#Sandy5 Anniversary Events this Weekend

October 28, 2017

 

Saturday 28 October – “Superstorm Sandy Happened Here”

Commemorative Signs to be posted by community volunteers. Information Session at North Hudson Water Treatment Plant.

Starts with an Information Session at the North Hudson Sewage Authority Plant. Meet at 1pm at the North Hudson Plant at 1600 Adams St for an informative talk on what happened during Sandy and how the plant fared and quickly recovered from the storm.

After the briefing we will take a walk. Local designer Ray Guzman has designed a small “Sandy Happened Here” sign, and Alan Blumberg of Stevens Institute of Technology has provided a list of key and visible locations where th Hudson River came in AND UP! Links on the sign point people to the NJDEP project page and this Facebook page. “Good Things Happen When Enough Good People Get Involved.” Any signs not posted on Saturday will be available at the Historical Museum for pick up on Sunday. Post your own! It is important that we as a community not forget what happened, and that we work together in the future to help make sure we don’t suffer like that again. Starts 1pm at 1600 Adams. If you cannot join but want us to save a sign for you to post in a place important to you please let us know.

Sunday 29 October – Sandy Open House at the Historical Museum

From the Mayor:

“The City of Hoboken and the Hoboken Historical Museum invite residents and visitors to an open-house event to come together as a community to reflect on Superstorm Sandy and the 5-year anniversary. The event will take place on Sunday, October 29th from 2pm to 5pm at the Hoboken Historical Museum, located at 1301 Hudson Street.

“Residents and visitors are invited to view Sandy-related materials, sign the museum’s 5-year anniversary reflection book, and enjoy hot beverages and desserts together. The Turquoise Cup, a pottery craft studio from the Monroe Center that recently fully reopened after being hard-hit by Superstorm Sandy, will also be providing children and adults with the opportunity to create their own pottery artwork.

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Engagement Matters: 2nd in a Series of Reflections 5 Years After Superstorm Sandy

October 4, 2017

What happens after the flood? After the water recedes, and cleanup and repairs begin, how do we decide to rebuild our communities for the long term? The 5th Anniversary of Superstorm Sandy striking New York is just weeks away. Memories of that event are still fresh for many. Now with events in Puerto Rico, the Caribbean and southern US the last few weeks it really is ” déjà vu”  all over again. As these catastrophic flood events happen again, are we learning enough to reduce the impact of the next disaster?

This article, the 2nd in a series posted here at my blog OutsideNewYork, is a summary of some lessons learned as well as my hopes for how we can all do better. I think these lessons are applicable elsewhere, whether the gentrified Gold Coast or some Small Island Developing State. The theme of this article is OUTREACH AND ENGAGEMENT.

The past five years have taught us a lot. The process of reconstruction and redevelopment, led by various government agencies, has helped to reveal both strengths and shortcomings of the planning and rebuilding approach that takes place in the U.S. after disasters.

The “Rebuild By Design” project was launched in 2013 after Superstorm Sandy It was designed to be a catalytic process to help reshape how we, as society, rebuild after catastrophic events. Interdisciplinary teams came together to generate ideas that could fend off wind and water and also protect people and property. Research and outreach was conducted out-of-doors, to bring the planning and design process to “the people,” everywhere they could be found. Inclusion was the hallmark.

Following a two year visioning and planning process that spanned the entire NY metro area, the Hudson River “Rebuild By Design” project was one of seven projects selected for implementation. Hoboken and adjacent areas in Weehawken and Jersey garnered $230 million of an initial $930M in total awarded to New Jersey, New York and Connecticut for these seven projects. This summer the preferred alternative was selected by the State of New Jersey.

The spectrum of engagement:

Aware –> Informed –>Educated –> Engaged

Flood prevention is a complex subject, where layers of technical information are cross-cut by personal experience and anecdote. “Engagement” in long-range projects doesn’t just “happen.” It is not  happening just because there are people gathered together in a meeting. Within the spectrums of knowledge and emotion, there are many precursor intersections before someone gets engaged. “Does it matter to me?” and “Do I care enough?”are two typical questions asked at the outset. If the problem is too big or too complicated it can be discouraging for people. We have to design these processes to help change their minds.  We have to keep them in the room and get them to come back.

