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Student Research:  the Future of Staten Island's East Shore

In his MCP thesis, "Buyouts and Beyond: Politics, Planning, and the Future of Staten Island's East Shore," Alex Brady (MCP 2015) explored planning for resilience in Post-Sandy New York:

In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, two separate, federally funded programs began purchasing storm-damaged homes from voluntary sellers in the low-lying, working-class communities of Staten Island’s East Shore. New York State’s, offered in three specific, geographically bounded neighborhoods, requires that the land procured be preserved as open space. The City’s acquires any substantially damaged properties, with the goal of redeveloping them as more resilient housing. I began my research by asking why these parallel and sometimes competing programs had been established for the East Shore. What I uncovered was a deeply political, ad-hoc process resulting from a complex series of interactions between and among residents and their elected officials, each lobbying for their own priorities.

While I explore this process in depth, I also pursue additional questions suggested by my findings. I was consistently told that each program’s primary goal was to meet residents’ immediate needs; thus, each was designed to respond to individuals or groups of homeowners, rather address the community as a whole. Yet when they were announced, each was also framed in terms of future land use: with the State’s to create “buffer” areas protecting inland neighborhoods, and the City’s providing an opportunity to rethink the East Shore’s small lots, narrow streets, and insufficient infrastructure, a legacy of its history as a community of summer bungalows. Now that the government has begun to acquire land, however, these future-oriented goals have encountered numerous challenges—from disagreements over the appropriate agency to own and maintain the open space, to a potential loss of one of the few areas of the city providing an affordable homeownership option.

In this context, I examine the post-Sandy planning processes that did take place in New York and their relationship to the acquisition programs, in comparison to similar planning and acquisition processes in New Orleans, LA and Cedar Rapids, IA. Ultimately, and particularly in light of the slow process of disbursing federal aid, I ask whether an engaged, participatory planning process is really a barrier to meeting immediate needs, or whether a properly designed process can yield better outcomes for both the victims of disaster and the neighborhoods they leave behind.

Professor Larry Vale served as Alex's advisor on this project.  To learn more about other DUSP student research, see http://dusp.mit.edu/sites/dusp.mit.edu/files/attachments/news/DUSP_Thesi....