The PennDesign/OLIN team combines the strength of PennDesign in cross-disciplinary research, design and communication with the strength of OLIN in landscape architecture and urban design and construction, supported by a core team of high-capacity, strategic design practices: McLaren Engineering Group for marine and flood protection engineering, Barretto Bay Strategies for local engagement and consultation, HR&A Advisors for market and benefit / cost analysis, eDesign Dynamics for hydrology and ecosystems, Level Infrastructure for energy and engineering strategy, and benefit / cost analysis, Philip Habib & Associates for civil engineering, and Buro Happold for engineering. The team is co-led by Ellen Neises (PennDesign) and Richard Roark (OLIN), and supported by advisors Lucinda Sanders, John Landis, and Harris Steinberg.
REBUILDING WATER CULTURE | The PennDesign / OLIN team aims to preserve and adapt waterfront culture and economy in the northeast region of the United States by supporting community self-determination and the potential to use innovative design strategies to overcome the artificial boundaries of historical jurisdictional borders.
What a resilient region needs is:
● People, land, infrastructure, and economies that can adapt to rising water and uncertainty
● Protection for life, assets and water-respecting growth
● Options for scales of action between broad and long-term Army Corps projects and uncoordinated action of individual property owners without tools to produce good outcomes.
● Strategies to avert disinvestment and further stratification of demographic groups as a result of changes to the National Flood Insurance Program
Our approach sees each household, each business and every job as an asset and a piece of civic infrastructure. We seek to pair physical options with the capacity of social and community networks to embrace incentives, policy and financing to stimulate action.
ONE COMMUNITY AT A TIME | In this region and time, we see the community as the most powerful agent of change in shaping durable alliances to respond to rising water. Community is the level at which the specifics of locality can be defined and a common purpose can be articulated to stimulate action on the part of individual property owners, community leaders and government for collective provision of infrastructure and investment. And the community is where integrated solutions that layer protections, homes, social fabric, infrastructure, living systems and economy are most likely to be demonstrated in the near term. This is true, in part, because Federal, State and City plans recognize both the lack, and the importance, of community self-determination in driving consensus around long-term investments and shifts in waterfront building culture.
REDUCING UNCERTAINTY | Most communities cannot rely on delivery of big infrastructure projects in the time frame in which they need them. Large-scale solutions that could protect many communities are difficult to implement because of federal funding constraints, competing regional priorities and the time it will take to change regulations. Individual property owners face tremendous uncertainty about their options and are spending money to repair and flood-proof their homes, only to see the value of their homes and neighborhoods decline. Loss of industry and jobs in flood-prone areas also threaten resilience.
PLACES WHERE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL CAPITAL ARE AT RISK | Rising sea levels and storms threaten to undermine formation of social and economic capital in communities, and slow growth of the regional economy, significantly reducing our capacity to invest in coastal resilience.
We began our proposal for participation in Rebuild by Design with a primary focus on the physical and water environments challenged by storm events and with the conventional assumption that investments in infrastructure, hard and soft, regional and local could provide protection and address uncertainty of outcomes. Our visits to the sites of the region and our research into the characteristics of place and community that contribute to a collective capacity for resilience led us to a different understanding — that social and economic vulnerabilities provide the key to identifying and implementing innovative, resilience-building strategies.
In a region where capital is highly mobile, rising flood insurance rates and the costs of repetitive storm damage will create two different coastal development trajectories: concentrations of high end housing where residents have the means to self-insure and forgo mortgages, and concentrations of housing and industry that are declining in quality, density and economic activity after more mobile capital takes flight.
Our analysis shows there are hundreds of communities throughout the region trying to cope with risk and avoid decline. Resilience may depend on the strength of social networks and the ability to sustain economic vitality as much as on investment in protection. While many specific localities are not what we think of as vulnerable communities, all communities need resilience strategies, examples of integrated solutions and concerted engagement before these trajectories advance.
PLACES WHERE INCREASING VALUE IS PLAUSIBLE | Working at the local level, we can more easily find and articulate ways to see adaptation as an opportunity to make cities, towns and neighborhoods on the water better places to live and experience water. To identify communities at risk that may be interested in using resilience to advance an optimistic project, and where there would be potential for high impact and replicability, we looked for six physical and political/social ecosystem criteria:
● Potential for improvement of physical safety of houses, industry and jobs over the long-term at reasonable public cost relative to assets in the floodplain
● Complex physical resilience problem that presents a long-term planning challenge to local leaders
● Opportunity for innovative intersection of building, landscape and urban fabric solutions across scales, actors and time
● Transportation network and infrastructure with capacity to support growth
● Significant development of community assets and leadership
● Potential for harmonizing interests through design where plans and investments are in formation that could be adapted to contribute to climate preparedness
DESIGN OPPORTUNITIES | In each of our opportunity sites, the aim is to develop a site-specific mix of solutions developed with a community that will equal the effectiveness of a large federally-funded coastal protection project and provide many benefits beyond protection from water. We propose a range of resilience strategies that can be combined in various ways to respond to many local goals and interests, rather than a specific intervention. Moving forward, the design typologies will be scaled to respond to detailed technical analysis of local geomorphology and water systems.
These local solutions will offer greater certainty of implementation timing and maintenance, and provide broader social, economic and ecological value by engaging communities in the design of their own future, incorporating local knowledge and priorities to add value, and responding to political and economic realities that will ultimately determine the success of interventions.
We propose a method for working with local leaders to develop tailor-made community solutions that involves:
● Rigorous technical site analysis to identify the most effective protections,
● Visualization and cost estimation of possible combinations to initiate debate,
● Engagement and problem-solving to develop a realistic, forward-looking vision of the community and to help find the best path to resilience,
● Development of the best incentives and policy instruments to complement selected physical moves, and
● Rigorous evaluation of the outcomes to increase impact over time.
The palette of typological design solutions is examined in, and generated from, four specific local geographies that we identified as places of high opportunity based on leadership, the nature of the physical climate challenge and other criteria defined above. Based on investigation of additional comparison sites and geomorphologies, we believe our resilience strategies are widely applicable in other locations.
View the team’s latest project updates on their finalist page.