Hoboken Mayor Wants to Wall In Her City

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For people who thought barriers around cities became unfashionable when the Berlin Wall fell two decades ago, consider this: The mayor of Hoboken, N.J., thinks walls may be the best way to protect this compact city of 50,000 from future storms like Sandy.

The mayor, Dawn Zimmer, is proposing two walls, one along the southern border, the other along the northern. They would connect with a cliff that forms a sort of natural wall along the western edge of Hoboken.

Zimmer said the wall proposal, which she is outlining in her State of the City address Wednesday night, came in response to revised flood maps issued recently by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Those maps will essentially require property owners who are substantially rebuilding damaged homes, and future developers, to put the first occupied floor 13 feet above street level, she said.

“You won't be able to walk into your store. You'll have to go up many, many stairs,” she said in an interview before the address. “Or you will have to go up to your residence. They are talking about changing the face of the urban landscape. That kind of a requirement will destroy Hoboken.”

Each wall segment would connect to a natural cliff along the western edge of the city. Parts of the wall would be retractable, like walls that are currently used to protect hospitals (including one in Binghamton, N.Y., that used Federal Emergency Management Agency funds the same way that Zimmer would like to for Hoboken).

The New York Times reported details of the wall idea Wednesday morning.

Klaus Jacob, a special research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and an expert on hurricane preparedness, said a protective wall is a reasonable short-term solution, but that walls should be considered in conjunction with other measures in case the flooding exceeds its height.

“They protect for a while, not forever and only for a certain storm surge height,” Jacob  said. “Once that functionality degrades you have to raise them, and sometimes that provides a false sense of security as they did in New Orleans with the levees.”


Matthew Schuerman spoke with Host Amy Eddings about Mayor Zimmer's flood protection plans. You can hear their conversation by clicking the audio link above.