June 26, 2013

Seeking Innovative Solutions to Answer President Obama’s Call to Fight Climate Change

Yesterday, President Obama put forward a comprehensive Climate Action Plan that will cut U.S. carbon pollution and begin to slow the effects of climate change so we leave a cleaner, more stable environment for future generations.

The President’s plan also invests to strengthen our roads, bridges, and shorelines so we can better protect people’s homes, businesses, and way of life from severe weather.  Because that’s what we do as Americans—we come together when disasters strike.

In February, President Obama asked me to chair the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force and his mandate to me was clear: prepare these communities for the realities of climate change. Over the past months we’ve done just that.

For example, in April, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and I announced that all federally-funded rebuilding projects in the Sandy-affected region must account for future risks posed by rising sea levels – and yesterday President Obama directed federal agencies to make sure that any new project funded with taxpayer dollars is built to withstand increased flood risks. Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Army Corps of Engineers released a sea level rise planning tool that provides users with information about future risks of coastal flooding in parts of New York and New Jersey.

However, the federal government can’t solve climate issues alone. That’s why last Thursday, I was at NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge to launch Rebuild By Design.  It is a regional design competition intended to attract world-class talent to address the problems created and uncovered by Hurricane Sandy so that we can ensure the region is rebuilt better, stronger, and more sustainably.

Rebuild By Design will develop innovative design solutions that are specially tailored to the region, its infrastructure, ecology, and other systems. We’re not looking for glossy images or theoretical ideas. Rather, we want to implement these design solutions on the ground to better protect our communities from the increasing vulnerabilities caused by rising sea levels and more intense storms.

Launched in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation, Rebuild By Design will commence with a comprehensive analysis of the region and its systems. This will allow Design Teams to pinpoint the questions about the region that they want to address with their projects.

The competition will progress in four stages:

  • At the launch event, I issued a Request for Qualifications. Responses must be sent to rebuildbydesign@hud.gov no later than 5:00 pm on Friday, July 19, 2013. In the beginning of August, 5 to 10 interdisciplinary design teams will be chosen.  (The design brief can be found at the Rebuild By Designwebsite)
  • Starting in August, the teams will work with a diverse group of stakeholders to produce a wide-ranging analysis of the region. This research along with feedback from local stakeholders will become the foundation of the projects.
  • Beginning in November, teams will flesh out their proposals, providing details about implementation, timing, funding, and partnerships. The finished designs will be submitted by February 2014.
  • Finally, in March of 2014, winning projects will be chosen and HUD will incentivize their implementation using funds made available through the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program as well as other public and private funds.

Design Teams will address four areas of concern: mid-sized coastal communities, high-density urban environments, ecological and water systems, and a fourth category that includes innovative proposals and designs that don’t fit neatly into one of the other three categories.

To be clear, this has never been done before.  And by breaking new ground – the Rebuild By Design competition will generate new tools to answer the President’s call.

While no single step can reverse the effects of climate change, we have a moral obligation to our kids to leave them a planet that’s not polluted and damaged.

And so, with that, let the competition begin!



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