Disaster Response at Architecture for Humanity.
Since 1999, Architecture for Humanity has responded to nine major disasters throughout the world and has spearheaded reconstruction programs to support the communities most in need. In this work, every disaster zone delivers a unique set of challenges and New York City is certainly no exception. In addition to being a dense, interconnected city with a large network of uniquely affected communities, New York City is also the first disaster zone that Architecture for Humanity has responded to where a local chapter was already established. As a result, the New York City chapter has played an integral role in Architecture for Humanity’s collective response, collaborating closely with Architecture for Humanity’s Reconstruction and Resiliency Studio.
Responding to Sandy.
In the weeks after Hurricane Sandy, the New York City Chapter worked to develop a meaningful project that would provide us with an opportunity to discover how each of the diverse communities were affected. This would allow us to carefully direct the time and expertise of our volunteer network over the coming months and years to make a positive impact. We created The Neighborhood Assessment Project, the initial phase of our post-disaster recovery program. This program was modeled after Architecture for Humanity’s initial response in Biloxi after Hurricane Katrina and was re-imagined and expanded upon to address the unique characteristics of New York City’s coastal communities.
We identified 10 of the hardest-hit neighborhoods to visit along the coastlines of Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Queens; focusing our efforts on Tottenville, New Dorp Beach, Midland Beach, Red Hook, Sea Gate, Coney Island, Brighton Beach, Breezy Point, Roxbury, and Broad Channel. Once the parameters of the project had been established, we trained teams of volunteers on how to approach the fieldwork and survey the communities in a way that was respectful of the difficult experiences residents had been facing. Over a course of weekends from November to January, team leaders led groups of up to 10 trained volunteers to spend time in the designated neighborhood, where they spoke with residents and community members, collected data, and worked to understand not only what had happened, but also why certain patterns were or were not prevalent throughout the neighborhood.
Our field teams completed an estimated 500+ surveys, collecting information and stories that would provide insight into the experiences of residents during and after the storm, the damage patterns and needs that materialized, and the strengths and capacity for rebuilding within each community. This was not easy work, but provided a critical foundation for understanding the unique recovery process in each community.
The stories and data collected in the field have been compiled into a forthcoming publication (to be released through the Chapter Network) that highlights each neighborhood. Our goal, through this work, was to not only bring about a greater awareness of the unique situation within each community, but to also discover the gaps in support that our chapter and Architecture for Humanity’s regional field office could potentially fill in our longer term recovery efforts. It is our hope that this community-centric approach to situation analysis will encourage resources to be directed within these communities in a manner that supports residents’ aspirations for their homes and their community’s vision for their neighborhood.
What We Learned.
It would be impossible to condense all of the insights gained and lessons learned through this project here and we encourage you to read the report that we have carefully put together. Listed here is a broad overview of some of the conditions and challenges residents faced:
Although this project has laid the groundwork for revealing the damages and capacity for recovery in each community, there is A LOT of work to be done to support residents throughout the longer-term recovery process. During our time in the field, we documented a number of thoughts and ideas that residents and team members had for next steps and approaches to aiding with recovery. These are outlined in our report within each chapter, but are by no means a complete list of community-centric solutions and viable approaches.
One year after Hurricane Sandy, it is important for the design community to continue to engage with residents and identify meaningful projects that will assist those who need our help the most. At the New York City Chapter, we depend on our volunteer network to develop and lead the projects that we take on, and we encourage each of you to ask yourself: What’s Next? What can I do to build off of this initial response and offer support to those who still need help rebuilding?
Article written by Emily Sprague, Project Coordinator of the Neighborhood Assessment Project.
Emily Sprague is a designer and researcher and has been a member of the New York City Chapter of Architecture for Humanity since 2008. During this time, she's developed and coordinated two community-centric projects, including the Chapter's first response to Hurricane Sandy. In addition to this work, she is currently researching the impacts of post-disaster housing in urban areas and developing a strategy to reduce the negative impacts associated with temporary sheltering. This work builds off of her academic work, which focused on strategies for housing internally displaced persons in post-earthquake Vancouver.