Underwater: The Case for Long Island Site Planning Studio

In 2014, the Site and Environmental Systems Planning Studio (11.304J / 4.255J) explored strategies for the resilient retrofit of the Nassau County communities of the Massapequas on South Shore Long Island in the aftermath of Super Storm Sandy.

Site Planning is the process of analyzing and understanding the cultural, natural, and morphological characteristics of a place and translating this comprehensive profile into meaningful design and development proposals. It is an inherently iterative process that involves shifting between regional, city, district, and localized scales in order to appropriately respond to the various environmental, economic, political, and social forces at play.

Students focused on the area directly southeast of Levittown as a prototype for rethinking the existing organizational patterns of a densely developed suburban community that will continue to experience the destructive impacts of nature, into a community that is more economically, socially and environmentally resilient. Building on extensive area studies, including the ongoing New York Rising area plan for the Massapequas coordinated by New York State, the studio developed urban design proposals that purposefully negotiated between the need for visionary and large-scale solutions, and the more pragmatic demands related to local stakeholder concerns. Students conducted resiliency research and analysis, illustrating the circumstances leading up to Super Storm Sandy, assessing post-Sandy conditions, and identifying opportunities for resilient retrofit. The objective of the first phase was to create a comprehensive analytical profile for the Massapequas at three scales: the mega-region (New York City and Long Island), the town (Massapequa communities) and the district (centers, edges and intra-community connections).

Proposals required students to contemplate the viability of a homogenous morphology, the relationship of development to water, and the unmet potential that the Long Island Rail Road presents by a less than one hour commute to Penn Station. Working in pairs, and drawing from initial analysis, students developed physical district scale design proposals. They worked within one of three contexts (centers, edges or intra-community connections) and explored design approaches to resilient retrofit by taking one of three theoretical urban design attitudes—ReNew-ed Urbanism, Landscape Urbanism, or Tactical Urbanism.

The goal of the course was to help students gain an understanding of and experience in applying the methods and strategies for housing and economic development, physical and cultural infrastructures, and flood responsive landscapes.

Cultural and natural systems were analyzed and interwoven in an effort to creatively explore new forms of urbanity that increase resiliency in suburban coastal communities. Students assembled and applied an urban design and resiliency toolkit that responded to the impacts of Super Storm Sandy, anticipated future storm events, and aimed to achieve long-term economic and social sustainability by more flexibly responding to the diverse demands of the region as a whole.