PLAN 88: Article
Improving the Resilience of Coastal Areas

Center for Advanced Urbanism Wins Rebuild By Design Competition

SA+P’s Center for Advanced Urbanism (CAU), in collaboration with others, has been named a winner of the Rebuild by Design competition, sponsored by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to address the challenges faced by coastal communities in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.  The state of New Jersey will receive $150M to implement CAU’s winning proposal. 

Overall, HUD is allocating approximately $920M to New York, New Jersey and New York City to begin implementing the competition’s six winning projects.  Taken together, the projects provide a blueprint for how communities throughout the Sandy region, the US and the world can maximize resilience as they rebuild and recover from major disasters.

In the Rebuild by Design competition, ten participating teams worked with local and regional stakeholders to develop locally-responsive proposals.  The CAU team combined the cutting-edge research and local knowledge of MIT with the best in water design and management from the Netherlands, including ZUS, De Urbanisten, Deltares, Volker Infra Design and 75B.

The team’s New Meadowlands project proposes to integrate transportation, ecology and development to address a wide spectrum of risks while providing civic amenities and creating opportunities for new redevelopment. The project includes the creation of additional wetlands and a multi-purpose berm that will provide flood protection to the many residents of the communities damaged by Sandy flooding.

‘But this project is not just about making berms,’ says CAU director Alexander D’Hooghe.  ‘It creates streets and a public space network on regional scale; monuments of public life; and a large floodable regional park for the entire New York metro area. That the Federal Government through HUD has decided that it wants to fund a portion of this project is a great step forward for all.’


Central to the New Meadowlands project is the creation of a large natural reserve called The Meadowpark to offer flood protection and to connect and expand marshland restoration efforts by the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission. Around and across the Meadowpark, the team proposes an intricate system of berms and marshes to protect against ocean surges and to collect rainfall, reducing sewer overflows in adjacent towns. The park will also add value to surrounding development through its views and recreational offerings.

‘This project is a game changer,’ says CAU research director Alan Berger.  ‘It goes beyond typical ‘move or defend’ strategies to show how ecological function can be reclaimed in urban areas, with landscape serving as the great mediator in adapting to climate change risks.  We drew from several disciplines within MIT to devise our strategy; one single expertise could not have successfully embraced this challenge.’


The edge of the Meadowpark will be defined by The Meadowband – a street, a rapid transit line and a series of public spaces, recreation zones and access points to the park, offering additional flood protection, connections between towns and wetlands and opportunities for towns to grow. The Meadowband will bring together different systems (such as transport, ecology, and development) and different scales (from local to regional), as well as local residents and visitors from further afield who will gather at this new civic amenity.

While the park and the band will protect existing development areas, the proposal goes further to suggest more intensive land use in the region through a shift of land-use zoning from suburban (single story, freestanding, open-space parking around structure) to more urban. Single-story warehouse zones would be up-zoned to become multi-story, and areas around the Meadowband would be zoned to include multi-story residential opportunities. Over time, such moves would enhance the brand and identity of the basin, increasing the value of the land and ratable tax returns for the towns concerned.

‘One of the key challenges our team faced,’ says CAU Design Associate Kobi Ruthenberg, ‘was to define the scope of the project in a way that would maintain a regional ambition and effect, while at the same time being realistic as to the political and economic feasibility towards implementation. In that sense, the Meadowlands district has an incredible opportunity of serving as an example for inter-municipal collaboration which adequately matches the scale of environmental threat.’


Rebuild by Design was created in the summer of 2013 by President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force as a way to develop ideas for improving the physical, ecological and economic resilience of coastal areas. Lead funding for the effort came from the Rockefeller Foundation, with support from the JPB Foundation, Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation, the Hearst Foundation, the Surdna Foundation, and the New Jersey Recovery Fund. The competition was administered in partnership with the Municipal Art Society, NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge, Regional Plan Association, and Van Alen Institute.