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Researching Regional Resilience Challenges

Mapping Regional Vulnerabilities

Rebuild by Design
  • 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • 13 Climate Action

The Rebuild by Design competition was structured to generate a nuanced and comprehensive understanding of the region’s varied vulnerabilities and their interdependencies.

It asked the teams to conduct independent research into the region’s environmental, infrastructural, governmental, economic, and social systems and to synthesize their findings with the results of their combined field work. Using a wide array of metrics alongside their experiential data, the teams created a picture of where the region’s vulnerabilities existed, intersected, and affected each other.

Conceptually, this translated into a map of opportunities to develop opportunities for regional resilience. By mapping the region’s various vulnerabilities, the design teams came to understand how they might propose design strategies to address those challenges.

Source: The Rebuild by Design Book

Densely Populated Coastal Neighborhoods and At-Risk Properties

Rebuild by Design
  • 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • 13 Climate Action

For many, it was clear that the storm’s most devastating effects were not simply the results of a natural disaster.

Instead, they were the products of a long history of planning decisions that had created or exacerbated vulnerabilities throughout the region. Damaged ecosystems, altered topography, high-density and high-value development in flood-prone areas, and other factors had contributed to – if not defined – the fragility of life on the coasts. Vulnerability mapping efforts showed that 2.5 million inhabitants in the New York and New Jersey metropolitan areas currently live in the flood zone, perilously at risk from the effects of future storms.

Physical, social, economic, political, and ecological vulnerabilities intersected, for example, in small-scale coastal communities. In many such locations, the built environment occupied historic floodplains and development eroded natural protections, raising the risk for locally owned small businesses near the shore. These businesses, meanwhile, were anchor institutions whose destruction not only disrupted the community’s ability to create and retain capital but also eroded the local culture and character that are vital to long-term recovery.

Source: The Rebuild by Design Book

Projections for Storm Surge and Sea Level Rise

Rebuild by Design
  • 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • 13 Climate Action

Teams assessed present and future risks, including storm surge and sea level rise.

With consultation from Stevens Institute of Technology and Rutgers University, the teams synthesized data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to establish 100-year projections for sea level rise and other changes in coastal ecology. Additionally, because neither IPCC nor NOAA includes storm surge projections, the teams coupled their data with storm-related inundation projections from the from different sources to assemble a comprehensive picture of the risk levels they would need to address.

Social Vulnerability and Scale Effects

Rebuild by Design
  • 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • 13 Climate Action

Natural disasters cut across political jurisdictions, confronting different governments with the challenges of addressing vulnerable infrastructure and ecology.

Socially vulnerable communities are triply challenged: they are less able to undertake costly risk mitigation measures, have fewer resources to react to unexpected emergencies with contingency solutions, and are often situated in areas of highest risk (including flood-prone locations, areas near potentially hazardous infrastructure, or places with few transportation options).

Along with this detailed picture of the stakes facing the future, local government officials helped the teams understand their communities’ existing visions for long-term development. This intricate perspective on what the region wanted and needed let the teams identify the most promising locations and approaches for designing new structures to promote resilience.

Public Health Effects from Hurricanes, Storms and Floods

Rebuild by Design
  • 03 Good Health and Well-being
  • 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • 13 Climate Action

To diagnose social vulnerability, teams relied on tools such as the University of South Carolina’s Social Vulnerability index.

This index standardizes indicators of vulnerability based on data such as income levels, poverty rates, ethnicity, language, and access to transportation. For example, data showed that 66% of the most vulnerable communities live within ½ mile of the flood zone. Additionally, on-the-ground fieldwork helped the teams gather knowledge beyond what they could glean from the data alone. A wide range of community members shared critical first-hand insights and experiences, providing a nuanced picture of different communities’ capacities to respond to crisis.