The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development unveiled 10 finalists Thursday in a design competition that aims to bring more resilient infrastructure to areas affected by Superstorm Sandy. Among the finalists were several that would radically alter New York City.
The competition was run by a joint HUD-White House initiative called Rebuild by Design. With the finalists now agreed on, the next step will be to pick one or more winners—something that is expected by the end of the month—who will be eligible for federal cash, in the hope of bringing at least one of the massive projects to fruition.
“(This competition) is a model for how we can use public-private partnerships to spur innovation, protect our communities from the effects of climate change, and inspire action in cities across the world,” HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said in a statement.
Fully half of the 10 proposals, culled from about 150 entries from around the world, would significantly alter the landscape of the city.
A project dubbed the Big U, for example, aims to create a series of flood and stormwater barriers ringing the southern half of Manhattan. Those barriers would double as public spaces on the model of Battery Park City or former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal for a Seaport City. The Big U would wrap around the island from West 57th Street, run down to Battery Park, then back up the other side to roughly East 42nd Street.
An even broader plan calls for miles of sand dunes off the coast of New York and New Jersey called “blue dunes.” These essentially barrier islands would bear the brunt of any storm.
Three other proposals focused far more tightly on fixing specific weaknesses along the city’s shoreline. To protect the hard-hit South Shore of Staten Island, for example, one of the teams is proposing a “necklace of breakwaters” situated offshore.
Meanwhile, up in Hunts Point in the Bronx, one plan envisions not just eco-friendly flood barriers, but finding ways to get food from the city’s huge wholesale market there to the rest of the city via water.
The initiative was launched in the summer of 2013, and is also a product of President Barack Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, though it is funded through such private entities as the Rockefeller Foundation.
The winning proposals will be eligible for HUD’s community development block grants, although the exact size of the pot is unclear. Winners may also receive other public- and private-sector funding.
Even though some of the proposals focused on specific areas hard-hit by the 2012 storm, the idea behind the competition was to make those ideas replicable across the entire region, according to Henk Ovink, principal of Rebuild by Design.
“If you deliver a design for barrier islands off Long Island, a similar solution might make sense in New Jersey,” he said. “Then we can work with both communities to see if they are interested.”
Mr. Ovink hails from the Netherlands, where he oversaw questions of infrastructure and water management before being tapped by Mr. Donovan as a senior HUD adviser to run the competition.
Mr. Ovink believes that the competition process will serve as a standard of how to bring both international talent and ideas to local and regional questions of resiliency.
A version of this article appears in the March 7, 2014, print issue of Crain’s New York Business.