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Notes from SRL Research Salon III

The third Superstorm Research Lab Salon took place on Tuesday, July 2nd.  Unlike previous salons that brought together researchers, activists, and community organizers, the aim of this Salon was to start a conversation among researchers and academics with varying interests in Superstorm Sandy.

Included in the Salon were representatives from the Metropolitan Art Society (MASNYC), NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge, Columbia University’s Center for Disaster Preparedness, and the Pratt Institute, among others.  When attendees arrived they were asked to hang four post-its on the wall – two for topics that they were knowledgeable about and two for topics that they hoped to learn more about.  These post-its formed clusters on the wall according to interests so that attendees could break into smaller discussion groups later in the evening.

SRL started the conversation off by sharing one of their long-term goals: to build a large database where people can easily access different media on Sandy, including sound, video, newspaper articles, and interviews for open consumption and analysis. The first phase of this project will be launched on August 1.

Three main themes emerged from our larger group discussion.  The first theme focused on how scholars could engage with local stakeholders throughout the research process, and how they could do so in meaningful ways.  There was great interest in how different stakeholders could work together, including feedback on how coalitions had started; how members from academia, business, and philanthropy could collaborate; and how we could all work together to move the rebuilding process forward and prepare for an unpredictable future.

The second theme concentrated on the kinds of recovery trajectories that people have discovered in their research.  Several attendees questioned how others were measuring recovery, and whether preliminary findings demonstrate that recovery has been equally distributed.  Generally, attendees thought that Sandy had revealed existent inequalities such as high unemployment, lack of educational opportunity, low levels of affordable housing, and insufficient infrastructure.  These inequalities were exacerbated by the storm and there were calls to further explore these topics, especially comparatively.

The last theme that emerged focused on resilience. (the word with a million meanings!) Salon attendees voiced concern that in many ways resiliency had become a new buzzword.  The danger in this is that suddenly the word holds actual little meaning.  There were calls to re-envision what resiliency means so that it is a tangible concept and does not become abstractly used by scientists and politicians.

Another discussion that generated considerable interest centered on the Rebuild By Design (RBD) contest.  Please click here to learn more about this competition, which is sponsored by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and run in conjunction with the Institute of Public Knowledge (this institute is also a funder and host of Superstorm Research Lab) and MASNYC.

After taking a break, we turned to our wall of post-its. Groups of 2-5 started discussions around issues such as housing, gender and inequality, media, and data.  These groups encouraged more focused discussions that allowed attendees to talk about their individual research and interests in Sandy.  It also provided researchers with the opportunity to make connections for possible future collaborations and discover the kinds of projects that are already in motion.

The purpose of the salon was to foster shared knowledge and stronger ties in the community of researchers working on the Superstorm and its aftermath – and on this count it was a great success. Thank you to all of the attendees and our thoughtful SRL facilitators, Ned Crowley and Shelly Ronen. Keep an eye out for our next Salon, which will take place in late summer/early fall.

Summary by Alexis Merdjanoff