Three NJIT Officials Address the United Nations

Three NJIT officials addressed the United Nations Friday, participating in an international conference about how cities can use resilient design to prepare for natural disasters. The United Nations is establishing policies on resilient design -- design that emphasizes stronger building methods -- and the addresses by NJIT’s Joel Bloom, Urs Gauchat and Thomas Dallessio will have an influence on the formulation of that policy. Their remarks will become part of the United Nation’s proceedings and help it establish international policies relating to resilient design, housing and infrastructure. The conference, titled “Resilient Design for Sustainable Urbanization,” was held as part of and in tribute to World Habitat Day, where cities around the world organized conferences addressing how they can improve transportation during disasters. It was held in the United Nation’s Economic and Social Council and attended by 400 people. The conference was organized by UN-Habitat, the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization, AIA-NY and the Center for Resilient Design at NJIT. The conference was divided into two panels, the first of which, “To Build or Not to Build,” was moderated by Gauchat, Dean of the College of Architecture and Design; President Bloom later talked about the resilient design efforts at NJIT; and Dallessio, director of NJIT’s Center for Resilient Design, introduced the afternoon’s panel discussion on how resilient design can build sustainable communities and enhance urban mobility.

NJIT Center Takes the World Stage

The Center for Resilient Design, a co-sponsor of the conference, promotes innovation in storm-resistant building. It has also helped various communities in New Jersey rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Though just a year old, the center is already getting national and international recognition. Over the last year, teams of NJIT students and faculty have fanned out across the metro region, using their technical and design skills to help communities hurt by Sandy. That’s why the center was invited to co-sponsor and participate in a major international conference at the U.N. “To be invited to address the United Nations is a great honor for our center and validates what we are doing,” says Dellassio. “It also puts New Jersey and resilient design on the world stage.” The conference was attended by Ban Ki-moon, Secretary of the United Nations, and John Ashe, President of the U.N. General Assembly, who participated in the panel discussions. They were joined by experts from national and local governments, nonprofit groups and institutes as well as academia and industry, all of whom presented case studies on how cities can use resilient design to prepare for natural disasters.

Do We Have the Political Will to Rebuild?

Dean Gauchat, the first NJIT representative to speak, moderated a four-person panel. In his introductory remarks, Gauchat summarized the effects of global warming and then raised a series of questions for the panel and the audience. “Is it possible to retreat from all disaster-prone areas?” he asked. “And can major coastal cities retreat? Are there safer areas to move to that are not already populated? And most importantly, can long-term solutions to achieve more resilience be reconciled with the typical short-term thinking of politics and business?” After each of the panelists spoke, Gauchat summed up by stressing that while humanity has the technical knowledge to rebuild resiliently, what it lacks is a collective political will. “Resilient design is a fascinating topic,” said Gauchat.  “We know where to do it, we know how to do it, but ultimately it comes down to political will.    I am optimistic because the United Nations is all about collaboration. And I think our talks today will help us find and implement resilient design solutions.”

President Bloom Praises the Center

During lunch, President Bloom gave his address in the U.N.’s South Dining Room.  He gave an overview of NJIT, explaining why a nationally-ranked research university, located in Newark, is ideally suited to help the metro region rebuild. And he praised the Center for Resilient Design, where architects, designers, planners and other construction experts have collaborated to help the region recover and to prepare for other disasters spurred by rising sea levels. “I was personally affected by the storm,” said Bloom, “my house was destroyed by Sandy and was recently rebuilt. So I appreciate the quick action taken by the Center for Resilient Design, which just a few weeks after the storm had students and faculty in flooded areas, assessing the damage and thinking up resilient ways to rebuild homes and businesses.”

Detailing the Success of the Center

In the afternoon session, Dallessio, the director of the center, introduced the second panel of experts and framed the discussion. In his remarks, he said the center was created with the express purpose to help residents, businesses and communities recover from and anticipate future natural disasters. In one instance, he said, the center asked NJIT students and faculty to donate more than 3,500 hours of time volunteering to help communities from Newark to Beach Haven recover from Sandy.  Professors and students provided communities with 2-D, 3-D and 4-D designs for their homes and businesses. And 600 students also volunteered to give up their spring break, and to spend it instead working in New Jersey to help communities recover from the storm. “The challenges of resilient design for sustainable urbanization are varied and many,” said Dallessio. “Sustainable urban mobility will require us to be, as we like to say in New Jersey, stronger than the storm.  And in the end, innovation and best practices can and must be shared, making us smarter than the storm.”

By Robert Florida