Despite the inherent–and rising–challenges of waterfront construction, the draw of water continues to beckon. With parks, residences, business campuses, and mixed-use developments near the water in high demand across the country, construction experts shared resilient building strategies at a recent Greenbuild International Conference.
Prized and Vulnerable
One way to sum up waterfront development projects, writes, Sebastian Obando in
Storms and flooding exacerbated by climate change are a primary concern for waterfront sites, and floodplain management is a crucial consideration, said Joseph Sutkowi, chief waterfront designer officer at Waterfront Alliance, a New York City-based nonprofit focused on waterfront and shoreline development. Changes to the shape and velocity of water in a river system can have far-reaching effects, impacting communities both upstream and downstream, he said. For example, when a near-record level of rain hit New York City at the end of September, it overwhelmed the city’s drainage systems and exposed the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s vulnerability to floods.
“You also have to think about flooding on your own site,” said Sutkowi. “How do you protect against coastal storms? Then you also have to consider the climate hazards and how those are going to intensify storms, how precipitation is going to change and how a sea level rise will come into play.”
In addition to flooding, the list of challenges related to a waterfront build is likely to also include: “geotechnical concerns, corrosion control, stormwater runoff management and permitting complexities due to overlapping jurisdictions of multiple agencies, such as local and state agencies and the Army Corps of Engineers.” Given the myriad and inherent complexities associated with undertaking waterfront construction, why would any community persist? Apparently, there’s just something (a strong current?) that pulls people to the water. Indeed, Sutkowi observes: “Waterfront projects remain worth pursuing, especially because of the economic opportunities and cultural significance of waterfront areas…..People want to be on the waterfront, there’s incredible views, it’s something that can really increase the value of the property….Above all, whether it’s Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City or the tiny botanic garden along the flat river in my hometown in Michigan, the waterfront is the flagship site in the community.”
People, Operations and Buildings
Resilient waterfront builds have to aim for both sustainable end results–and construction processes that stand up to weather events and climate hazards. Absent a magic wand, here’s how builders succeed with waterfront projects:
General contractors should focus on three focus areas: namely people, operations and buildings, said Kayla Reddington, regional sustainability manager at New York-based Turner Construction. It’s not just about designing buildings that can withstand environmental challenges, she said, but about ensuring construction activities can also proceed smoothly, even in the face of adverse conditions.Timely responses to issues during construction and the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances remain essential. To do this, she emphasized that resilience requires collaboration. General contractors need to work closely with architects, engineers and other stakeholders to execute these strategies effectively. Reddington pointed to the David H. Koch Center for Cancer Care at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to drive home this concept. Facing risks posed by the East River in New York, resiliency measures on the project included elevating critical equipment and creating an extensive flood barrier system, she said.
Public Resources: Floodmaps, Codes and Money Too
In the face of the ongoing swell of weather disasters, FEMA is updating flood maps and a building code initiative funded through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is working to match “climate resilience with energy standards, equity and other criteria.” Public investment in recovery efforts has been steady too: “Since Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the federal government has spent billions of dollars trying to make American communities more resilient to the effects of climate change through investments in sea walls, storm drains, building science, forest management and other strategies….” Presently, builders across the country are preparing for more disaster relief funding: FEMA “has provided historic levels of mitigation funding to help communities build resilience,” including the recent designation of nearly 500 communities as “disaster resilience zones,” making them eligible for additional federal dollars.
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