A ULI Advisory Services panel convened to advise Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, on a post-hurricane rebuilding strategy and panel convened to advise Detroit on a tactical building reuse and preservation strategy offer a glimpse at the breadth of urban challenges addressed by the Institute’s advisory program, as well as the collaborative effort between ULI and panel sponsors to find solutions.
A panel of ULI members visited Toa Baja in December 2018 to advise the municipio, which had been ravaged by Hurricane Maria in 2017, on how best to build for local economic and climate resilience as well as boost prosperity for all residents. The panel was supported by ULI Southeast Florida/Caribbean, the Puerto Rico Builder’s Association, Alvarez-Diaz & Villalon, the Kresge Foundation, Toa Baja Municipality leadership, and Mayor Bernardo “Betito” Marquez.
Following tours of the hardest-hit areas and interviews with numerous community stakeholders, the panel concluded the week-long visit by advising Toa Baja that it can rebuild in a strong and prosperous way if it embraces physical, social, and economic strategies as pillars of resilience. Its recommendations emphasized different facets of resilience, including the following:
– Physical resilience: The panel recommended that Toa Baja encourage the use of natural drainage systems on private property, redevelopment, and new developments;
– Social resilience: Panelists urged the municipio to prioritize consensus building and civic engagement activities, and strive to become a regional model for other municipalities; and
– Economic resilience: Panelists recommended that Toa Baja identify locations for housing relocation and growth by launching a strategic locational planning effort, support storm-affected businesses by providing grants and mentorship programs, and pursue federal workforce training and job creation programs.
“We entrust the panel recommendations to the leadership of Toa Baja to utilize in their community discussions around resilience. We believe that, with commonwealth support, Toa Baja can serve as a model for other municipios in Puerto Rico,” said panel chairman and ULI Life Trustee James DeFrancia, principal of Lowe in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
Sarah Sieloff, executive director of the Center for Creative Land Recycling in Oakland, California, served as the panel’s vice chair. “Ultimately, our recommendations were grounded in an understanding of Toa Baja’s vulnerabilities, a focus on jobs and housing, thinking critically about how and where to build, and viewing resilience in a business sense, especially considering the costs of inaction.”
Mayor Marquez pointed to the benefit of having the panel’s fresh perspective on what could be achievable. “It was clear that doing things in a traditional way would be ineffective,” he said. “I felt that the combination of local community leadership working together with experts from ULI from around the globe would be the best way to disrupt the process and rethink all these issues.”