Grassroots Regionalism

A menu of options for vulnerable, low and medium income, low and medium density communities in New Jersey, Staten Island, and Long Island.


US Department of Housing and Urban Development

New York

New Jersey

Staten Island

Project Team: 

Interboro (Tobias Armborst, Daniel D’Oca, Georgeen Theodore), Apex, Bosch Slabbers, Center for Urban Pedagogy, David Rusk, Deltares, H+N+S, IMG Rebel, NJIT Infrastructure Planning Program, Palmbout Urban Landscapes, Project Projects, RFA Investments, TU Delf

“Grassroots Regionalism: Resiliency Building in Low- and Medium-Density Lowland Communities” is a project for HUD’s Rebuild by Design initiative, which invited ten teams to propose between three and five design opportunities for making coastal communities damaged by Hurricane Sandy more resilient.

We are pleased to present four design opportunities–each based on a different coastal typology–that offer a menu of options for vulnerable, low and medium income, low and medium density communities in New Jersey, Staten Island, and Long Island.



Because planning and land use regulation in the United States is local, municipalities have the power to effectively chart their own course, often without having to consider the consequences their land use decisions have for neighboring municipalities. But of course municipalities are interdependent, and are connected in innumerable ways. As a simple illustration, imagine two municipalities located on the same creek: the upland community’s decision to zone for big box retail means more impermeable surfaces. This will generate more stormwater runoff in the creek, and this will result in an increased flood hazard the lowland community. Is this fair?

Unfortunately, our system of “home rule” creates a barrier to the kind of regional decision-making that is required to adequately address regional issues that don’t respect municipal lines. Among them are environmental issues like stormwater management, pollution, and habitat preservation, but also social issues like transportation and housing: when municipalities aren’t required to accept their fair share of a region’s affordable housing, for example, municipalities can become overburdened with them.

Regional decision-making is therefore required to create a built environment that is socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable and just. But how can regionalism be achieved when what’s rational, comprehensive, and in the region’s best interest and what’s implementable, fair, and in the interest of any given municipality are two different things? A Mayor who campaigns on ceding authority to a larger unit of government is unlikely to get elected.

What can we do to change this? How do we help shift public consciousness? Towards this, our team has used the unique opportunity of this competition to develop what we’re calling a “grassroots regionalism” that uses design to help grow a consciousness about municipal interdependencies.

We did this in two ways.

First, we identified instances in which what’s right for the region could be tailored to help meet local needs and achieve local goals. Protecting the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant from flooding helps insure that Bay Park’s streets, waterways, and homes won’t be inundated with unprocessed sewage, but it also insures that the 500,000 Nassau County residents it serves will be able to flush their toilet. In our design opportunities, we have identified many such “win-wins.”

Second, we centered each of our design opportunities on a natural feature–a freshwater marsh, a bay, a creek, and the beach–that is inhabited by multiple municipalities. In each instance, irresponsible, unsustainable development practices have led to the erosion of the natural feature, a fact that has undermined their ability to protect residents from severe weather events, as well as decreased their recreational potential. In our design opportunities, we propose to leverage the inter-municipal connections that these natural features provide by restoring them in a way that simultaneously enhances them as regionally significant public spaces.

living with the marsh

Living with the creek

Living with the Coast