First, a person has to be Aware both that there is a problem and a way to potentially fix it. Then they have to want to become Informed about the project. They need an appetite, or they won’t understand how this project can can successfully address the need. For any individual in today’s age, this is a big threshold. Should I get involved?

Now the person has to decide whether to participate, considering factors like if their involvement will make a difference. Do they have the time? Committing to a process requires resources. Time away from work plus child care stresses and costs make involvement in these projects feel like a personal loss more than a gain for most people.

Through the process, they can start to understand the need and the opportunity. They are moving from the basic level of Awareness through Informed to now being Educated on the subject. This is a pivotal moment. This is the place we need to bring society to: the point at which people understand the need and they have enough knowledge to speak and act in an informed way. Even if they cannot commit to getting involved in the whole process, this is the tipping point, that we need to help society reach – whether they are renters, ratepayers, citizens, or students.

For the body public to be successfully cultivated within something like a Flood Control project, it takes three or four interactions-through meetings, tours, poster or classroom sessions-to get to the point at which a person is Engaged in the process. Engagement is an end result following a series of productive, successful interactions along the way. Now how can we get there?

Engaging People Starting with Where They Are

No matter the project, there is a well-scripted process for the public involvement component. But the efforts such as the meetings are so scripted they feel perfunctory, not sincere. The tools used in the process are not really engaging to most people. Given a choice between powerpoint, Spotify, and YouTube, it is clear how most people choose to spend their time. Modern life has brought us to a new reality where our lives are consumed by either gadgets or filled with static. Given the wide, wide level of knowledge most people have about flood and climate vulnerability, there is a need for dynamic and adaptable engagement tools that can build on what people know already and help them to understand more.

Create a Culture of Engagement Within the Project

Rebuild By Design was launched the summer after Superstorm Sandy as a catalytic process to reshape how we, as society, should rebuild. While it built it’s brand on undertaking broad and frequent efforts to engage the widest cross section of affected residents, the reality is that once control of the projects was ceded to government agencies the process became infused with the pre-existing culture of those agencies. One person recently described the public process to date as “robust.” I almost choked on my jello. The culture of these projects has to become less technocratic and more populist. Someone needs to ask the question: who is NOT involved? And then they need to go get them to the next event…

Identify Obstacles to Involvement. Work to Overcome Them

There are many obstacles to residents getting engaged in the process. Some people work nights. The meetings are formal and not child-friendly. The process spans years. Some people don’t even know it’s happening. The Hoboken RBD process was actually three different, parallel processes. Most of us didn’t realize it until it was almost too late.

The process developed after Sandy for the implementation of our Rebuild By Design process required the creation of a Citizen Advisory Group and a Citizen Outreach Plan. While the bones were there at the beginning, we needed more muscle and a bigger brain to maintain effective engagement over the past two years. Despite the dozens of consultants working on the project, it never seemed like engagement was a priority for any of them. This must change.

Keep Welcoming People In and Fill In Gaps that Open Up

Our CAG included almost 40 members, tapped from range of faith-based groups, social service organizations, and concerned citizens. The members came from different parts of the city, and brought with them different skills and expertise. But over any multi-year process things happen. Initial interest slopes down. If ideas are not welcome then cynicism grows. Over time fatigue sets in. Turnover in the community means that people move away, taking a lot of knowledge, historic connection, and understanding with them. New people need to be brought up to speed. The process needs to compensate for the fact that social fabric erodes and new threads need to be inserted to strengthen the whole.

Find Ways to Cultivate the Next Generation of Citizens

The next generation will be the one responsible to operate and maintain this $230M construction project. Today’s voters were in 7th Grade when Sandy happened. Our inability or unwillingness to try and engage the next generation of citizens is a notable failure of this project and, I think, of our society as well. We just keeping rushing to rebuild. Hoboken is not unique. Despite our intention to get educators and schools involved in the process, even putting ideas in the Citizen Outreach Plan, outside of the CAG’s effort to cultivate this constituency very, very little effort was made. Meanwhile in Staten Island, the RBD “Living Breakwaters” project has produced a real spirit of collaboration by working with schools and teachers. There are great examples out there, but we have to look for them.

Try Different Things

Along the way we also tried different approaches, some of which succeeded. We did not want the CAG to become an exclusive group holding a rubber stamp for the State’s plan. Along the way we welcomed new members, including the dissent and diversity of opinion they brought with them. It wasn’t always a smooth process, but since it’s a complicated project no one really expected it to be smooth.

