Rebuild by Design: Creating Waterfront Community Resilience

In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in October 2012, Hoboken, New Jersey, was among several communities in the Northeast that began to explore long-term solutions to address sea level rise and coastal flooding. The city's efforts were aided by Rebuild by Design, an international design competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). A proposal to protect Hoboken's Hudson River waterfront, as well as parts of nearby Weehawken and Jersey City, was among six projects that were granted HUD funding to move forward to implementation. Phase I of the effort, known as the "Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge" project, was recently completed, with Dewberry serving as the prime consultant for the feasibility study and environmental impact statement. For many members of our Rebuild by Design team, several of whom are New Jersey natives or long-time residents, this project was a chance to help strengthen a community close to home.

Key resilience measures include:

  • Hard infrastructure and nature-based infrastructure for coastal defense (resist)
  • Policy recommendations, guidelines, and urban infrastructure to slow rainwater runoff (delay)
  • A circuit of interconnected green infrastructure to store and direct excess rainwater (store)
  • Water pumps and alternative routes to support drainage (discharge)


A Visionary Proposal

Throughout his 30-year career, John Boulé has managed resilience, risk mitigation, water resources, environmental restoration, and infrastructure projects across the U.S. and overseas, including major civil infrastructure and resilience initiatives in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area. John served as project executive for the Rebuild by Design – Hudson River project. "I've had the opportunity to take part in many significant resilience projects and large-scale infrastructure programs, but this project is a stand-out for me," he says. "It's been a unique effort since its inception as a visionary proposal in the Rebuild by Design competition. There's an urgency to this; I've been aware of the challenges Hoboken and neighboring communities have faced along the waterfront for many years, even before Superstorm Sandy. The community engagement on this project has been amazing. The community has been part of the team, truly contributing to the final preferred alternative."


A Direct, Positive Impact

Ken Spahn has focused his career on waterfront planning and engineering. He served as project manager on the project. "The Rebuild by Design – Hudson River project is a major undertaking that will have a direct, positive impact on people's lives," he says. "I've enjoyed working with so many different people on this project. Hoboken residents are passionate about their city. It's been a meaningful effort, and we couldn't have done it without the community."


Giving Back

Rahul Parab, who served as deputy project manager, has always been fascinated by the powerful impact of water on a community. As a child, he lived in India, experiencing each summer's intense monsoon season with extreme rain events and high winds. Today, he focuses on water resources engineering, including flood risk reduction measures and infrastructure for coastal and riverine environments. "Engineering is all about giving back to the community," Rahul says. "The Rebuild by Design – Hudson River project is an ideal example. The community's input has been invaluable and greatly contributed to the proposed solutions. I've enjoyed spending time in Hoboken, Weehawken, and Jersey City the past two years—walking around the neighborhoods, getting to know residents and business owners, and meeting with agency representatives. This project is vital to the future of these cities."


Analyzing Costs

Dave Hill's role included managing the cost estimating and utility coordination for the feasibility study and environmental impact statement. He notes that it has been "a fascinating project from a planning standpoint. I was very involved with the cost estimating, which required a lot of research and data compilation. There are many unique items involved in the project. We analyzed costs from a lot of different perspectives. I enjoy the ‘number crunching.' Managing the project cost is crucial to the success of this project."

Broad Benefits

Larry Smith served as the project manager for the development of the environmental impact statement. The project was unique in Larry's experience, as he primarily works on major roadway projects. The aggressive schedule stands out for him: "It's by far the most aggressive schedule I've worked on," he says. "But we met the deadline, and the result is a flood resilience concept that will provide many benefits to the communities involved, including both the waterfront neighborhoods as well as the low-lying, inland neighborhoods that often see longer-term, damaging flooding from rainfall as well as storm surges. Within these inland areas, public housing is present. As planners, we look at environmental justice issues in these communities and focus on the impact that these resilience measures can have on their economies and their quality of life."


Building Trust

Ileana Ivanciu shared the project executive role with John Boulé. She focused on the EIS and the community engagement process, which drove the development of a preferred alternative in line with the community vision. "All in all, there were more than a hundred public meetings for this project," she says. "At first, the community voiced a lot of concerns—they were worried about future protection from storms, but they were also worried about preserving views of the New York City skyline and minimizing any impact on their quality of life with imposing walls and structures. It was an arduous process, but as it became clear that we were proceeding carefully with their input, their trust in us began to build. By the end, they could see that we were delivering on our commitment to them, and they were very pleased.

"I loved working on this project," Ileana says. "It was difficult to navigate, and there was a lot of input to sift through. Much of this type of work had not been done before, and we were under enormous constraints with the schedule. We developed a sound solution that reflects the community's interests. It is wonderful to dream about the future of a community, but making that dream a reality—while addressing regulatory requirements and complex engineering and environmental constraints—is a huge challenge. That makes our success even more gratifying."