Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, Can Rebuild by Embracing Plans to Protect People and Property While Strengthening the Community: Urban Land Institute

Report on rebuilding after 2017 hurricanes is based on recommendations from land use experts

WASHINGTON (June 27, 2019) – Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, which was devastated by hurricanes in 2017, can  rebuild in a strong and prosperous way if it embraces physical, social and economic strategies as pillars of resilience, according to a report released this week by the Urban Land Institute (ULI). ULI is a global, multidisciplinary real estate organization whose work is driven by more than 44,000 members dedicated to responsible land use and building thriving communities.

The report is based on recommendations from a panel of land use and urban development experts convened last year through ULI’s advisory services program to advise the municipo on how best to build local economic and climate resilience as well as boost prosperity for all residents. The panel was supported by ULI SE Florida/Caribbean, the Puerto Rico Builder’s Association, Alvarez-Diaz & Villalon, The Kresge Foundation, Toa Baja Municipality leadership and Mayor “Betito” Marquez.

The panel’s visit, which took place from December 2 to 7, included tours of the areas ravaged by Hurricanes Maria and Irma as well as interviews with a variety of stakeholders in the community. The visit concluded with initial recommendations by the panel, which were explained in further detail in the report.

The panel divided its recommendations for Toa Baja into three sections, emphasizing different facets of resilience:

  • Implementing physical resilience: The panel recommended that Toa Baja encourage the use of natural drainage systems on private property, redevelopment and new developments, integrating nature based design and recreational opportunities into the Rio de la Plata Flood Risk Reduction Project, and leveraging the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) Program from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to support strategies to strengthen critical utilities;
  • Implementing social resilience: Panelists urged Toa Baja to prioritize consensus building and civic engagement activities, and strive to become a regional model for other municipalities, designate a Municipal Resilience Liaison to coordinate resilience related efforts, and enhance preparations and emergency response capabilities by implementing the 2018 Operational Emergency Plan; and
  • Implementing economic resilience: Advisory Services panelists recommended that Toa Baja identify locations for housing relocation and growth by launching a strategic locational planning effort, study the feasibility of meeting residents’ needs at the Sabana Seca site, support storm-impacted businesses by providing grants and mentorship programs, and pursue workforce training and job creation programs through HUD to stabilize unmet needs of the current market.

“The Advisory Services panel engaged with the Toa Baja community concerning the response to the 2017 storms and building local economic resilience,” said Panel Chairman and ULI Life Trustee James DeFrancia, Principal, Lowe and the panel chair. “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.”

DeFrancia was joined by vice-chair Sarah Sieloff, executive director, Center for Creative Land Recycling, Oakland, California; Michael Bloom, P.E., environmental engineer and sustainability manager, R.G. Miller Engineers, Inc, Houston, Texas; Trini Rodriguez, principal, ParkerRodriquez, Inc., Alexandria, Virginia; Thomas Roth, principal, Grass River Property, Coconut Grove, Florida; Don Edwards, chief executive officer and principal, Justice & Sustainability Associates, Washington, D.C.; Christopher Calott, LaLanne Chair – R.E. development, architecture and urbanism and associate professor of architecture, University of California, Berkley, California; Bob van der Zande, director of residential markets, City of Amsterdam, Metropolitan Region; and Fernando Liano Berjano, sustainability coordinator, city of El Paso office of community and human development, El Paso, Texas. The Advisory Services Panel guests included The Kresge Foundation representative, Jessica Boehland, senior program officer, environment, Detroit, Michigan, and panel intern Kamilah Acebal-Acevedo, staff architect, FONS Design and Architecture LLC, Miami, Florida.

For more than 70 years, ULI’s Advisory Services Program has assembled ULI members who are experts in the fields of real estate development and land use to advise communities facing complex urban development challenges. In addition to Toa Baja, ULI advisory panels have assisted numerous communities with resilience-related issues, including Miami Beach, Florida; El Paso, Texas; Norfolk, Virginia; Duluth, Minnesota and Seattle, Washington.

“The work of our panelists in Toa Baja is an excellent example of ULI’s efforts to help communities become more resilient worldwide,” said ULI global chief executive officer W. Edward Walter. “It is a testament to the willingness of our members to give their time and expertise to improve how communities grow for the future.”

The assignment for Toa Baja is part of a series of advisory panels being supported by a generous grant from The Kresge Foundation to advance the Institute’s promotion of urban design and development practices that are more resilient and adaptable to the impacts of climate change. With Kresge’s support, ULI is leveraging the substantial expertise of its members to provide guidance on community building in a way that helps to preserve the environment as well foster a high quality of life.

Past sponsors of ULI Advisory Services panels include federal, state, and local governments; regional councils of government; chambers of commerce; redevelopment agencies; private developers and property owners; community development organizations; lenders; groups focused on historic preservation; local nonprofits; environmental organizations and economic development authorities.

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