Hurricane Sandy was a cataclysmic event that highlighted many of the critical issues associated with rising sea levels, storm surges, and water quality in New York City. Two months after the storm, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg instituted the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR), wherein a multidisciplinary team was assembled to generate a sustainable planning strategy for the city, an ambitious and necessary step in preparing for climate change. On June 11, Mayor Bloomberg presented the SIRR recommendations in a 438-page report titled A Stronger, More Resilient New York.
Kate Orff, the founding principal of SCAPE, a landscape architecture and urban design studio based in Manhattan, worked on the Coastal Protection section of the report, in partnership with various engineering and planning firms. Orff said that the SIRR report is a revolutionary way to think about urban adaptation to climate change because it does not present a singular, mono-infrastructural solution, such as a seawall or a floodgate. Instead, the report capitalizes on the expertise of a diverse group of specialists to provide medium- and long-term goals. As a landscape architect, Orff promoted a systems thinking approach among her team as they were developing strategies to explore ideas for combining various green, gray, and blue infrastructures to come up with integrative solutions.
The SIRR report also contains Community Rebuilding and Resiliency Plans, which is where Laura Starr, founding principal of the Manhattan-based landscape architecture and planning firm Starr Whitehouse, contributed pragmatic ideas for leveraging multipurpose design. “When we were developing ideas for the waterfront, we ultimately wanted to create landscape for all aspects of the community,” said Starr. “It is completely feasible for a waterfront landscape to perform in many different ways, such as for habitat, for recreational space, as an economic generator, and, of course, for protection.” The idea is to look at storm protection from a larger perspective in order to create a high performing landscape for the entire neighborhood.
On September 4, A Stronger, More Resilient New York was given a City Climate Leadership award by Siemens and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) for its focus on adaptation and resilience. The award brings global recognition to New York City for its excellence in urban sustainability and leadership.
After Sandy, Mayor Bloomberg was determined to produce the SIRR report because New York City “can’t just rebuild what was there and hope for the best. We have to build smarter and stronger and more sustainably.” While there are parts of the city that are still recovering from the devastating storm, the SIRR report has established a comprehensive vision for the future that will reach far beyond Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor, which ends this December. With landscape architects and others primed for implementing resilient design, there will be plenty of work cut out for the next mayor to continue the recovery efforts and prepare a stronger, better-protected city.