Designing with Nature for the Future of the Mid-Atlantic Coast


On a regional scale, there is seemingly very little protecting coastal New Jersey from the Atlantic Ocean. As Hurricane Sandy wrought havoc on coastal communities of the Jersey Shore, regional issues of insurance, public and private access, geo-engineering and displacement have been woven into the discussion of rebuilding. A paradigm shift in coastal planning is essential at the regional level. A cost-benefit analysis reveals the potential for large scale storm mitigation measures to play a significant role in coastal management. The design opportunity here is in the governance, insurance, and communications mechanisms that would aid in the resiliency of this vulnerable territory.


Water does not respect political boundaries. It crosses state lines without asking permission. A regional approach to climate change and sea-level rise is critical to the safety and well-being of local communities. Using comprehensive models that share information about social and environmental risks and benefits, it might be possible to reduce the impact of storms, and simultaneously restore ecological strata lost over the last century. A new framework for systems of insurance, governance and coastal management using pooled resources and implemented at a large scale can create a more resilient society.


Although the Port Authority is often mentioned (and sometimes maligned) there are other examples of governmental and quasi-governmental arrangements between states to plan, design and implement large scale projects or processes. A regional governing body to address coastal management should have very clear and relatively narrow objectives, with appointed representatives from each of the affected regions. With bonding authority and assessment capabilities, regional financing structures can be created and a system of governance can cross political boundaries.


Resiliency starts with people. Physical and financial protections aside, a consistent theme discovered through a series of interviews with Sandy survivors was that the most resilient strategies were defined by human relationships.  As interviewees poured over their experiences, often recalling the height of the storm surge and flood leves, it became evident that a new environmental awareness was evolving. No longer was Superstorm Sandy considered a “freak-storm,” but rather an event whose probability is likely to increase.


Traces of what has come before give people important clues to understanding where they are and what they can do. Incorporating digital technology and physical marks, signage and wayfinding builds up a layered system that communicates levels of risk and conveys abstract information in a tangible form. Different types of information help people learn from what happened, understand the landscape underfoot, make a plan, and memorialize meaningful events. This visual record is also educational, demonstrating how to measure one’s position relative to storm events and how to live with the water.

Download the boards presented by WXY/WEST 8 in 2013.

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Project Updates


January 3, 2014 2:00 pm
from Francesca Rheannon

The graphic depicting how plantings and beach engineering could support wildlife populations, while protecting human residents, is lovely. But have you thought of the problem of how warming waters and ocean acidification will deplete wildlife populations that are unable to tolerate the changed environment?


February 13, 2014 10:45 am
from Daniel Horn

The existing barrier islands of Long Island and New Jersey protected the mainlands from heavy wave action. While the idea, in theory, will work, what determines the size of each island? What are the islands made of? Dredging existing canals, inlets and in the open ocean is not realistic. This would damage wildlife and makes the seabed more suceptible to fast erosion during a Hurricane or Off-shore storm system. The big problem with this is materials. It cannot be aggregate or soil or sand. It would also cost billions to construct. Also, a solution like this only mitigates some wave action.


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