Will Rebuild be Realized?

Will Rebuild be Realized?

Courtesy BIG/Starr Whitehouse

In early June, New York City and State’s top political brass joined the then-secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Shaun Donovan, to announce the winners of Rebuild By Design, the department’s design competition to create resilient communities along the East Coast.

The location of the event at the Jacob Riis Houses on Manhattan’s Lower East Side was a major tip-off that BIG and Starr Whitehouse’s proposal to wrap Lower Manhattan with a landscaped berm and parkland would be getting at least some of the pie. New York City was awarded $335 million to implement part of that plan, known as the BIG U, along the Lower East Side; it also received $20 million for PennDesign/OLIN’s resiliency planning study of Hunts Point in the South Bronx. And New York State received $60 million for SCAPE’s plan to protect Staten Island’s South Shore with “living breakwaters” made of oysters and $125 million for Interboro’s resiliency plan for Nassau County.

PennDesign/OLIN’s plan for the South Bronx.

Later that day, Rebuild officials appeared in New Jersey to announce funds for two more winning proposals: $150 million for MIT’s “New Meadowlands” park in New Jersey and $230 million for OMA’s comprehensive flood protection system for Hoboken.

But before any of these projects can break ground, the approved federal funds must be officially granted to the specific localities that will oversee them. “It is a very specific type of funding,” said Amy Chester, the director of Rebuild By Design. “It is Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds, and that funding goes through a government process.” That process is expected to start this fall when HUD publishes a notice in its registry that the funds are available. After that occurs, the grantees must create action plans, which include public input, and detail how the funds will be spent. Once those plans are approved by HUD—likely some time this winter—the money will be available to spend.

Living Breakwaters by SCAPE.
Courtesy scape

As this process plays-out, the proposals will certainly change as they move from design to development and from architects to bureaucrats. The winning New York City teams understand this but are optimistic about how their visions will be realized.

“We have had nine months through the Rebuild by Design competition to create a vision,” said Kai-Uwe Bergmann of BIG. “The next steps will be a lot of fine tuning and a lot of looking at the very detailed specifics of the sites, sections, and streetscapes, which will all have an effect on the final design.” This sentiment was echoed by OLIN’s Richard Roark who said he does not expect the city’s grant to include everything originally proposed during the competition. Gena Wirth of SCAPE similarly expects things to change, but said she is “highly optimistic” that her firm will be involved with the process as it moves forward given its expertise in the field.

This was all reinforced by Daniel Zarrilli, the director of New York City’s Office of Recovery & Resiliency, who told AN he has “every expectation” that the Rebuild teams will be involved in executing their plans. Zarrilli added that the city is “absolutely committed” to seeing these plans to fruition, but he is realistic. “We need to make sure we can actually afford the designs that have been developed to-date,” he explained. “So we have some work to do on our end to understand what level of scope can be afforded with the dollars that have been awarded.”