In 2012 Hoboken, New Jersey suffered the brunt of Superstorm Sandy when most of the city was flooded. Now a piece of infrastructure has been designed to prevent this from ever happening again, but some people who live there don’t want it built. Because they think it will look ugly.
After the storm, a Department of Housing and Urban Development initiative named Rebuild by Design worked to solicit proposals to essentially flood-proof the entire New York City metropolitan area and protect against future rising seas. The projects were innovative — functional and beautiful at the same time.
A winning plan for Hoboken named “Resist, Delay, Restore, Discharge” was drawn up by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), headed by superstar Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. The plan offered the first comprehensive climate risk strategy for Hoboken, proposing physical barriers to prevent flooding but also an array of more holistic solutions that could help with heavy rain or even drought, from permeable surfaces that can absorb and store water, to a series of pumps that would help drain the city effectively without impacting the health of local waterways.
The other interesting part of the project was that the barriers proposed by OMA would not look like seawalls but instead be embedded into the edges of buildings or new recreational facilities. The state won a $US230 million grant to implement the plan.
But that plan has not gone over well with some Hoboken homeowners. According to a New York Times article, some very vocal residents have organised against the idea of a proposed seawall which would need to run through certain parts of the city to protect its over 50,000 residents.
“You’re going to ruin the character of the neighbourhood,” one woman said. One of her neighbours added: “I got denied a zoning thing I wanted to do in my home, but you’re going to put a four-foot wall in front of my house. No good.”
Here’s another angry person who doesn’t want the wall where it is proposed because it didn’t flood there the first time:
Aside from destroying historic neighbourhoods in upper Hoboken, the wall would likely have the effect of diverting floodwaters into many homes and businesses east of the wall which were not previously affected by flooding, making the proposed seawall in Option A a completely unacceptable solution.
And another forward-thinking vote against the wall:
“I think a Sandy is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime type event, so to build an eight-foot, or 10-foot or 15-foot wall to prevent that, it just doesn’t make sense to us,” Beck said.
One of the most vocal critics is Natalie Morales, an anchor for NBC’s Today show, who showed up at a public meeting to harass Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer in person:
I assume that these people do not realise that they are fighting a seawall that could almost certainly save their own lives, so let’s focus on the preservation of their homes and their hypothetical 1.2m fences. Do they not understand that the seawall will not only preserve the character of a neighbourhood, it will preserve the entire neighbourhood itself?
Maybe they should let the people who don’t want the wall move even closer to the Hudson River. There they can enjoy the unadulterated character of their prime waterfront real estate, unimpeded by any walls at all — as the seas slowly rise around them.
Images by OMA