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Rebuild by Design: A Model For Disaster Resilience

A version of this post also appeared on The HUDdle.

Photo credit: HUD
Photo credit: HUD

Rebuild by Design has set a new standard for large-scale disaster response and infrastructure projects.”

Shortly after Hurricane Sandy struck the Northeast, President Obama appointed former HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan to lead the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force. When President Obama announced the Task Force, he said its goal was to “improve the region’s resilience, health, and prosperity by building for the future.” One of the key components of ensuring the region is more prepared for the future has beenRebuild by Design, an extraordinary competition that, through an intense collaborative process, created proposals for how we can use public and private resources on innovative and resilient infrastructure projects. In fact, Rebuild by Design was named first as CNN’s top 10 most innovative ideas of 2013.

This past Spring, 10 teams that were comprised of designers, architects, landscape architects, water-experts, engineers, scientist, and academics from all over the world showcased their final designs. In June, a jury led by Secretary Donovan selected six winning proposals. HUD has allocated $920 million in Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds to New York, New York City, and New Jersey to help fund their implementation.

Last Friday, The Rockefeller Foundation and the Urban Institute released a formal evaluation of HUD’s Rebuild by Design competition. This evaluation outlines how, even though the competition was limited to the Sandy recovery area, it has the potential to transform the way disaster recovery efforts are designed, funded, and implemented across the United States. In other words, Rebuild by Design has set a new standard for large-scale disaster response and infrastructure projects.

Rebuild by Design proved the value of comprehensive community planning initiatives and inspired HUD’s new National Disaster Resilience Competition, which will make $1 billion available for planning and disaster resilience projects. Through that competition, states and other eligible applicants will be offered the expertise of the federal government and nonprofit organizations in order to prepare innovative approaches for resilient disaster recovery projects.

Rebuild by Design’s unique use of public-philanthropic funding and management… profoundly deviated from the traditional form the federal government funds infrastructure projects.

The Urban Institute report highlights Rebuild by Design’s unique use of public-philanthropic funding and management, which profoundly deviated from the traditional form the federal government funds infrastructure projects. The funding and guidance provided by key philanthropic partners, particularly from The Rockefeller and JPB Foundations, were not only critical to progress, but also a novel source of strategic support for the large-scale projects proposed by the design teams.

In addition to The Rockefeller Foundation and Rebuild by Design’s five other funders, HUD partnered with the Institute for Public Knowledge at NYU, the Regional Plan Association, the Municipal Art Society, the Van Alen Institute, several federal agencies, the states and cities of the Sandy affected region and community groups, professional organizations like the APA, the AIA, the ASLA, private stakeholders, businesses and local activist groups. All of these groups shared information, provided expertise, and created a wealth of knowledge on disaster recovery that can be used by academics and communities across the world dedicated to resilience. This groundbreaking collaboration is fostering a resilience community that will help prepare and prevent disasters and their devastating impact in the future.

Another unique Rebuild by Design tactic was the level of community engagement and partnership fostered by each team. All 10 teams engaged coalitions of local stakeholders in the Sandy-affected area, including residents, nonprofit organizations, business owners, government, and elected officials, which gave them a detailed understanding of the community’s needs and vulnerabilities. The tireless work by each team on the ground nurtured a heightened awareness of climate change among community members and stakeholders, and developed their knowledge and capacity to take a more hands-on role in advocating for, and creating resilient responses to natural disasters.

The Urban Institute’s evaluation is an important catalog of how Rebuild by Design has served to not only produce innovative and implementable designs for the recovery of Sandy-affected areas, but also a means of demonstrating to the public and government the importance and effectiveness of partnership, collaboration, and above all, resilience. And we know, through the experience of Rebuild by Design that we can never deliver this ambition on our own. The need to implement the six winning proposals and replicate their ideas across the country demands that that the Rebuild by Design coalition continues to stand together and move forward. We are proud of the work we have achieved so far and committed to making these proposals a reality. It is time to prove the world that this new standard of innovative resilience is the only standard fit for the future—we owe it to our future generations to stick to the promise we made during this process.

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