We also succeeded, at times, in getting the process out of the quiet, stale conference rooms and into the community. We organized walking tours, bus tours, and informal meetings amongst our CAG and with the City. Meetings were held in different parts of the project area, at different times of day, and often with different formats that better allowed dialogue. If you barely understand the subject, will you dare to ask a question in front of a room full of people? In sum, we need to embrace process that enables more dialogue, and is not just restricted to the typical “Q&A” format.

Ask and Expect More from Public Officials

Looking back, there was meaningful participation of approximately 30% of the CAG. This was even true amongst the CAG leadership, unfortunately. Even in the final push this past spring, when Final Comments on the Environmental Impact Statement and the Amendments to move the funding to the State, people we expected the most from were utterly, totally disengaged. Looking back, it’s likely some of them were distracted by other events, such as fundraisers for their own political campaigns and those of other aspiring politicians they support. For such an important project, engagement and involvement needs to grow continually in the next phase – by citizens and elected leaders alike.

Make Outreach as Important as Engineering

The Citizen Outreach Plan was a useful guidance document, but many ideas were not implemented. The document was drafted very early in the process by thoughtful project and city staff, with input from the CAG. For all the professionals working on the project, however, there was no one whose primary responsibility was to increase engagement or involvement in the community. This should change.

Summary

For a project that seeks to spend $230 million to build an infrastructure that residents will have to pony up to operate and maintain, we need to have more people engaged over time, not less. For the next phase, responsibility for outreach and engagement needs to be taken more seriously than it has been over the past 29 months.

Current events in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and many other places reminds us that physical protection is only one-third of the resiliency equation. Our preparedness as individuals is the first layer of protection. Our friends, neighbors and families are the second. The third is Government, including the first responders.

While the $230M Hudson River “Rebuild By Design”project seeks to create a new layer of physical flood defense, it will only succeed if the process that leads to its creation strengthens the social fabric of the community as a whole. “Engagement” and “public involvement” should not be seen simply as  perfunctory elements of the public process, like boxes to be checked. Rather we have to recognize and invest in them as genuine value-addeds that will make the final plan more robust, achievable, and
durable.

It won’t be enough for the project to be built on schedule or on budget. Let’s skip the ribbon cutting. The only test that will matter is this: when disaster strikes next, will the whole system-human & built-survive and succeed together? If we don’t cultivate our social capacity by engaging more people along the way, it won’t matter how robust is the engineering.

October 3, 2017


Hoboken Flood Control Project – What Now?

September 12, 2017

Rebuild By Design – Hudson River

12 Sept 2017

The State of New Jersey has hired a new team to design the system for protecting Hoboken from the next Superstorm Sandy. Over the past two years, the planning and design team led by Dewberry Engineering helped the city and the adjacent communities in Weehawken and Jersey City advance the planning and design approximately 30% of the way towards a final design. We have a concept of what we think the ultimate system might be, and we have an alignment – a line that runs through Weehawken, Hoboken, and Jersey City that shows where this eventual system of berms, walls, and deployable devices like gates will go. Over $10 million has been spent, with more than $210 million yet to be spent. The deadline set by the federal government to spend it all is 2022.

Looking back on the past two years where I have volunteered as a co-chair of the Community Advisory Committee, I have thought a lot about the pluses and minuses of the current plan. I have also thought a lot about the process that has helped us get to this point. Now as we approach the 5-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy (no, it wasn’t a hurricane by the time the storm reached us) I thought it would be useful to share some of my continuing concerns and some of the lessons I have learned, especially now that other American communities in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and elsewhere will have to undertake similar efforts to better protect themselves in the future. It will also be therapeutic for me, I hope. Two years into this project, my biggest concern is:

As we rebuild, who is it our priority to protect?

The most frustrating part of this project over the past two years is the continued feeling that these $230 million in funds will be first spent on people who don’t really need the money. Thus, people who are vulnerable now, for any reason, will be most likely to again suffer catastrophic disruption and loss in the future.

One of the processes in creating the current plan sought to identify vulnerable populations, using a very broad brush. But the methodology was developed decades ago, long before Google and your grocery store had data better than the US Census Bureau. “Vulnerable populations” can include those households where elderly people live by themselves; where English is not the first language; where incomes are low; where health problems like asthma or respiratory illnesses might be chronic. All of these conditions increase vulnerability in daily life and especially when a storm happens. Simply put: it is very, very difficult to protect yourself and your family from the impacts of a big storm if you are challenged in your daily existence by conditions such as these. Here are some examples:

When a storm happens, your water service may be disrupted.

