What's Up With the Rockefeller Foundation and Jamaica Bay?

Most New Yorkers don't think much about Jamaica Bay and only glimpse it when they're flying in and out of JFK airport. But this 18,000-acre wetland estuary east of Brooklyn and west of Queens is actually a big deal, providing a unique environment for wildlife protection and urban recreation. Oh, and it can protect the city from hurricanes. All of which is why the Rockefeller Foundation is keenly interested in the area.

Recently, the foundation awarded $1,195,301 to the RAND Corporation to develop a decision framework and support tool to inform public policy agencies concerned with cleaning up Jamaica Bay. The RAND Corporation, which employs legions of wonks tackling public policy challenges, has actually released publications about environmental issues in Jamaica Bay since the late 1960s. 

Jamaica Bay is on a number of radar screens these days. Back in 2012, the National Park Service and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation teamed up to manage 10,000 acres of city and federal-owned parks in and around Jamaica Bay. The New York Knicks helped MillionTreesNYC and PwC New York plant 1,500 trees and 200 shrubs in Jamaica Bay Park to restore an area severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

With New York City newly attuned to its vulnerability to storm surges, Jamaica Bay is suddenly being viewed in a very different light. 

“Jamaica Bay has been a longtime community gem, but its breathtaking views and grassy marsh also serve a significant purpose — storm protection,” Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder said last year. “Jamaica Bay contains natural barriers that have proven to be more effective than any man-made sea wall or levee."

Rockefeller's recent gift is a two-year grant that will extend through April 2016. And this isn’t the first time the Rockefeller Foundation has given support to Jamaica Bay revitalization. The foundation previously awarded $1.6 million to the Fund for the City of New York to restore Jamaica Bay and develop a Resilience Center for research and experimentation on climate resilience, community engagement, and environmental education.

According to a 2013 blog post by Peter Madonia, the Rockefeller Foundation’s Chief Operating Officer, “The Jamaica Bay Science and Resilience Institute is our first investment in a bricks and mortar facility for resilience — that’s because, quite frankly, it will be the first center of its kind anywhere in the world. And it is an idea whose time has come.” The Rockefeller Foundation’s support for this unique facility paved the way for the foundation's 100 Resilient Cities challenge, which provides technical support and resources for urban resilience in 100 cities around the globe.

With the foundation's help, the RAND Corporation will be looking to the future of Jamaica Bay, and its recommendations could lead to bigger activities and grantmaking. It's all very interesting, and we'll be keeping an eye on this one.