km/h. With damage amounting to some 50 billion US dollars, it was the second-costliest natural disaster in the history of the USA, with dozens of people losing their lives and many more, if only temporarily, losing their homes. The storm surge caused by Superstorm Sandy, with waves up to 7 meters high, caused serious flooding in New York’s metropolitan area. For the first time in a century, the subway – the city’s main artery – was inundated. Devastation in all five boroughs and in the neighboring districts of New Jersey revealed the city’s vulnerability.
Rebuilding is not only enormously expensive, but often accompanied by a feeling of uncertainty. Will the repaired building withstand the next storm better? For, in many cases, short-term remedies are given preference over long-term safeguards. To change this and go beyond immediate damage restitution, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Develop-ment (HUD) launched the Rebuild by Design competition in June 2013. Its purpose is to seize the opportunity posed by reconstruction not merely to renovate damaged structures, but to replace them with innovative, design-driven infrastructure solutions. New answers have to be found to existing and future climate-related challenges. The growing frequency of extreme weather phenomena is intensifying the demands on coastal protection, and simply raising dikes and berms no longer does justice to today’s needs, particularly in urban areas. Conscious of this challenge and the possibility of going new ways, some 150 international project teams of architects, designers and urban planners submitted proposals. As one of six winning projects, New Meadowlands is entering implementation in the fall of 2014.
This project addresses a wide spectrum of risks while providing civic amenities and creating opportunities for new redevelopment.
The team behind the project consists of experts of the Center for Advanced Urbanism belonging to the MIT, and of Dutch urban planners and architects ZUS and De Urbanisten. Together they chose an area under enhanced threat of flooding which includes fourteen municipalities and covers about 30 square miles on a north-south axis in the New Jersey /New York metropolitan region. This low-lying land along the Hackensack River was originally dominated by wetlands, but changes in land use and building strategies in decades past have significantly diminished its resilience. The aim is not only to protect people, industry and infrastructure here better from flooding and its effects, but also to give consideration to eco-logical and economic factors and future growth. On completion of all measures, the project will respond to the different flooding scenarios faced by the area. A system of berms of different heights provides reliable protection from storm surges and thus facilitates the area’s long-term development. At the same time, large fresh-water basins within this protected zone are capable of collecting considerable quantities of storm water runoff, thus taking the strain off the sewer system in an emergency. The marshland with its natural flooding zones is the third and integral element of the strategy.
The future face of the New Meadowlands will feature two key elements, the Meadowpark and the Meadowband. The former is a wildlife refuge offering controlled access to the public, among other things via a network of cycle paths, as well as various recreational and leisure opportunities. The latter is an infrastructure system that makes use of the outer berm to advance mobility within the area. At certain points and according to local conditions, roads, a bus route and public recreation zones will be created on the berms and along their slopes. “By integrating transportation, ecology and development, the project transforms the Meadowlands basin,” says U.S. HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, who is highly impressed by the proposal. “This project addresses a wide spectrum of risks while providing civic amenities and creating opportunities for new redevelopment.” Forward-looking flood strategies have to offer more than mere barriers. They should not only protect inhabited areas, but also enrich them at the same time.
Restoring resilience to a valuable yet vulnerable area