  • If you are an elderly person who lives by yourself are you strong enough to fill a two-and-a-half gallon pot with water and place it on the counter for use when the water goes out? That is twenty pounds. Not likely. Can you handle a case of water? That’s probably 18 pounds so probably not. What if you live on a high floor and completely lose water pressure? Can you make it down the stairwell to retrieve water and schlep it back up to your apartment?
  • If English is not the first language of your household, will you be able to understand in the media what is going on? If someone knocks on your door “to help,” will you have any idea of what they are saying? Will they have any idea what you are saying? If someone outside puts a flyer from the Red Cross in your hand, can you read it? Cruz Roja?
  • If you are poor, do you have 3-4 days worth of non-perishable food to feed your family? Do you have the money and the foresight to stock up on batteries and boxed milk before the sh!t hits the fan? Do you have a name-brand cell phone carrier so you have a reliable network to communicate with the outside world when something happens? If you go three or four days without going to work after the storm happens, can you pay next month’s rent or mortgage?
  • If you have health problems are you on prescription meds? Do you have enough to last you 7-10 days? Are you or a family member relying on a medical device like an oxygen tank or nebulizer that requires electricity or a re-chargeable battery? If your pharmacy is in the flood zone do you know where else to go once your pharmacy is flooded? If your home gets wet or flooded, do you know how to dry it out before the mold starts to grow? And once the mold starts to grow, what then?

One of the earliest questions we asked to the Engineering team leading the initial planning stage was, “how do you know who is vulnerable, and how do you communicate with them?” We started asking this question about two years ago.

We were told that the process relies on data from the US Census, the annual collection of data from every US household. During our earlier testimony at one of the hearings, we suggested that the Engineering team could conduct a more local survey within Hoboken in order to better understand the realities at the block level. We pointed out that Hoboken is a very transient town – people move in and out all the time. We offered the community of the Hoboken Housing Authority as an example of a neighborhood where more local surveys could be conducted, in order to understand better the local needs and the viability of the data we were all going to be relying on.

On a human, professional, and spiritual level I felt this was important. The median income amongst Hoboken Housing Authority Residents is approximately $28K.  (Try this Census Tract, for instance) . The median income in Hoboken, as of 2010, is approximately $106K. Now typing this, as a human being with a heart and a brain, I know well that a household with $28K in annual income is going to have much fewer resources to prepare for or recover from a major disruption of their lives such as Sandy brought.

Sure, we can rely on our family. Of course our neighbors will assist – if they can. But in the run-up to these cataclysmic events–and especially the recovery afterwards – money and liquidity really helps.

To the Engineering team we even suggested the Housing Authority Executive Director, the mailrooms, the laundry rooms, and the monthly HHA Board meetings as places where more useful local data could be gathered. To my knowledge there was no meaningful effort to engage the people in the Housing Authority or other vulnerable buildings over the past two years.

Even more distressing was a conversation I had a couple weeks ago about the project. This took place at a free kayaking day on the Hudson River, one of the weekly public paddling events organized by the Hoboken Cove Community Boathouse.

One afternoon, as we were bringing the kayaks in from the beach, I struck up a conversation with another volunteer. The chit-chat turned to the flood control plan.

“We just talked about it at a Board meeting,” he mentioned, referencing the Condo Association of which he is a member. “We are getting some of that money.”

My mind raced. “They are getting some of that $230M in federal money?” I thought?   “This is probably a misunderstanding. He lives in what is probably the wealthiest condominium in our entire Mile Square small city.”

“Are you sure?” I asked him. “I know the City was looking at helping create loans that could be available to buildings but I have not heard anything about cash grants.”

“Nope,” he corrected me, with more than an air of confidence, “we are getting some of that $230M in federal funds for our building.”

And this friends, is one of the most important and most distasteful lesson I have learned in the two years so far volunteering on this project: those with the most resources seem to be first in line to get the money, while those who are truly most vulnerable are still at risk of being left behind.

To paraphrase: “Houston, we-and soon you-have a problem.”

Stay tuned to this page for further lessons learned from the Rebuild By Design Hudson River project.

