HR&A Advisors, Inc. with Cooper, Robertson & Partners

HR&A Advisors, Inc. with Cooper, Robertson & Partners; Grimshaw Architects; Alamo Architects; Langan Engineering; W Architecture; Hargreaves Associates; and Urban Green Council

Enhancing Commercial Vibrancy and Resiliency in the Sandy-Affected Region

The Problem

Our team focused on the resiliency challenges of key commercial corridors across the region. We explored solutions that fully integrate design and engineering of buildings and infrastructure with programs, financing tools, and management strategies.

Commercial property, including local retail and services, forms the critical backbone of a community, supporting it in everyday conditions and serving as a lifeline for supplies, information, and recovery efforts during storm conditions, including Sandy. There are 100 million square feet of retail in the 100-year floodplain (based on best available FEMA mapping) across the Sandy-affected region, representing $34 billion in annual sales and over 175,000 jobs, or 20% of employment within this zone. Small businesses predominate in these waterfront communities; they have great vitality, but lack the density of upland neighborhoods, may depend on seasonal activity from tourists and beachgoers, and lack capacity for collective action. We found these businesses impacted deeply by Sandy, with 74% of businesses closed for an average of 7 days, and numerous stories of businesses unable to reopen, despite small business recovery support programs from federal, state and local governments.

These facts compel us to create innovative protection and recovery solutions that are financeable and implementable.


The Team

HR&A Advisors is a leading real estate, economic development and sustainability consulting firm that works with public and private sector clients around the world to deliver successful economic development strategies. We are joined by Cooper, Robertson & Partners, an architecture and urban design firm with global experience in waterfront and commercial district design.

We assembled and worked closely with a team of leading creative and technical experts, including:

W Architecture, landscape and public realm designers

Grimshaw Architects, innovative building designers

Alamo Architects, Texas-based architects with national experience in flood-sensitive architecture

Langan Engineering, building, civil and marine engineers

The Urban Green Council, green building strategists

Hargreaves Associates, a renowned open space design firm

Together, our firms have created and implemented sustainable resiliency solutions, supported planning responses in the wake of Sandy, and possess a deep understanding of how climate change is impacting communities across the Sandy-affected area. HR&A professionals and Cooper, Robertson & Partners played leading roles in New York City’s Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency, and we are managing recovery and reconstruction planning for communities participating in the New York Rising program.


Research and Solutions

Our regional analysis considered commercial corridors from Annapolis to Hyannis. We engaged local business owners and stakeholders in communities representing barrier islands, mainland coastal communities, and dense urban districts – typologies that represent common problems and potential solutions.

While there are design strategies for protection of commercial buildings and corridors, many, such as elevation, flood gates and sandbags, hinder ground floor shopping. Many strategies are also challenging to finance and implement, especially for struggling small businesses.

Our work led to a framework for design solutions and strategies for implementation:

Design Strategies

●      Protect ground floor commercial spaces from flooding using individual or block-level protection measures;

●     Shift commercial activity by supporting new, sometimes denser, development on higher ground; support new kinds of retail space that can be removed during a storm or designed to flood;

●     Elevate businesses, particularly as new development occurs, providing innovative measures for access; help businesses below flood elevations to raise their inventory and key equipment;

●     Connect coastal commercial corridors to adjacent, dense areas, increasing proximity to economically resilient neighborhoods and critical transportation.

Implementation Strategies

●      Manage implementation by providing technical assistance to individual businesses, and encourage collective action through merchants’ associations and other organizations;

●     Finance individual or collective resiliency measures for businesses that could otherwise not support the investment needed for improvements, potentially tying financing to collective action;

●     Incentivize development of new kinds of commercial spaces in critical areas to make communities more economically resilient;

●     Regulate codes and building standards to incorporate strategies for resiliency, including allowing floodable ground floors with removable programming and requiring emergency preparedness.

The design opportunities illustrated below represent potential projects to increase resiliency in these impacted communities, with the potential to apply solutions to many other commercial corridors and districts across the region.

View the team’s latest project updates on their finalist page.

Winning Proposal

Finalist Proposal

Other Proposals by HR&A Advisors, Inc. with Cooper, Robertson & Partners