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Northeast US Works to Shield Itself From Next Big Storm


When Hurricane Sandy struck the Northeastern United States in 2012, it caused massive destruction along a densely populated corridor.

In the aftermath, the U.S. government pledged $920 million for a program to help plan for the next major storm. Rebuild by Design brings together international experts on water control and is turning to survivors for ideas.

The team is working on six regional projects to minimize damage from the next big storm.

"The first part that's getting funded is the Lower East Side and that’s East River Park," said Amy Chester, executive director of Rebuild by Design. "And they are looking at the park, not only as a park, but a burm. So a burm would protect the community but it will also create a space, create new space for recreation 365 days a year."

BIG U team

A project team called the BIG U developed the plan to protect the area.

Sandy flooded much of the Lower East Side, displacing many. The recovery is still under way.

Danish architect Bjarke Ingels described the project.

"Think of it as a string of pearls that constantly changes shape and form and character,' said Ingels. "And for each part of the Big U we’ve had intensive meetings with the local communities and they’ve told us what they wanted, which things they were missing, which things they were afraid of. Then we designed the flood barrier in a way that it also becomes pavilions for markets or different sort of public amenities."

Damaris Reyes, executive director of Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES), said the Big U design team listened to the community.

“They know that we were part of this broader coalition that was really representative of community folk and they came to us and asked to work with us," said Reyes.

The Big U project is the first link in a chain of fortifications that will run along 8 contiguous miles of the Manhattan shore line.

Global inspiration

Staten Island has plans for a fish hatchery, a beach and a harbor school. Hunt's point market in nearby Hoboken will be protected -- and wetlands in New York and New Jersey will be revitalized to lessen the impact of a storm surge like Sandy's.

Holly Licht, a government administrator on the project, says they looked all over the world for inspiration.

“It’s much more sophisticated in other parts of the world than it is here right now," Licht said. "So that element of people who have built real projects for resilience for other parts of the world and seeing what works and what hasn’t worked as well, we wanted to tap into that experience and that knowledge base.”

With the project plans complete, the hardest part may be yet to come. The Rebuild by Design team must now coordinate the plan with tens of federal agencies, and city and state governments.

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