12 September 2017

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Testimony by Carter Craft at Public Hearing for Hudson River Rebuild By Design Flood Control project

March 17, 2017

delivered March 16, 2017, Debaun Auditorium, Stevens Institute of Technology

As the co-chair of the Citizen Advisory Group for the Hudson River Rebuild By Design project, I should preface this by saying we as a group will be submitting more comprehensive feedback on the draft EIS in writing before the April 10 deadline. For tonight’s hearing I wanted to make four points:

1. Never in my lifetime did I ever think I would have the opportunity to participate in a project like this Rebuild By Design project. This project brings the potential to do so_much_good for so_many of our neighbors. We need to keep the momentum going. But we also have to keep in mind, this isn’t about parking spaces, it’s about the health and safety of more than 60,000 people who live in a vulnerable area.

2. As we look ahead to a Record of Decision we need to look at an implementation strategy that will allow us to implement flood risk reduction measures in smaller increments. We need an adaptable strategy, one we can build on in the future. To start, perhaps we need to focus on a strategy that will protect us from a 50-year event, maybe a 30-year storm event. The Purpose of this project as stated on page ES4 is to reduce the flood risk in the study area.  Under section ES 3.0, however, we talk instead about “minimizing” the flood risk from coastal storm surge and rainfall flood events.”

We should not railroad ourselves by having a Record of Decision that forces us to design and build something that we cannot afford.   As was just stated in the introduction tonight by the Engineering consultant, “there is no limit to what could be found once we start construction starts.” It was also pointed out that there has been little geotechnical investigation to this point. We don’t know what’s under the ground in most places.  But knowing Hoboken we can guess it will be full of surprises, including some unpleasant and very expensive ones. [For example, anyone remember the 1600 Park project? To preserve the flexibility we need moving forward I think we need to change the word “minimize” to “reduce” on line 2 of Section ES 3.0.  In our CAG comments to the Draft Scope on October 7 2015, we did not ask for the risk to be “minimized”, but we did ask specifically to establish the purpose as the development of a “Comprehensive Strategy.” (page 1, paragraph 3). If if IF we can eventually afford to “minimize” risk that will be great, but using the term “reduce” will allow us to take some actions even if as design proceeds we realize we cannot afford to “minimize” the risk.

3. As stated under ES 3.1 this project is supposed to be a “comprehensive urban water strategy.”  This project is not supposed to be a coastal hardening strategy or a lets-protect-the-people-on-the waterfront strategy. In our CAG comments on the Draft Scope of October 7 2015 we specifically asked for a clear goal of “protecting vulnerable people” (page 2, paragraph 4).

We need to move towards a Record of Decision and final design that will, yes, make investments at the water’s edge in the V- or wave impact zone, but also make investments in smaller water management projects around the city such as at schools and parks. In our CAG Comments on October 7, 2015 we specifically asked to include near-term projects and at various scales (page 3, paragraph 2). These smaller local projects are the types of places where this story of flood and climate change risk needs to be told. [Every green infrastructure installation can become a small outdoor lab for many, classes of students if we engage our teachers.

New York State, for instance, is committing $2M in funds for these types of educational and research projects, calling them “social resilience.” Why do we still talk about these elements of Delay/ Store/Discharge as things we will do “if we have money left over?” We all know that we won’t. And without any elements of the program that engage everyday people and young people, we will fail to build any social capacity to fund, operate and maintain this overall system as we all know we need to.]  More local projects, even small projects, will enable more people to understand that though they may live far from the river, they still live dangerously, dangerously close to sea level. Yes, these smaller local projects can help reduce immediate and local flooding risk as well as create added and valuable co-benefits of cleaner air, a greener city, and less summer heat.

4. Last I just want to publicly say I think the process has struggled to engage the diversity of Hoboken. Looking at this crowd tonight most people live in the comfort of higher income brackets. To fulfill the Rebuild By Design vision of an inclusive process, one that serves society as a whole, we really need to open up the tent a little wider, get out into the community more, and into the classrooms.  What we design and build over the next 5-7 years our kids will be stuck paying for, and they are not being prepared for this enormous responsibility. As a Hoboken taxpayer and North Hudson Sewerage Authority Ratepayer I am not sure I am prepared either.

These are enormous and very expensive decisions we are expected to make, and therefore we should make sure we build into the Record of the Design the flexibility to make the smartest choices as new information becomes available in the design stage.  Thank you. ###


October 1: 8th Annual Hoboken Pizza Derby!

