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Today’s beachgoers in the three coastal states hardest hit by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 — New Jersey, New York and Connecticut — encounter huge piles of sand on ocean beaches as well as intrusive rock walls and beefed-up bulkheads. They have been rebuilt this way even though Sandy scoured just such dunes and overtopped just such walls. Why? U.S. disaster rebuilding has traditionally focused on merely replacing what has been lost.
But a little-noticed federal design competition, Rebuild by Design, has done something different: engage communities to develop a more porous relationship between land and water that recognizes the dynamism of rising seas and more violent storms.
The winning teams, announced on June 2, will receive $920 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). While customized to fit each community’s unique needs, the tactics they will test are intended to have wide applicability. Certainly they will apply up and down the low-lying Atlantic coast. At best, they will transform America’s relationship to the water’s edge.