Pratt Center Project

Sustainable Community Development

Community Resiliency Planning Hubs

Community-based, post-Sandy planning hubs can serve as a one-stop-shop for government, communities and businesses to work toward resiliency.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Pratt Center envisions the creation of community resiliency planning hubs to streamline government resources and to foster a participatory rebuilding process. Toward this end, we recently worked with a number of our partners to launch the Sandy Design Help Desk in Rockaway.

For one week in October 2013, the Help Desk provided free expert design and technical consultation to residents and property owners still recovering from Hurricane Sandy. Volunteer architects and designers gave individual guidance on building code, zoning and design questions. We collaboratively launched and facilitated the Help Desk with Architecture for Humanity, Enterprise Community Partners, Margert Community Corporation, and the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Small property owners face challenges not only in repairing damage from Sandy, but in understanding the implications of the expanded 100-year flood zone, where pre-Sandy federal legislation now mandates a four-year phasing out of subsidies for flood insurance premiums. Tens of thousands of buildings will need to be elevated to keep insurance costs affordable; many of the people who came to the Help Desk were seeking specific information on base flood elevations and building elevation requirements applicable to their buildings. Other frequent questions involved safe locations for electrical and mechanical equipment and wet floodproofing of ground floors. The Help Desk helped homeowners to register for the City’s Build It Back program, a critical step toward obtaining financial assistance for repairs and rebuilding. Staff of the Buildings Department and the Department of City Planning helped volunteers to prepare by presenting free training on the changes to zoning and building regulations enacted after Sandy.

The Help Desk is part of Pratt Center’s larger effort to foster a comprehensive, inclusive, and accessible approach to resiliency planning and rebuilding. Full recovery from a disaster like Sandy will take years, as will the implementation of the coastal protection and infrastructure measures that are needed to keep communities safe from future storms. Individual property owners, community organizations, and small businesses who need to rebuild or retrofit will need the kind of expertise and access to regulatory agencies that only sophisticated developers commonly enjoy. Obtaining approvals, permits, and certifications will be a daunting challenge, made even more so by the isolation of the hardest-hit communities from the borough-level offices where filings must be done. To meet with plan examiners or inspectors, a Rockaway homeowner would have to travel over an hour each way to Queens Borough Hall – and would have to repeat the process whenever the requirements of one agency conflict with those of another – not an uncommon situation in working on buildings that predate current regulations.

At the same time, other City agencies are planning and implementing projects of their own. The Department of City Planning, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Environmental Protection, and other agencies usually meet with communities individually, proceed separately with required environmental reviews, and often fail to take locally-initiated proposals into account. And, communities impacted by Sandy are extraordinarily diverse, so resiliency planning must provide a means for a range of local stakeholders to take part. To address this, Pratt Center envisions City and community resiliency planning hubs based in impacted communities, each serving as a one-stop-shop for government, community and business stakeholders to share resources, streamline paperwork, and foster holistic and collaborative planning.

In connecting the expertise of architects and planners with the City's rebuilding programs in a local, accessible space, the Sandy Design Help Desk was an effective first step toward the establishment of the long-term community-based planning infrastructure that will be needed for an efficient, inclusive recovery. Pratt Center will continue to work with our partners and the City to expand on the Design Help Desk and realize a more responsive, transparent approach to community-driven resiliency planning.

Click here for more information on our post-Sandy resiliency planning work.

The Sandy Design Help Desk was made possible by the generous funding for architectural, planning, and design services from the Kresge Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York Community Trust.