September 27, 2016

Join us on Saturday, October 1 for the 8th Annual Hoboken Pizza Derby! This family-friendly party is hosted by the Community Church of Hoboken at 6th and Garden Streets. This year’s menu will offer more than two dozen different pies to be sampled! From savory to saucy, there is the widest sampling of Hoboken’s Tastiest Pies. (Of course we order some simple classics for the kids too…) Take a look at last year’s menu here.

Here is how it works: waves of Pizzas are ordered simultaneously. As the arri
vals come in we record the fastest delivery time. The Heat Troll then administers the infra-red heat gun to gauge whose arrives the Hottest. As in previous years, everyone gets a scoring sheet which lists ALL the pies we are ordering.

Score as many as you taste in categories of: consistency of crust, tastiness of sauce, freshness of toppings, and flavor of cheese. It’s a friendly competition, even when the delivery people bump into each other at the front gate! Pizza, non-alcoholic beverages, and dessert is included for your donation.  This year the proceeds are shared between the Church’s Capital Renovation fund and the Hoboken Cove Community Boathouse. Discounted tickets are available in advance via brown paper tickets.

Games! Sauce! Action! (AND, the best Climbing Tree within One Square Mile! (supervision required) Advanced Ticket prices are $30/ adult and $10 per child. Special family pass is $60 in Advance for up to two adults and two kids. Day-of prices are $35 per adult and $12 per child, with the Family Pass at $75.00. Thank you for your past support and hope to see you at this year’s event. Nominations to the Menu are now being accepted.


Celebrating Where Hudson River Park Began: Monday, August 1, 2016

July 26, 2016

Of course, nothing is that simple. The beginning of Hudson River Park goes back well over 40 years. It could have been the passage of the Clean Water Act, as our society began to appreciate and take steps to protect wetlands and marine habitat. It could have been the fall of that fateful dump truck that crashed through the elevated West Side Highway, a crash that snarled traffic, then the Courts, and public discussions for well over a decade as the Powers That Be debated “What now?” with this highway and the precious 400+ acres of piers, river and riverfront alongside…

TRP at 30But to me, Hudson River Park began when a pioneering marine biologist (the enthusiast-kind, not to be confused with the PhD-kind) decided the time had come to create a place on the Hudson where people could come and see for themselves what lives beneath. Coming up on Monday August 1, we invite you all to join us as we celebrate Cathy Drew and her now 30 years of creating, shaping, and stewarding The River Project, the original education center on the Hudson River, which she called “The Estuarium.”

Were it not for Cathy’s pioneering efforts in the 80s, perhaps there would be no Estuarine Sanctuary along the west side of Manhattan and no beating blue heart of the Hudson River Park. Or no region-wide movement to bring back the oysters. It’s hard to imagine what there wouldn’t be, as by now a whole generation of activists, stewards, and leaders have taken the initiative to create their own unique programs and places all over New York City and beyond. So many of them learned from, and were inspired by, and have emulated and imitated this pioneer for so many things alive, aquatic and wonderful.  Join us!  Details are here:

“This summer The River Project will mark 30 years of extraordinary and unique contributions connecting the people of New York and visitors from around the world to the marvels and mysteries of the Hudson River. On August 1, 2016, we will recognize this achievement in an evening of celebration on and under the River. We invite you to join us for a special 30th anniversary dinner cruise aboard the Hornblower Hybrid.
Of course, like every River Project party, the event will feature the creatures of the Hudson River, live from underwater at Pier 42. Laurie Anderson will add special music.
On this occasion we will honor three special friends of the Harbor’s wildlife: Congressman Jerry NadlerBorough President Gale Brewer, and Author Paul Greenberg.

Cocktail Hour 6:00 – 7:00 PM (dockside)

Dinner Cruise 7:00 – 9:00 PM (departing and returning to Pier 40, Houston Street on the Hudson River)

Tickets Available here

for more info on the River Project visit here.


Sandy+3 – the View from Garden Street, Hoboken

October 29, 2015

harbor 5
An embarrassment of rebuilding riches have emerged from the pile of sludge and unusable earthly possessions that superstorm Sandy left in her wake. Hardening of hospitals, protection for public transit, rebuilding of residences from single-family units up to large housing projects, are all underway across New York and New Jersey. There is a lot of progress. However, some of the cultural trends established in 20th century ‘Merica, unfortunately, are still proceeding unchecked. Before we pat ourselves too firmly on the back we need to better balance our approach to resilience.

