Can cities partner with private businesses to raise money to rebuild?
A coalition of foundations announced Wednesday afternoon that Hoboken will be one of eight municipalities around the country taking part in a project to create public-private resilient infrastructure in urban America.
By the end of two years, the participating municipalities will have formed a comprehensive and fully-inclusive resiliency plan, as well as strategies by which to fund it.
Officials from the Rockefeller Foundation, the RE.invest Initiative, and Building America’s Future are behind the initiative.
Soon, a team of engineering, legal and finance experts, referred to as a “technical SWAT team,” will be dispatched to Hoboken to participate in the $3 million study. The study will identify strategies for cities to use private money to rebuild aging water, energy, and transportation systems. The study will emphasize green infrastructure and partnerships between municipal governments and private capital firms.
“We are thrilled to be one of the first cities in the country chosen for this innovative partnership,” said Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer. “The tremendous technical and financial guidance provided through the RE.invest Initiative will facilitate Hoboken becoming a more resilient community.”
“We are thrilled to be one of the first cities in the country chosen for this innovative partnership.” - Mayor Dawn Zimmer
Over 50 cities applied to take part in the study, according to Shalini Vajjhala of c.dots Development, the company heading the RE.invest Initiative.
“Hurricane Sandy was a wakeup call that cities across the U.S. need to protect their communities from the devastating impacts of future storms,” Zimmer said. “Our goal is to prevent the kind of destruction that is caused by these terrible storms, which are increasing in intensity.”
The Rockefeller Foundation has a history of funding studies into urban resiliency following major disasters. It is currently involved into a study linking the resiliency of various Asian cities to new types of infrastructure being explored there. Following Hurricane Sandy, it announced the 100 Resilient Cities Challenge, a $100 million project with similar goals to the RE.invest Initiative.
“It is critical that cities have the tools and strategies not just to respond to disaster but to plan for whatever contingency,” said Dr. Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation.
The Rockefeller Group, a real estate developer, owns a significant amount of property in northern Hoboken, but a spokesman for the group said this week there is no connection between her client and the Foundation.
Green infrastructure will be the focus of the study, including the possibilities of building green roofs and repaving roads using more permeable materials that result in less stormwater runoff.
Vajjhala said the study might also include considering the possibility of putting power lines underground and planting shade trees along major thruways, which would absorb considerable stormwater runoff.
Bechtel, an engineering firm, will head the planning aspect of the study, working with Hoboken officials to figure out the best types of projects for each specific city.
"Smart planning, innovation and an integrated approach are key to developing the sustainable infrastructure necessary to enhance the social and economic fabric of America's great cities," said Walker Kimball, one of the firm’s managing directors. "We are looking forward to using our technical know-how, our history of applying creative thinking to infrastructure planning, and our ability to help make projects become a reality.
The funding strategies, said Vajjhala, will focus on creating partnerships between public bodies and private capital firms willing to fund infrastructure projects.
“There is not a lot of public money available for this,” she said. “There is a lot of private capital.”
Ed Rendell, who is the co-chairman of Building America’s Future, an infrastructure think tank, as well as a former governor of Pennsylvania, spoke later in a press conference call about the importance of funding strategies his state encountered when it was exploring ways to improve Philadelphia’s storm resiliency.
“It’s very difficult to find ways to finance these projects,” he said. “That’s why it’s important to figure out ways to form a partnership between public and private groups.”
The Virginia-based finance firm that RE.invest has hired to head the money side of the study, Wall Street Without Walls, has made its name on discovering ways by infusing professional finance expertise into community development projects, will work side by side with city offices.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org