Implementing Innovative Flood Protection/Mitigation


  • Summary of evolution of the Rebuild by Design (RBD) process
  • Innovative approaches to flood damage reduction in urban settings
  • Community and regulatory considerations that shape flood protection design
  • Engineering and cost factors when implementing a large-scale conceptual design
  • Implementing a major capital project on a critical timeline with multi-agency coordination


In June 2013, HUD launched the RBD competition to encourage new design visions in response to the devastation brought on by Hurricane Sandy to the New York Metropolitan area. Through this competition, funded using foundation and private-sector funding sources, winning proposals were identified for further design development. In June 2014, following a year-long process of meeting with scientists, regional experts, government agencies, elected officials, community organizations, local groups and individuals, HUD announced six winning projects in Long Island, New Jersey (Hoboken and the Meadowlands), the Bronx, Staten Island, and Manhattan.

The concept for Manhattan, named “the Big U,” was a flood protection system extending south along the Hudson River from West 57th Street to The Battery, then north up the East River to East 42nd Street. Subsequently, a more targeted proposal was developed for vulnerable communities along the East River. The designs were refined based on the FEMA flood hazard areas, topography, and sea level rise projections developed by the New York City Panel on Climate Change. Within this project area, the flood protection system is aligned within City parkland and streets using a combination of “bridging berms,” floodwalls, and deployable gates. A supporting goal is to improve open spaces and enhance access to the waterfront, including East River and Stuyvesant Cove Parks.

The Living Breakwaters project on Staten Island addresses structural and social vulnerabilities. The key project component is an ecologically enhanced breakwater to attenuate wave energy, promote calm water, and address shoreline erosion. The breakwaters would also foster ecological resiliency by providing habitat for a diversity of finfish and shellfish species. A Water Hub would provide a place for access to the waterfront, and would engage local schools in waterfront education and long-term estuary stewardship. Finally, the project would work in concert with an on-shore protection system to further reduce risk to shoreline communities.

This panel will discuss how the RBD visions were refined along parallel tracks of community engagement, engineering and cost evaluation, multi-agency review, compatibility with regulatory requirements and coastal zone management planning, and in consideration of environmental and social factors, to become major capital projects.