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A professor's plan to protect the environment wins $125 million

An NJIT professor is the leader of a design team that won $125 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to protect Nassau County's South Shore from storm surges and rising sea levels.

Georgeen Theodore, an associate professor at the College of Architecture and Design, heads the Interboro Team, which was selected as a winner of the Rebuild By Design Competition.

Rebuild by Design is an initiative of President Obama's Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force to develop solutions to the environmental vulnerabilities that Hurricane Sandy exposed throughout the metro region.

Theodore is also principal and co-founder of Interboro Partners, the architecture firm that leads the Interboro Team. It's an interdisciplinary and international team that combines the best of Dutch land-use planning, environmental and coastal engineering, and urban water management with the best of American urban design, participatory planning, community development, engineering, economic analysis, and financial engineering. The Interboro team consists of Interboro Partners, Apex, Bosch Slabbers Landscape + Urban Design, Center for Urban Pedagogy, David Rusk, Deltares, H+N+S Landscape Architects, IMG Rebel, NJIT's Master of Infrastructure Planning program, Palmbout Urban Landscapes, Project Projects, RFA Investments, and TU Delft.

Interboro's design proposal, called "Living with the Bay (Slow Streams)," consists of a variety of sustainable infrastructure improvements along Nassau County's Mill River.

"These improvements, which include sluices to reduce surges, neighborhood storm water swales for infiltration, water storage and publicly accessible greenways will help keep Nassau County residents safe from flooding, improve water quality in the river and in the South Shore's bays and result in new public spaces for recreation," said Theodore.

For the past six months, the Interboro Team has worked closely with a coalition of Nassau County-based partners to create a plan that would address the region's vulnerabilities. These include flooding from storm surge, sea level rise, and heavy rain that overwhelm the region's antiquated stormwater sewer system and declining ecological and water quality.

Theodore directs the Master of Infrastructure Planning program (MIP) at NJIT, and students in her fall 2013 master's class helped develop design strategies that will be implemented in Nassau. The students divided into seven teams and went out into the field, doing research in towns hurt by Hurricane Sandy. They had a mix of majors -- some study architecture while others study design or planning and pooled their knowledge to generate plans on how to rebuild Sandy-affected areas. They worked on regional strategies for five protypical conditions, including that of the Mill River in Nassau. They also worked on the barrier island, the marshlands and the Sunrise Highway Transit Corridor. In her studio class for the spring of 2014, the students focused exclusively on Nassau County. They were involved in the design proposal strategy and participated in many community outreach meetings.

One idea central to the design proposal is known as the buffered bay, which "safeguards the South Shore from the sea with a range of protective and adaptive measures that both keep Nassau County residents safe and add to the economic, ecological, and social quality of the region," said Theodore.

The proposed infrastructure improvements along the Mill River are one example of the buffered bay, she added. Rivers and creeks like the Mill River once fed Nassau County's bays with sediment and fresh water and recharged the groundwater. Today, the Mill River is crucial less for its natural or recreational functions and more for its capacity to drain and channel stormwater runoff. The stormwater both lowers water quality in the bay and contributes to flooding; when the rivers rise above the outflow pipes that channel the stormwater into the bay, the pipes back up and cause flooding upland.

The Interboro Team intends for the green infrastructure improvements along the Mill Riverone of the longest and most polluted rivers in Long Islandto serve as a prototypical solution that can eventually be applied to other rivers and tributaries that drain into the South Shore's bays.

Interboro was one of four winning teams that had proposals for New York State and in referring to the winners U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer remarked:

"Are there going to be other storms like Sandy?" asked Schumer. "Yes. Will we be better prepared for them because of Rebuild by Design? Absolutely. These four New York projects, including the Interboro Team's Nassau County project, use the best science we know of to protect against future storms, all while fitting into the character of the neighborhoods and improving their quality of life."


Contact: Tanya Klein
New Jersey Institute of Technology

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