Storm ready: Hoboken prepares for the next Sandy

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Touring a Hoboken "resiliency park" during the East Coast River Relay. The porous pavers cover pipes with a high capacity for catching storm water. Peter Kim/Bike Hoboken photo

By Elizabeth Brody

Five years ago on October 29, 2012, Superstorm Sandy brought death and destruction to New York City’s 520-mile shoreline and the Jersey Shore.

One victim was Hoboken, the "Mile Square City" on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River opposite Manhattan. Sandy’s unprecedented 14-foot storm tide “filled up Hoboken like a bathtub," as the city's mayor, Dawn Zimmer, told journalist Anderson Cooper.

In the aftermath, Hoboken decided that remediating storm damage is no longer enough. The city recognized that rising sea levels over the years mean that incidents of heavy rains and storm surges — especially when combined with high-tide cycles — could exponentially increase the risk of flooding.  To prepare for future incidents, the city's leaders resolved to meet the challenges head-on with a multi-pronged response.

City officials recently offered a tour of these adaptive responses as the East Coast River Relay made its way south along the coast. The tour started with a presentation in Hoboken City Hall by Mayor Zimmer, Business Administrator Stephen Marks, and city planners.  City officials then led us on a tour, by bike and van, of a few project sites.

We learned that Hoboken, originally a shallow island, expanded in the 19th century by filling in its tidal marshes west to the base of the Palisades on the mainland in order to build factories, housing, and roads.   

Following Sandy, Hoboken joined in studies and hired planning and “resiliency” experts, who analyzed its storm damage.  It applied for funding and held workshops to develop plans and gain input and support from the community.

Leaders adopted four tactics for managing heavy rainfalls and sea surges: resist, delay, store, discharge. Ingredients of the plan include: 

  • To reduce combined sewage overflows into the Hudson River, when its wastewater treatment plant is overwhelmed, the city plans to adjust the volume of stormwater. 
  • To reduce roof runoff, it will direct downspouts into cisterns and rain gardens instead of into storm sewers.  
  • To increase absorbent surfaces and parks, it will purchase land and negotiate with developers.
  • To temporarily store large quantities of water, it will create strategically placed “resiliency parks” built with porous surfaces above huge pipes. 
  • At the northern waterfront, where Sandy’s waters poured in, it will create a Harborside Park with a boathouse wall and sliding gate to “resist” a future surge. 

Our tour ended at the tree-lined Hudson River Waterfront Walkway, a segment of the East Coast Greenway's complementary route, which has been softened by parks on Piers A and C.

The recent hurricanes wreaking havoc in Texas, the Caribbean, Florida, and Puerto Rico emphasize how critical it is to adapt, and not just react, to climate changes. Vulnerable communities everywhere should emulate Hoboken’s forceful example.

Elizabeth Brody is a former East Coast Greenway Alliance trustee and chairs the New York Committee. She lives in Manhattan.

More information on Hoboken's resiliency work

Read more of our October newsletter, On the Greenway

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