How Can We Use Creativity to Design Innovative Approaches to Rebuilding a Safer, Sustainable Jersey?

Posted on by Elizabeth Murphy, Director, Creative New Jersey

Painted barrier in Belmar post Hurricane Sandy

Seven weeks ago today, Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey with a savage fierceness causing monumental destruction across our beloved Garden State.  As a current resident of Belmar, I am all too familiar with the devastation inflicted by Sandy.  I have seen my neighbors empty the entire contents of their homes onto the curb.  I have spoken with local business owners who are collapsing under the stress of losing their livelihoods and their residences.  And I have seen the shell-shocked faces of children living in the Disaster Recovery Centers.  In my hometown of Rockaway Beach, Queens, the devastation is even more overwhelming.

All across the region—from shore communities to urban centers—New Jerseyans are now faced with the staggering challenge of deciding how and where to rebuild.  If we accept that our sea levels are rising as the planet warms up (according to the most recent authoritative report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007, and an updated study by German oceanographer and climatologist Sefan Rahmstorf of the Institute for Climate Impact Research, published on November 29, 2012), the frequency of super storms and the damaging effects of storm surge will continue to increase.  According to Climate Central’s Michael D. Lemonick, “Even the 1-foot rise in the New York area from 1900 to the present was enough to boost the destructive power of Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge.” These reports are all the more worrisome when we consider the fact that 53% of the US population live along coastal counties.

We stand at the precipice of our future—of decisions regarding environmental strategies, population growth, fiscal stability, and the health and safety of our nation.  For our own recovery and rebuilding efforts in New Jersey, now is the time for us to think and act creatively.  We must challenge our old assumptions and ask different questions.  We must summon the courage to re-imagine how we live with water.  As we move from relief efforts into long-term recovery plans, our state’s leaders in government, commerce, philanthropy, education, culture, and science must collaborate.  No one sector, operating in isolation, can creatively solve our daunting challenges.

In the few short weeks since Sandy made landfall, we have seen a number of creative responses to this crisis, several of which have been detailed in recent posts on the Dodge blog.  The Borough of Madison offered to partner with Union Beach to support their restoration efforts.   Many of New Jersey’s leading philanthropies have established recovery funds, such as the New Jersey Recovery Fund, created by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and Community Foundation of New Jersey with support from additional local and national foundations.  Our colleagues at the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers have acted swiftly to educate New Jersey’s funding community on best practices in disaster grantmaking, and instituted weekly conference calls for local and national funders to hear from experts in a wide range of fields with experience in disaster management and recovery.

Hundreds of locally-targeted acts of creativity are happening all around New Jersey.  The Belmar Arts Council has lifted the spirits of residents with the Barrier Mural Project.  Due to the destruction along Ocean Avenue, fourteen large cement barriers now block access along A Street to the ocean throughout the town.  This past Friday, students from Randolph High School arrived and painted the barrier which sits in from of my house, with a host of other emerging and established artists creating similar murals on the other thirteen barriers.  Knowing that these concrete blocks will be stationed here for a long time, the murals are indeed a welcome sight.

We, at Creative New Jersey, are also working to be of service to our disaster-affected communities.  Our Call to Collaboration model is a community engagement approach which focuses on championing creativity as the vehicle for developing innovative solutions to support sustainable, thriving communities.  Our convenings assemble residents, local officials, nonprofit leaders, business owners, city planners, and others in a format that allows for all issues of concern to be raised and discussed.  Our work in disaster-affected communities will focus on the question, “How Can We Use Creativity to Design Innovative Approaches to Rebuilding a Sustainable Jersey?” In Monmouth County, as a follow up to our earlier Creative Monmouth: Call to Collaboration, we are working in cooperation with the Monmouth County Department of Economic Development and the Monmouth Arts Council to host another cross-sector, county-wide convening in February, focusing on positioning the county’s arts and cultural offerings as an immediate economic driver of tourism.  These organizations are “open for business” and have much to offer residents and visitors while the damaged tourism activities and points of interest rebuild.

We will also host a Call to Collaboration for Long Beach Island’s residents, business owners, and local officials, in cooperation with our friends at the National Consortium of Creative Placemaking (formerly Arts Build Communities).  And we will work to deepen our relationships with and support the great work of our colleagues at Sustainable Jersey, NJ Future, PlanSmart NJ, The Citizens Campaign, and others as we embark upon our community-building work in several of the shore towns and urban centers hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy.

Leading experts in the field of natural disaster recovery tell us our own recovery will take many, many years.  During these early days, we must foster an open and inclusive dialogue among all of our stakeholders and residents in order to imagine a better New Jersey.  We are Jersey Strong, and together, we can create innovative policies that support thriving, safer, creative and sustainable communities.

Elizabeth Murphy is the Director of Creative New Jersey.  She is also currently assisting the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers with their coordination of the Post-Sandy Philanthropic Response in NJ.

Creative New Jersey is dedicated to fostering creativity, innovation, and sustainability by empowering cross-sector partnerships in commerce, education, philanthropy, government, and culture in order to ensure dynamic communities and a thriving economy.

Creative New Jersey’s leaders and partners are regular contributors to the Dodge blog.

Image courtesy Creative NJ

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