LIVING WITH THE CREEK: OPTIONS FOR MONMOUTH COUNTY WATERSHEDS

Interboro Team
New Jersey

Despite the encroachment of single-family houses, shopping centers, and the occasional industrial parcel, the creeks that feed the Raritan Bay are crucial to Monmouth County’s watershed, channeling stormwater from the upland communities of Hazlet, Middleton, and Holmdel through the low-lying communities of Keansburg, Union Beach, and Keyport, and finally into the Raritan Bay.

The creeks know no political boundaries, but the people who live in the communities surrounding them certainly do. Despite sharing watershed, the abovementioned communities are separate municipalities, which, in a “home rule” state like New Jersey, means that each town has the right to basically plan and provide services solely in its own self-interest. This has produced uneven outcomes. When it comes to the environment, for example, upland towns have little incentive to control their stormwater, since the negative effects of stormwater runoff (for example, flooding) are experienced primarily by their lowland neighbors.

All of the creek communities mentioned above are predominantly white, predominantly single-family residential suburbs, but when it comes to demographics, the similarities pretty much end there. By point of comparison, consider the low-lying community of Keansburg and the upland community of Hazlet. Keansburg’s median family income is about half Hazlet’s; when the New Jersey Department of Education issued its annual School Report Card, measuring school environment, student performance, staff, district finances and other indicators, it awarded Keansburg a “D” and Hazlet an “A;” and according to the municipal opportunity index, which measures job opportunity, school opportunity, municipal services quality, and municipal socioeconomic status, Keansburg is a “minimum-opportunity” place, whereas Hazlet is a “high-opportunity” place.

The differences between these two towns came into focus during and immediately after Hurricane Sandy. Not surprisingly, the low-lying, low-income, low-opportunity areas fared the worst. In part because of flooding from its upland neighbors, 1,335 homes were reportedly damaged in low-lying Keansburg, compared to 46 in upland Hazlet.

On the other hand, Sandy brought out the best in people: stories of cooperation and sympathy across municipal lines. For example Hazlet raised over $100,000 for their lowland neighbor.

Is there a way to encourage cooperation apart from emergencies?

For this design opportunity, we propose to create a connection between the low-lying, low-opportunity towns of Keansburg, Union Beach, and Keyport, and the high and dry, high and maximum-opportunity towns of Hazlet, Middleton, and Holmdel by playing up the natural connections (i.e. the creeks) that already exist here, and leveraging them to create social connections.

More specifically, we propose to do the following:

●      transform the creek bed into a recreational amenity by widening the creek beds, cleaning and greening them, and installing park infrastructure

●      transform Route 35 into a green “gutter” that will detain rainwater and simultaneously create a greener, more attractive environment along the corridor that could serve as a vital new public space for the region

●      create an incentive-based program in which people occupying land in a creek bed can trade their parcel for one outside the creek bed

●      take advantage of outstanding affordable housing obligations in Hazlet, Middleton, and Holmdel by building affordable housing units in superfluous parking lots near public transportation stops

●      build a levee around the Union Beach Sewer Plant that protects nearby homes and also serves as a recreational amenity

Download the boards presented by Interboro Team in 2013.

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