Creating Resilient Cities: Disaster Field Lab

Students in Joyce Rosenthal’s (assistant professor of urban planning) option studio Creating Resilient Cities: Disaster Field Lab are examining how New York City’s coastal communities can emerge from the devastation of last fall’s superstorm Sandy stronger and more resilient than before.

Based on their topic of study, students are developing and testing their ideas about coastal resiliency in neighborhoods heavily affected by Sandy, including lower Manhattan, the Rockaways, Queens and Red Hook, Brooklyn. Student projects include designing infrastructure and housing improvements and examining the storm’s effects on waterfront areas. They also traced the flow of funds for recovery, developed neighborhood-based strategies for emergency preparedness, devised strategies for building social and institutional memory of the storm and explored New York State’s managed retreat program for purchasing homes in shoreline areas. 

Thanks to generous support from the Harvard Club of New York City, a class trip to New York City in February featured meetings with community leaders organizers, scientists and designers. GSD alumni arranged a reception for the students, who also attended a panel of NYC designers and planners at the Center for Architecture, which donated space for the course meetings. Following the field trip, two students served as facilitators for Municipal Art Society’s community-based workshops on building resilience as part of the NYC Mayor’s Special Initiative for Rebuilding & Resiliency outreach.

The GSD’s Deans Fund enabled students to discuss their research with post-disaster recovery experts, urban and coastal planners, and landscape architects and designers. Students enjoyed the range of activities and speakers associated with the course. Victor Negrete (MUP ’13) says, “The course has been an all around great educational experience, from travelling to NYC to meet with community members affected by Hurricane Sandy, to hearing from a variety of practitioners that are active in the city’s recovery efforts and long range climate adaptation strategy.”

The course has given students opportunities to further their interest outside of the GSD. Trevor Johnson (MUP ’14) says, “I was drawn to the class because it offered the opportunity to work on projects that could have on-the-ground application. Because I did not want my involvement in post-Sandy recovery efforts to end with the course, I decided to pursue a summer internship with the NYC Department of City Planning, where I’ll working with the city to research long-term approaches to climate change resilience.”

Student presentions Monday were joined by community organizers from Red Hook and the Rockaways and youth from the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance’s urban studies program. Check back soon for an account of the presentations.

NASA image courtesy Lance Modis