In New Jersey, Mayors Design for Stronger, More Resilient Cities

September 2013 – BELMAR – In response to Superstorm Sandy, the Mayors’ Institute on City Design (MICD) held a special design institute in Belmar, New Jersey from September 18-20, 2013. Over the years, MICD has been a leader in providing post-disaster design assistance, working with mayors in New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina and with mayors from Joplin, Missouri and Tuscaloosa, Alabama following recent tornados.

The Mayors’ Institute on City Design is a National Endowment for the Arts leadership initiative in partnership with the American Architectural Foundation and the United States Conference of Mayors. MICD was founded in 1986 by Charleston, South Carolina Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. During the last 27 years, MICD has assisted over 950 mayors in addressing their most pressing city design challenges.

Belmar, New Jersey Mayor Matt Doherty hosted this special design institute. After Sandy, Mayor Doherty was vocal amongst local leaders, pushing for state and federal funding. He spoke at the Tourism, Arts, Parks, and Sports Committee meeting this summer at the United States Conference of Mayors’ Annual Meeting in Las Vegas, stressing that the “Jersey Shore is open for business.”

In addition to Mayor Doherty, the event was attended by Mayor Susan Howard of Monmouth Beach, New Jersey; Mayor Dina Long of Sea Bright, New Jersey; Mayor Michael J. Mahon of Oceanport, New Jersey; Mayor Jennifer Naughton of Spring Lake, New Jersey; and Mayor Michael Ryan of Lake Como, New Jersey. Piscataway, New Jersey Mayor Brian Wahler and Hope, New Jersey Mayor Tim McDonough welcomed their fellow mayors, along with the Mayors’ Institute on City Design Director Trinity Simons, National Endowment for the Arts Chief of Staff Jamie Bennett, and the United States Conference of Mayors CEO and Executive Director Tom Cochran.

Coastal New Jersey mayors met with design and development experts over a day-and-a-half to discuss critical design and planning challenges their communities are facing post-Sandy. Each mayor presented a case study, and experts in architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning, water infrastructure, economic development, and transportation offered pragmatic advice on how the mayors could approach the projects to rebuild stronger, more climate resilient communities.

The mayors’ projects addressed a wide array of issues, including: water resources engineering for failing infrastructure, working with state and federal partners to maximize limited resources, elevating structures and maintaining street character and accessibility, boosting local culture and heritage to promote tourism, rebuilding municipal structures, and promoting economic development.

Spring Lake, New Jersey Mayor Naughton initiated design discussions by presenting her borough’s efforts to prevent future flooding of Wreck Pond. The borough would like to elevate homes around the water body and build a “living shoreline” to reduce the impact of water overflow in an event of severe storm. The project also presents an opportunity to introduce recreational uses for the pond. The resource team gave design recommendations to prevent flooding and promote recreational uses, and they gave implementation suggestions on how to work with local and state partners to maximize results.

Sea Bright, New Jersey Mayor Long followed with a presentation that focused on the underutilized beach in her community. Public access to the beach is currently blocked by an uninterrupted sea wall that lined the borough’s uniquely narrow landform. The resource team gave guidance on appropriate programming of the beach that can help stimulate local economy and make Sea Bright an attractive regional destination.

Oceanport, New Jersey Mayor Mahon presented on his borough’s efforts to redevelop a portion of the decommissioned Fort Monmouth. The 98-acre site falls within the water-rise risk zone identified by FEMA. The resource team encouraged the mayor to reconfigure the existing site plan to improve transit access, foster retail activities, and create a pedestrian-friendly environment.

