Federal housing secretary Shaun Donovan announced a design competition Thursday to help the region affected by Superstorm Sandy prepare for the next big storm.
Donovan joined officials from New York and New Jersey at New York University to announce the contest called Rebuild By Design.
Teams of designers, architects and others will be asked to submit concepts for projects to enhance storm preparedness in the region.
Winning projects will be implemented starting in March 2014, Donovan said.
There is no set budget for the projects, which Donovan said will be built using federal Community Development Block Grant funds as well as other public and private funds.
The projects are supposed to focus on broadly defined areas including coastal communities and high-density urban environments, but the type of project that might be chosen was left vague.
"We want a sketch of an idea up front, but then the emphasis is really going to be on a deep engagement with the issues," Donovan said.
Sandy pounded several states in late October, and New York and New Jersey were hit hardest. It was the deadliest hurricane in the northeastern U.S. in 40 years and the second-costliest in the nation's history.
The contest encompasses the five states designated by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for Sandy relief: New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maryland.
Finding ways to elevate buildings or otherwise protect them from flooding might be an example of the type of project that would be selected for the contest, said Laurel Blatchford, executive director of the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, an interagency body that Donovan chairs.
"We are trying very hard to be open-ended," she said.
The New York-based Rockefeller Foundation is contributing $3 million to run the competition.
"If we wait until the next Sandy, the next flood or the next heat wave to prepare, it will be too late," said Judith Rodin, the foundation's president. "We must innovate for resilience now in the in-between time to ensure that we are ready when the next shock hits."
Donovan said that huge storms that used to come once every generation are now occurring much more frequently and that officials must therefore build "better and stronger communities that can withstand the emerging environmental threats."
A panel on the design contest was chaired by Henk Ovink, a former Dutch official who has joined the Sandy task force as an adviser.
Donovan said he was inspired by a visit to the Netherlands, where people have centuries of experience in dealing with water.
He recalled visiting Maeslantkering, a storm-surge barrier that he described as "this unbelievably huge, sophisticated piece of engineering that blocks the river from backing up into Rotterdam."
"You go there and there is a visitors' center for kids, right?" Donovan said. "Every school in the region, it seemed like, would come and visit. ... You get a sponge in the shape of the Netherlands. There is a way of thinking about living with water that is sort of deeply imbedded in the culture."