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NJIT Students Resilient Design

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This Project deserves :th: :th: a :clap: and a :beers:


NEWARK — NJIT students gathered on March 22 around an oversized conference table in the low-ceilinged basement of Elizabeth’s historic Nathaniel Bunnell Homestead (now home to Future City Inc.) to discuss how two of New Jersey’s oldest cities---Elizabeth and Perth Amboy—could improve their Sandy-ravaged waterfronts.


The nine of them numbered among more than 600 volunteers--many were college students both from NJIT and other institutions of learning--who participated in NJIT’s recent Alternative Spring Break offered through the Center for Resilient Design in NJIT’s College of Architecture and Design (COAD). The effort helped restore or improve more than two dozen targeted projects still reeling from Sandy’s wrath.


Project locations extended as far north as Newark and as far south as Beach Haven’s Surflight Theater. More than a dozen NJIT staff members put in 12-hour days to insure that daily buses filled with upwards of 55 students adorned in bright yellow t-shirts and smiles safely left and returned to campus via a coach bus.


In Elizabeth and Perth Amboy, the hearty band of nine occupying the Bunnell house had a more cerebral charge. Their efforts will blend into those of some 450-plus students enrolled in 20 studio design classes offered this semester by COAD. Those students are still furiously polishing their recommendations to offer yet more Sandy-ravaged towns and cities. Final reports begin in mid-April starting with this one soon to be presented to the mayors of Elizabeth and Perth Amboy. Although NJIT students doing this work are not licensed professionals, theie viewpoints, typically provide officials with useful information and even sometimes direction.


Key questions students were asked:


• Can a living waterfront be integrated into the locality's flood management plan?


• And, if so, where?


• How better can the cities manage the impact of flooding and related damages?


• What about future public access and how might climate change be involved?


• What about public access in the future, considering climate change?


The biggest question was whether to restore damaged areas to their original status or improve them, said Elliot Danso, of Union, a third year student in NJIT’s School of Management. “It’s not a straight forward trail,” he said. “How do we find the balance between protecting people from disasters but also at the same time protecting the social benefits of living near water? A 10-foot wall may protect people and property but it will also block the beauty of the waterfront.”


Tarun Johnson, of Edison, the only graduate student in the bunch signed up because he sought something interesting to do during spring break. Johnson is getting his master’s degree in civil engineering from NJIT’s Newark College of Engineering NCE. Instead, he found himself thinking outside the box. “I learned that you can’t go into a problem with pre-conceived notions and everyone needs to be made much more aware of the availability of alternative resilient construction materials that go with it.”


NJIT Engineer Colette Santasieri, director of strategic initiatives for NJIT’s Office of Research and Development took off most of the week to mentor and work with the students.


NJIT freshman Isaac Velez lived out the hurricane with his family just on the other side of Elizabeth’s downtown business district, where the Bunnell Homestead is located. The hurricane, he said, turned into the greatest learning experience he could have imagined, although he and his family lived for 14 days without power. “I’m not saying we should have more hurricanes, but much good learning has come from it,” he said.


Aside from gaining technical knowledge, this experience became a real eye-opener for Velez about how government works. Both mayors, Wilda Diaz of Perth Amboy, in office since 2008 and that city’s first female mayor, and J. Christian Bollwage, now in his 20th year governing Elizabeth, New Jersey’s fourth largest city, made themselves or staffers available for hours to discuss with NJIT students the hurricane and damages. The students even spent one full day with Diaz and her staff moving in and around the city, even joining her at one point in her office.

Other undergraduates working on the project included NCE mechanical engineering sophomores Syed Risvi, of Piscataway and Dhruv Panchal of Sayreville and also senior Joao DeCarvallo of Newark. Third year architecture student Stephania Ortiz, also from Elizabeth, managed the group. Ortiz said that she knew that the hurricane had been a hardship for many people, although she and her family were safe. But she didn’t grasp the magnitude of suffering until she noticed during one of her site visits a hand-lettered cardboard sign covering a broken window. It read, “We will be strong.”


Although the week’s presentation covered only preliminary recommendations — and a more formal report is to follow — some early suggestions were already readily apparent as the group wrapped up their recommendations on the last day meeting of the project, while in the conference room. For a heavily damaged marina, recommendations included:


• Remodeling a sharp edge jutting into the water into a curve or diagonal.


• Swapping out damaged wooden boardwalk planks for plastic recycled ones.


• Nailing electric light poles near the water which the storm uprooted or battered by nailing the poles into cement.



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