Belmar, New Jersey Mayor Doherty concluded the day’s discussions with a presentation on the borough’s new boardwalk that was rebuilt shortly after Sandy. Confronted with funding restrictions to build hard infrastructure, Mayor Doherty was seeking soft infrastructure solutions that would protect this community investment from the borough’s vulnerable shoreline. The resource team encouraged the mayor to consider natural sand dunes and/or engineered dune system to strengthen and protect the new boardwalk.
Lake Como, New Jersey Mayor Ryan commenced discussions on the following day by presenting his borough’s efforts to address the flooding issues caused by a lake that sits on three jurisdictional boundaries. The resource team gave guidance on how abutting communities could find long-term solutions to this problem that involve regional stakeholders.

Monmouth Beach Mayor Howard concluded the Institute by presenting her borough’s efforts to rehabilitate several municipal buildings that suffered water damage during Sandy. These structures are located on the same block and on a main street in the borough. The resource team advised the Mayor to consolidate uses and rethink the site plan for the entire block instead of focusing on restoring the existing complex to its pre-Sandy conditions.

Joining the mayors at this event was a distinguished group of resource team members: Unabridged Architecture Director of Design and Sustainability John Anderson, AIA, LEED AP; HR&A Advisors Vice Chairman Candace Damon; Nspiregreen Partner and Principal Planning Manager Veronica O. Davis, P.E.; Sasaki Associates Principal Jason S. Hellendrung, ASLA; Hargreaves Associates President and Senior Principal Mary Margaret Jones, FAAR, FASLA; University of Pennsylvania School of Design Dean and Paley Professor Marilyn Jordan Taylor, FAIA; and Interboro Partners Principal and New Jersey Institute of Technology College of Architecture and Design Associate Professor Georgeen Theodore, AIA.

This special design institute was sponsored in part by United Technologies Corporation. Since 1986, MICD has helped transform communities through design by preparing mayors to be the chief urban designers of their cities. MICD conducts several sessions each year. For a list of upcoming events, past attendees, or for more information, visit

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Posted in: Center for Design & the City, Civic Leaders + Government, Community Engagement, Design Leadership, Mayors' Institute on City Design, Partnerships, Print

The American Architectural Foundation has been dedicated to advancing the role of architecture and design in American society since its founding in 1943 by the American Institute of Architects.

In its 75 years in existence the Foundation’s work has taken many forms — from educational programming and exhibitions in its early years to large-scale design initiatives and programs —all of which serve to create a rich legacy.

As the managing partner of the Mayors’ Institute on City Design for twenty years, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the United States Conference of Mayors, the Foundation helped move the needle on design and cities. And, through its other signature programs like Save America’s Treasures in partnership with National Parks Service, the Sustainable Cities Design Academy, and Design for Learning, the Foundation has provided critical design leadership training and technical assistance to hundreds of elected officials, education leaders, business leaders, and other key decision makers in the design process.

In recent years, cities and civic leaders have embraced design and design thinking in a way that could not have been imagined when the Foundation begin its work back in 1943 — and AAF’s role in this transformation is a source of great pride for the Foundation. With this increased interest in the role of design in shaping our cities came a proliferation of new organizations to support and facilitate this cultural shift. These advances in the role of design in American society and changes in the nonprofit design sector, coupled with the departure of the organization’s longest-serving CEO, prompted the Foundation’s Board to embark on an intensive and lengthy process to examine the ongoing role and work of the Foundation.

As the Board of Regents reflected on the positive changes of the cultural value of design, the accomplishments of the Foundation, and how the legacy of the Foundation’s work is being carried out by its former staff in new roles and organizations across the country, they reached the conclusion that the American Architectural Foundation had accomplished what it set out to do. As a result, the Foundation began to complete its remaining programs and wind down its operations in the Summer of 2018 and the organization’s endowments have been distributed to allied organizations. The Foundation’s research and reports will remain available on its website as a resource to the field.

The Foundation’s work would not have been possible without the incredible talents of its many staff over the decades, the generous support of its funders, and the tireless dedication of its civic & design partners across the country. The Board remains deeply proud of the significant contributions Foundation has made in its 75-year history and would like to acknowledge that this would not have been possible without the efforts, dedication, and support from so many of you.