After Hurricane Sandy, “resiliency” (policy changes intended to reduce the impacts of flooding) became central to all of Hoboken’s legislative decisions. Building code changes requiring the abandonment of the bottom residential floor of existing buildings if renovations and/or upgrades total more than 50 percent of the assessed value of the structure have become law.
While Hoboken must adjust to climate-related vulnerabilities, we must keep in mind that the worst effects from sea level rise aren’t projected to occur for several decades, and we must take care to ensure that adjustments do not create more problems than they solve. Unfortunately, Hoboken’s current efforts towards climate change adaptation ignore structural injustices for the middle/lower income residents and disregard, to an alarming degree, preservation of existing, captivating, historic architecture.
We cannot continue to ignore the unintended consequences of this resiliency agenda. The desire to transform Hoboken into a newsworthy “resiliency model” has set in motion unbridled displacement of Hoboken renters and evisceration of our treasured streetscape.
Long-time homeowners with unrestored properties can quickly reach that 50 percent threshold of assessed property value through repairs and/or upgrading. If these homeowners don’t have the means or where-with-all to retire one floor and add another, they’ll likely need to sell the property to a developer who will replace the existing building with a larger, modern structure that is completely at odds with historic Hoboken. Renters living in these properties are often permanently displaced. Clearly, the implementation of the resiliency policies fosters the negative consequences of renters losing their homes, historic buildings being destroyed, and all Hoboken residents having a diminished quality of life. These consequences are masked with green and resilient nametags.
The negative impacts of these resiliency policies are ignored while the destruction moves from the unseen displacement of renters to the shockingly out-of-character and bloated exteriors of new constructions. Residents are forced to move, or hopelessly watch, as historic buildings disappear. All the while, council members debate bike lane locations and our mayor tweets about cutting ribbons. Sustainability shouldn’t be a game of winners and losers creating divided sides that foster fragmentation, competing claims and contested landscapes. One group’s sense of belonging shouldn’t contribute to another’s feeling of exclusion. We must shift our priority to reinforcing what we have instead of replacing everything we can. Only this way can we move away from an atmosphere of “us v. them” where residents are caught in the trap of defending their ideas and identities.
It is essential, even urgent, for our local sustainability/resiliency champions to take immediate and deliberate steps to create infrastructures of inclusion and preservation. They must recognize who actually benefits from their green/resiliency agenda and how much of the town’s architecture is being sacrificed. Simply letting the problem “go away” through displacement and destruction isn’t acceptable.
The solution requires that we: Abandon the pretense that a green agenda is apolitical. Acknowledge that the success or failure of any project/policy can’t be judged on resiliency alone but, whether it sustains the community – properties and people alike. Admit that the disconnect between the desire to achieve full resiliency and the disappearance of Hoboken’s structures and people must end.