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How Would NYC's Great Urban Planners Design For The Future?

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Alex Washburn, New York City's Chief of Urban Design, lives in Red Hook. When Hurricane Sandy hit, he watched the flood waters stream into stream into his brick townhouse, and since then, he, along with his neighbors, has been trying to figure out how to rebuild. He shares his experience in his new book The Nature of Urban Design, from which Places recently published an excerpt called "Resilience In Red Hook." It details Washburn's struggle in trying to rebuild his house in a manner that fits all city, state, and federal flood-protection requirements, but one of the most interesting points comes when Washburn talks about his urban planning methodology:

Whenever I am faced with a difficult project, I ask myself what the great urban designers of New York would think. Robert Moses, Jane Jacobs, Frederick Law Olmsted: I call them my three bosses. I haven't succeeded unless they are satisfied. How would they transform Red Hook to be resilient? Moses, Washburn thinks, would devise a financing system that could "pay for the massive costs of adaptation by tapping into the value created by lowering collective risk."

Jacobs would want to draw from buildings that have survived the last 150 years, like the brick warehouses along the waterfront. She'd be on board with Washburn's idea of rebuilding the ground floor of his old house with a floor connected to new ceiling beams with cables so it could be raised when the next floor comes. All of the work would occur on the interior, maintaining the 19th century facade.

Olmsted would love how the city has started to incorporate waterfront parks as protective infrastructure. Washburn believes he would support the construction of "soft-infrastructure" like oyster beds and wetlands, as well as rigid things like seawalls planted with greenery. "I think Olmsted would be pleased if this natural infrastructure were a catalyst as well, an emerald necklace for the coastline of 21st-century New York."
· Resilience in Red Hook [Places]
· The Nature of Design [Island Press]
Photo of Red Hook after Sandy by Daniel Krieger