Stack 'em up folks.
First, it was shipping container condos in Detroit. Now, the Bloomberg administration’s somewhat hush-hush scheme to bring disaster housing of the freight container variety to New York City has officially been unveiled after several years in the making. And considering that there are now more than 20,000 New Yorkers across the five boroughs alone who have been thrust into long-term homelessness in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, this development couldn’t come at a better time. It's a shame it didn't come a bit sooner.
The Observer has the whole story, a story that’s largely focused on how nice New York’s post-disaster shipping container accommodations will potentially be.
There’s no other way to put it: Being displaced from a severely damaged or completely destroyed home following a natural disaster is a godawful experience. But what various city agencies and outside firms have cooked up — housing blocks of modular one-bedroom apartments that will be “bigger and brighter than the typical Manhattan studio” while offering “all the amenities of home” — sounds like a much more agreeable arrangement than sleeping on a cot in a high school gymnasium or bunking in an extended stay motel room rented for weeks at a time on the government's dime. Or a prison.
Lance Jay Brown, a professor of architecture at CUNY who worked with the city in developing the cargotecture disaster housing scheme, tells the Observer: “There’s nobody who wouldn’t like to see a deployable solution available now. But nobody has this, nobody. I think the Japanese are working on something, given all they’ve gone through, but I can tell you, New York is really ahead of the curve when it comes to long-term disaster housing.”
Brown adds: “We hope this will serve as a guide for best practices, not only for New York but the entire nation, and the world.”
Again, the Observer lays on the “nice” factor pretty thick, referring to the shipping container apartment set-up as the “FEMA trailer of the future, built with the Dwell reader in mind,” adding that, in terms of aesthetics, they’ll be like “CB2 meets Motel 6.” David Burney, commissioner of the Department of Design and Construction, emphasizes that “just because it’s prefab doesn’t mean it has to be an eyesore." Commissioner Burney adds: "It’s rather cool these days to have a house made out of a shipping container.”
In terms of cost, the city is hoping that each one-bedroom unit measuring roughly 480-square-feet will cost — FEMA, ideally, would finance the project — between $50,000 and $80,000. Larger units with additional bedrooms and bathrooms are also a possibility.
On one end would be the bedroom, with a bed, dresser, nightstands, probably a lamp or two. On the other end is the living-dining room, with couch, table, maybe an easy chair, and a small kitchen complete with pots, pans, china and flatware. In between is the bathroom, stocked with clean towels, soap, toothbrushes, even toothpaste.
In addition to comfort, functionality, and design-appeal, those involved with the project stress that the placement of the pop-up shipping container villages is key. The city hopes to deploy the container dwellings within affected neighborhoods and not on the outskirts of the city, on a massive barge, or in a giant sports stadium somewhere in New Jersey. This way, displaced residents can continue to be connected with the communities that they know and love while also helping with localized rebuilding efforts. As someone who experienced short-term displacement following Sandy, I can tell you being removed from my close-knit neighborhood in Brooklyn was just as difficult as it was not being able to sleep in my own bed for over two weeks.
The city, working with closely with New Jersey-based shipping container modification firm Sea Box, isn’t wasting any time with prototyping the plan. If anything, there’s a newly instilled sense of urgency following Sandy. A 16-unit test structure composed of containers stacked four high and four wide will be erected on a parking lot near the Office of Emergency Management’s Manhattan headquarters near the Brooklyn Bridge to see how it holds up structurally. It’s anticipated that it will be completed during the middle of next year.
If Sea Box is ultimately granted the final go-ahead to head up the project, the company would produce 15,000 shipping container housing units that would be dispersed around the country in groupings of 500 to 1,000. When disaster does strike, the units would be deployed not just to New York City, but wherever they are needed.
Those 15,000 units would supply the city for a month or two while production ramped up if more were needed — the city expects to contract with numerous contractors to produce these units. Following the program, they would be broken down, retrofitted and put back into storage for the next disaster.
Says William Begley of Sea Box: “An ISO container will last 35 years, and you can reuse it 20 times. The old FEMA trailers, tie them up for a year or two and they’re through.”
Lots more details on the plan along with thoughts from various New York City officials over at the Observer.
Related story on MNN: 8 eye-catching shipping container homes