How to Protect Cities from Sandy-like Storms? It's All About Islands

One year ago, Superstorm Sandy tore a path of destruction up and down the Eastern Seaboard. Earlier this week, ten architecture and planning teams revealed their solutions for rebuilding the city in a way that would promote resilience when the next hurricane comes along. One big takeaway? We need new islands.

The proposals are part of Rebuild by Design, an initiative of the federal Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force and HUD. The team selected dozens of sites for the designers to re-imagine throughout the New York/New Jersey region. While some of the ideas are policy-based, the most powerful ideas include making dramatic changes to the coastline and ocean floor, restoring the natural balance that we've dredged away or demolished over the years. This includes the addition of artificial breakwaters, barrier islands and massive floating reefs.

New York City is already moving forward on its own ideas, like the East River Blueway, a "soft edge" of marshes and beaches along the coast that will help absorb the energy of storms.

But that may not be big enough to harness future hurricanes, says landscape architect Diane Balmori. "The marshes that exist wherever they exist on edges of cities are going to be history very shortly because of the rise in sea waters," she tells Al Jazeera America. "Marshes can't take but a very small variation in the height of the water so a floating marsh seems like a way out of this conundrum."

Oyster Colonies as Breakwaters

How to Protect Cities from Sandy-like Storms? It's All About Islands

Oyster reefs once lined the New York Harbor, protecting the shore from powerful tides. SCAPE suggests returning those colonies to the water as oyster restoration breakwaters, which would not only help soothe waves, they would also help to clean the waters and restore biodiversity. A floating classroom would allow local students to get to know New York's newest resident bivalves.

The Eco-Amusement Pier

How to Protect Cities from Sandy-like Storms? It's All About Islands

Out on the Jersey Shore, the barrier islands that protect the beach have become synonymous with amusement parks. Sasaiki/Rutgers/Arup decided to transform the existing tourism use into eco-tourism, focusing activities like kayaking and birdwatching inland. This would help to educate visitors about the ecosystem and importance of restoring wetlands, while new forms of transportation like chairlifts and ferries would present a lighter touch on the environment than bridges and roads.

Shock-Absorbing Sandbars

How to Protect Cities from Sandy-like Storms? It's All About Islands

WXY/West 8 envisions a series of new islands—sandbars, really—that would stretch from New Jersey to Rhode Island, providing "wave attenuation" that could help lower the height of storm surges and remove the need for more complicated improvements on the shore. This is part of a larger idea of creating a "tidal society," a city that's more attuned to the meaning of marine-related data, from wave heights to flooding risk.

When we think of hurricanes, we often imagine things like seawalls and floodgates sheltering our urban core, but the future of urban design actually means re-imagining entire watersheds and ecosystems. These ideas take a regional, holistic approach to protecting our coasts, reminding us that even the most distant marshes can have an impact on how a city survives. [Rebuild by Design]