The vulnerabilities that we face from superstorms and from climate change in general can be divided into two categories: physical and social. The approach that seems most embedded in our society’s collective response to Sandy (and perhaps to Katrina before) is very much focused on the physical: it’s the storm doors and gates to secure openings, it is the walls and the dunes to keep the water at bay, and it’s the pumps to get the water out after it comes in.

+2 sandy 4But in this focus on the physical we seem to be relegating some of the greatest successes from Sandy’s wake to a backstory that risks disappearing from our collective memory. In our town, part of that strategy to reduce social vulnerability was the burst of growth that our local Community Emergency Response Team enjoyed. In other places like the Rockaways it was more of a crowd-sourced response such as Occupy Sandy, in others more community-focused such as that catalyzed by the Red Hook Initiative.

At the myriad meetings happening every night about rebuilding, the debates are ongoing. Rigid walls or living berms? Where should the alignment be? How much freeboard? There is much, much less discussion about the spectrum of social mechanisms that can help communities work together. If CERT, as an outgrowth of our Emergency Management framework, is at one end of the spectrum of “Organizations” then perhaps Occupy Sandy is at the other. There are many, many hybrids in between. The more communities understand the range and the specific roles to play, the more they can organize now, enabling them and all of us to be better prepared before the wave breaks over us next time.

With our focus on rebuilding now, we suffer a similar myopia when it comes to better understanding and planning for the long term maintenance, operations and stewardship of these new infrastructures. What will be the maintenance budget and where will those funds come? We should know better by now. One need only look around the U.S. and see how many bridges from the last 100 years we have that are clearly not in a state of good repair. Now, instead of patting Congress on the back for shaping a short term Budget agreement with the President that barely gets us through the next election, we should be castigating everyone in Washington for their failure to adequately fund infrastructure and especially infrastructure maintenance over the past 30 years. Rebuilding after Sandy it looks like we are just adding more infrastructure to this pile.

But money is only part of the problem. The best way to address this larger issue of physical resiliency is by proactively cultivating greater social resilience. We cannot forget that in an area-wide emergency situation it is not possible for our emergency services to respond to everything, as we are so accustomed to them being able to do. But an educated, engaged and empowered new generation of citizens can help meet the range of needs that arise. In addition to just rebuilding, we need to teach and inspire more self-reliance and more activism. We need more residents who know how to shelter in place. Then these neighbors are better equipped to be, on a practical level, the “first” responder to a neighbor in need.

To get to greater social resilience we need to understand that bureaucratic approaches with large NGOs and agencies don’t always function well at the neighborhood level. They aren’t necessarily a comfort for every community. Do they help fill important needs? Of course. But we need more CERT, Occupy, and the whole spectrum of community approaches including faith-based, civic, tenant, block and other more organic approaches.

We have to remember that a viable long-term recovery leads to a suite of finished projects in a state of good repair that we as society can ably fund and staff. The protections have to be spread around based on need, not just ability-to-pay. This level of operations, maintenance and stewardship demands a much larger and more diverse labor force to effectively manage the hard- soft- and everything-in-between types of infrastructure we are rushing to rebuild.

Finally, let’s not get lost in the debates over hard “versus” soft infrastructure. We need more of all of it. We debated this on the sidewalk last week in front of the New School. “With all this green infrastructure,” said an old friend, “are we really just creating more jobs for landscapers?” The answer is, well, yes. But we also have to take a step back and realize that an expanded labor force that better understands soil, sunlight, rain events and extreme weather brings big benefits. These people become the roots of resilience on every urban block, by the bioswale, in the community garden and up on the green roof. With focused education, engagement, and empowerment this becomes the generation that takes us from outsourced maintenance contracts to overall better, and more local, community stewardship. It will yield a more resilient society.

Still not convinced about the benefits of social resilience? Think of it this way: all the hardware in the world won’t save ‘Merica if we don’t better equip and engage our people.

Backup generator feed into Emergency Operations Center, Hoboken City Hall 2012

Backup generator feed into Emergency Operations Center, Hoboken City Hall 2012

Power supply feed into the Emergency Operations Center, Hoboken City Hall, October 2012


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