My first impression of the three-bedroom on the edge of Brooklyn Heights? It’s airy and light, 800 square feet, with a view of the Manhattan Bridge and One World Trade Center to boot. Somewhat sparsely furnished, it’s outfitted in a crisp, unfussy style that’s modern without being cold. In short, it’s the opposite of what I’d expect to live in if, say, a tornado had just leveled my apartment building.
But that’s exactly what it is: a prototype of an urban post-disaster shelter that could become New York’s answer in the event of another Hurricane Sandy.
For the last week, Jim McConnell, an assistant commissioner for strategic data in the city’s Office of Emergency Management, and his husband, Joe Hickey, have been acting as guinea pigs, living in the place and recording their observations. Another 30 OEM staffers have signed up to do the same.
Why all the testing? The problem is that in a place as densely populated as New York, other types of post-disaster housing, like the infamous FEMA trailers used in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, don’t work—particularly if victims of a hurricane, tornado, earthquake or explosion have to live in the place for a year or more until permanent housing is built. No, in New York City, we need multi-story accommodations that mimic our full-time abodes.
The prototype, situated on a city-owned lot next door to OEM’s headquarters, is a three-story building with an apartment on each floor: a 500-square-foot one-bedroom on the ground floor, an 800-square-foot three-bedroom on the second floor, and a 500-square-foot one-bedroom on the third floor.
The structure took a mere two days to put up, but it’s built to last for 50 years and can be moved to different sites. As many as 20 of them can go up on a single lot, preferably close to affected neighborhoods so disaster victims can stay close to transit and schools. This past April, the prototype was trucked to the city and constructed at a cost of $1.5 million. (The price should come down if and when it’s mass produced.)
Shouldn't these be built now to alleviate the emergency homeless crisis, and not shelved for 100-year storms? Oh wait, we sold all the city owned land for $1 to developers of luxury condos. Never mind.