Urban Post-Disaster Interim Housing

www.whatifnyc.gov
I was in Brooklyn a few weeks back, which also happened to coincide with the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. As I walked from my hotel to DUMBO, I engaged with a construction site infographic located at the corner of Red Cross Place and Cadman Plaza East, just North of Whitman Park.

What's going on here?
The site is a parking lot that measures about 40' x 100'. The construction fence was "wrapped" in that heavy-duty fence wrap that had large-scale texts and graphics printed on it.

What's going on here?
Content of the texts and graphics described the reason and process for building emergency Post-Disaster Interim Housing, a prototype of which was being built behind the fence.

"Fantastic!" I thought. The genius being not only the project itself but the communications around it.

Through the Prototype Program, the City is creating a multi-story, multi-family interim housing solution that will work in urban areas all across the country. Interim housing is post-disaster housing. It's used after emergency sheltering, and before those affected by a disaster can move into housing they can sustain without post-disaster aid.

What will it look like from the street?
Because of the City's high population density, lack of open space, and a mission to resettle as many residents as possible in their former neighborhoods (common issues for many cities), the Urban Post-Disaster Housing Prototype Program outlines a new plan for interim housing that will provide more suitable living spaces for people displaced by disaster than conventional interim housing solutions.

The information/communication had come out of the NYC Office of Emergency Management (OEM). I've since learned that this particular site in Brooklyn was chosen because it presents many of the challenges for post-disaster housing deployment in urban areas and because it has many of the assets those displaced by disaster would need to re-establish a sense of community.

What will it look like?
I learned that this project was begun a good five years before Superstorm Sandy, the storm that ravaged New York and New Jersey coasts only a year ago on October 25, 2012.

This prototype program grew from a design competition in NYC announced in September 2007.

Back then, Mayor Bloomberg and OEM Commissioner Bruno, in partnership with the Department of Design and Construction (DDC), Rockefeller Foundation, and Architecture for Humanity announced a competition to design urban housing for use after a disaster.

The competition was called, "What if New York City...Design Competition for Post-Disaster Provisional Housing". The competition challenged participants to propose innovative designs for temporary urban housing for use after a disasterasking competitors to temporarily house a displaced population in a hypothetical disaster scenario in a realistic but fictitious neighborhood.

How long can people live here?
Can it fit different family sizes?
What really drew me in were the super-scale renderings/graphics which not only communicated the pleasing, modern design of the prototype dwelling but important information about the thinking driving the process as well, accomplished in a thoughtful, visual way. Text content was clear and concise and addressed many questions and concerns that naturally arise as to systems, aesthetics, and functionality, and included a link to a city government website where one could go to learn more about the prototype.

What type of temporary housing
will work in the city?
I cannot overstate just how struck I was by the clarity and simplicity of this project's display. It's an amazing example of thoughtful communications to busy city-dwellers, the information which was evidently written with them in mind, and artfully displayed with them in mind, too.

Busy passers-by could get a quick take of the project or take in key questions and essential principles driving the project's process, if they chose to linger.

Why can't we use trailers in cities?
Keeping in mind lessons learned from past disasters, the project incorporates guiding principles the City intends to follow for the planning of interim housing, such as respect for the community, keeping people close to home, coordinating with a Citywide recovery strategy, and respecting the City's unique character.

What makes
a good location?
I was happy to have chanced upon this important project because it has immediate and transferable implications for cities, and is an excellent example of intelligent, urban, and visual, civic communications.

Questions posed on fence wrap:
What's going on here?
What will it look like?
What type of temporary housing will work in the city?
How long does it take?
What makes a good location?
How many people can it house?
How does it make a neighborhood?
Is it comfortable?
Can it fit different family sizes?
How long can people live here?
Will it help foster a community?
What will it look like from the street?
Why can't we use trailers in cities?

AfterNotes
In 2012, the NYC OEM and the NYC Department of City Planning developed a case study guide, or “playbook,” for post-disaster site selection with design principles for keeping residents in the community and allowing them to live and work in their neighborhood (it's a PDF and downloadable). 

OEM and DDC, with support from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Regional Catastrophic Preparedness Grant Program, are creating and testing the interim housing prototype based on a shipping container-style modular system.