Urgent Work

Urgent Work

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg unveiled a comprehensive plan this month to address the looming hazards of climate change to New York City. The ambitious 438-page report, aptly titled “A Stronger, More Resilient New York,” calls for $19.5 billion in funding to implement a program of roughly 250 recommendations to protect the city’s buildings, infrastructure, and public realm from severe storms and rising sea levels. The initiatives outlined in the plan are often site specific and run the gamut from local storm surge barriers and beach nourishment strategies to zoning changes and new design solutions for damaged homes.

A few months after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the east coast, Mayor Bloomberg assembled a task force, the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency, to study the impact of the storm and create a thorough resiliency plan to tackle the challenges posed by changing weather patterns and to provide new resources, strategies, and support in the ongoing recovery efforts.

“It is a full spectrum response,” said Illya Azaroff, principal at +LAB and co-chair of design for risk and reconstruction at AIA New York, who attended a private technical review of the report. “As Seth Pinsky said, ‘there is no silver bullet’ to address all conditions including zoning, building code, and actual physical building. The report is really broken down into multiple layers of response that are needed to have multiple layers of resiliency.”

The report first takes a sweeping look at climate change by offering a detailed account of Sandy’s impact on the city. It then assesses the risks that lie ahead with the likelihood of more extreme storm surges and imminent topographical changes to the city’s 520-mile coastline within the next 50 years.

Radley Horton, associate research scientist at the Center for Climate Systems Research at the Columbia University Earth Institute, participated in Mayor Bloomberg’s New York City Panel on Climate Change (NPCC) and served on its technical team, which provided much of the insight and climate projections for “A Stronger, More Resilient New York.” Horton said that this plan provides critical information that not only applies to New York City, but also benefits other coastal cities. “The mayor’s plan offers a multi-faceted approach to adaptation, so that for other coastal cities, it offers many potential points of entry in thinking about their vulnerability to storms and sea level rise. The report talks about hard engineering solutions and green infrastructure solutions.”

The plan is systematically divided into several sections, including 37 coastal protection initiatives and 14 building initiatives that target specific locations throughout the five boroughs, and give a timeline for implementation. Bloomberg’s vision includes setting up community design centers across the city that will guide property owners through the process of reconstructing and retrofitting their homes.

While some property owners will need assistance in redesigning their homes to comply with new building codes, others living in areas extraordinarily vulnerable to flooding and rising sea levels will likely need to plan for relocation. And through the New York Smart Home Buyout Program, property owners in certain neighborhoods will be given this option. Negotiations for a buyback program with residents of Oakwood Beach in Staten Island are already underway.

The report sets into motion a number of coastal protection measures. For example, starting as early as this year bulkheads will be constructed in several waterfront communities, including Great Kills in Staten Island and the Rockaways in Queens.

Lower Manhattan, home to 70,000 residents and the city’s Financial District, was inundated with water during Sandy. The report anticipates that the threat of flooding will only increase and recommends installing an integrated flood protection system, composed of different tactics from floodwalls to landscaping, to prepare for the onset of more severe storms.

“Now the plan is incredibly ambitious and much of the work will extend far beyond the 203 days that we have in our administration, but we refuse to pass responsibility for creating a plan onto the next administration,” said Mayor Bloomberg in a speech at the Navy Yard introducing the report. “This is urgent work and it must begin now.”