On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy brought a 14-foot storm surge upon New York City, flooding roads, subway stations, and electrical facilities, paralysing transportation networks and causing power outages. Forty-three people lost their lives and at least US$19 billion in damages were caused. Out of the devastation rose a renewed determination to make the city more resilient in the face of severe weather events. Understanding and planning for climate risks was a goal originally enshrined in PlaNYC when it was launched in 2007 by C40 Chair and New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. It is a pioneering effort to accommodate a growing population, enhance the quality of life for all New Yorkers and address climate change.
“A Stronger, More Resilient New York” – released only six months after Hurricane Sandy – is a plan that includes more than 250 initiatives that will further protect the coastline as well as strengthen the city’s buildings, and all the vital systems that support the life of the city (energy grid, transportation systems, parks, telecommunications networks, healthcare system, and water and food supplies). Building on the foundation laid by PlaNYC, the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency, a special task force convened by Mayor Bloomberg to draft the plan, worked closely with state and national agencies, and sought extensive input from elected officials, community groups and over 1,000 New Yorkers who participated in public workshops. Implementation is already underway to reinforce coastal protection measures, make the city’s buildings more resilient to flood and storms, revamp insurance options for home and business owners, and strengthen the healthcare, telecommunications, power and other critical infrastructure systems to address future climate risks.
Key examples of projects and policies in the plan include:
- Storm surge barriers on specific creeks and waterways
- Armoured levees on certain beachfronts
- Mandates for big buildings to undertake flood retrofits
- Rebuild damaged housing stock
- Reduce flood insurance rates for different resiliency measures
By implementing the first phase of “A Stronger, More Resilient New York” alone – focused on resilience of buildings and power infrastructure during future coastal storms – the city will be able to prevent economic losses of more than US$ 22 billion by the 2050s, according to current estimates.
The post-Sandy approach is innovative in that it engaged the entire city in a rapid, but very detailed, assessment and it dramatically revises New York City’s relationship to its coastlines. It is a vanguard example of making opportunity out of disaster and looking at ways NYC can grow and evolve by addressing climate change.