More than two hundred people filled the community center at Ocean Village for a Rockaway Resiliency Workshop presented by the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance (RWA) on Sunday, January 20th from 1 to 3:30 p.m.
The event drew a large cross section of the Rockaway community as well as urban planners, researchers, and officials from the Dutch Consulate who are familiar with coastal challenges as the Netherlands is a country that is two-thirds below sea level.
Resilience is the catch-all word used by FEMA and other groups that conveys a community’s preparedness and bounce back ability from disaster.
RWA Executive Director Jeanne Dupont, addressing the standing room only gathering, opened the workshop by confirming that this would be the first workshop in a free series hosted by the group. Called the Action Agenda, it is “intended to engage the community in preparing for and recovering from natural disasters.”
Klaus Jacob of the Lamont-Doherty Observatory, Columbia University, spoke next on current and future storm surge threats to the Rockaways. Also addressing the effects of rising sea levels, he displayed graphs based on current data which show a projected rise of 5 to 6 feet within the next 100 years.
Jacob stated the odds of peninsula residents getting flooded out by storm surges of 4 feet or more are rapidly increasing.
“This is not hypothetical to me,” he said, speaking about Sandy flooding in his own home. “So,” he said, “how far out are we going to be planning for? Will we be planning for tomorrow? Or will we be planning for 50 years out?”
Citing the economic impact, along with many other related issues, he stated climate factors will affect insurance rates and deductibles, real estate prices, housing sales, and developer plans. This would also have a deep effect on commercial activities, tax bases and government regulations.
“There may be another housing default (sic) because of Sandy.”
Responding to a question from the engaged audience, Jacob stated one of the problems is “We are always living the last disaster rather than preparing for the future. The next storm is always different that what you had planned for.”
Stressing his point but also adding humor to the proceedings, he concluded with a cartoon slide showing two dinosaurs looking at a departing Noah’s Ark. The caption read “Oh, that was today!”
Urban planners Jenifer Bostad and Walter Meyer of Local Office Landscape Architecture, who addressed various methods that can be implemented in the Rockaways, started off by saying, “This is a good time to rebuild.”
Boyland noted they looked at other areas and projects they have worked on with similar issues to come up with possible solutions for the Rockaways.
They cited “Parque Del Litoral,” noted as the largest urban waterfront park project in Puerto Rico’s history, where a derelict strip of Mayaguez coastal city park land was transformed into a usable and resilient space.
The area, which is located just south of Rincon and faces some of the largest waves in the world, they felt, was a good model for conditions and some possible solutions for the Rockaways.
They were able to use reformed natural features, strategic plantings, man-made structures and run offs to prevent overrun by flood waters.
In terms of cost, Meyer noted “the infrastructure investment wasn’t that expensive.” The project, completed in 2010, is already showing results.
Showing maps of Rockaway’s underwater topography as well as ‘hot spots’ that would be prone to flooding, Bolstad and Meyer pointed out a variety of possible solutions, including construction of varying types of reefs along the coast.
Arjan Braamskamp, Economic Officer for the Consulate General of the Netherlands next addressed the workshop.
Underlining the importance of these issues to the Dutch government and people, Braamskamp, explained that 60 percent of the population lives in areas 1-6 meters (about 3 to 20 feet) below sea level and two-thirds of the country would be underwater without advanced efforts to prevent it.
In 1953 a major flood, an icy deluge, killed more than 1,800 people and 200,000 pigs, horses, and cows and damaged 47,000 buildings. The Netherlands quickly kicked off an almost 50-year effort of rebuilding and coastal protection, even writing these protections into their constitution.
According to Braamskamp, the response has been a multipurpose approach, using existing flood and runoff areas, elevated construction, and man-made drainage and water holding areas which also function as parks, lakes and parking garages the rest of the time. He also touched on the idea of adaptive building and floating houses.
“What we are showing you is a toolbox (of options). It’s not a blueprint,” he said, noting that specific solutions would depend on regional needs and solutions.
“We’ve had the last fifty years of trying to figure this out. We’re finding a multiple set of approaches is the best,” he said.
Klaus Jacobs stated that the next four months would be critical in terms of these issues. All presenters and audience members agreed that community involvement on these crucial decisions was a must.
The Rockaway Waterfront Alliance is planning on future workshops and events to inform, educate and bring the community together.
Meyer cited the work of Richard George President of the Beachside Bungalow Preservation Association whose planting efforts helped the protect the bungalows in the Beach 20’s. “If one man can save a bungalow block, imagine what an army of Rockaway residents can do.”