ECO LOGIC - SEA-SAW
By Madeleine Dale, Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker, West Side Office
The anniversary of hurricane Sandy invites reflection on NYC’s relationship to its’ shoreline. In the early 1990s, City planners instigated a long-range vision for conservation and development with contingencies for projected sea-level rise. Sandy did not derail the plans, in fact, policy shifted into a higher gear. As funds for recovery channel into commercial, housing and public access projects at water’s edge, the current interactive map shows no retreat in the wake of the storm.
With 520 wet miles, NYC has more shoreline to defend than any other U.S. city. The city responded to Sandy with A Stronger, More Resilient New York. The 456 page report on “actionable recommendations for rebuilding the communities impacted by Sandy and increasing the resilience of infrastructure citywide,” is a call for construction, not protection. City of Water, in the New York Times Sunday Review, questions the enthusiasm. Writer Kevin Baker accompanied Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor Caswell Holloway and Director of City Planning Amanda Burden on a boat tour of the East River development. Discussing defense, Cas Holloway expressed a preference for working smart and small over “two or three huge grey things.” The 6,000 green infrastructure installations, on sites from Staten Island, to City Island to Coney Island, will mitigate damages but offer no guarantees that future storms won’t require future evacuations.
“People have a misconception that protection from the water means not getting wet…Climate ready,” Cas Holloway notes “is not climate proof.”
NYC is on a short list of vulnerable coastal cities with populations over 5 million. While estimates of global sea level rise are measured in inches (4-11 inches), projections for local area reach up to 5 feet by 2080. Critical infrastructure in the path of storm surges includes 50% of the City’s power plants, several hospitals as well as tunnels for subways and trains. Map revisions released by Federal Emergency Management Agency enclose 800,000 residents in an area labeled the “100 year flood plain.” Dr. Cynthia Rosenzweig, a NASA/Columbia University scientist serving on the NYPCC (New York Panel on Climate Change), recently gave a lecture on the science/policy see- saw. In 2008, and again in post- Sandy 2013, the NYPCC analyzed data from 35 massively interactive computer-generated climate models. Dr. Rosenzweig conceded that:
“In terms of actuarial probability, the next direct hit could be hundreds of years in coming,” but added, “if we are clear about anything, we are clear about uncertainty.”
Clearly, in the City’s blueprint for development, the Rs in SIRR, (Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency), do not stand for retreat. The four feet of water from Sandy that flooded the Brooklyn Naval Yards will not deter 40,000sq. ft. of new retail. The ambitious Sea Port City, on the scale of Battery Park City, will rise in one of the lowest lying areas in Manhattan. Coney Island, near the flooded Brooklyn Aquarium, will host new hi-rise towers and no one has suggested relocating that Ferris Wheel proposed for the foot of Staten Island.
“We are a water city,” Times writer Kevin Baker quotes Amanda Burden on the East River tour, “we have to embrace it.” Some cities like Venice temper the romance with caution and build infrastructure like Moses to hold back the sea. When pressed on the wisdom of “reconnecting everybody to the water” the Mayor described a contingency plan of amplified emergency response with “smart people, communications and training, investment in lights and police cars and that sort of thing.” Not to suggest NYC is the next Atlantis, or even Venice, just noting the absence of caution. Aligning the emphasis on development with an offensive defense might right the balance between advance and retreat.
To work with Madeleine, visit her website or contact her over email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thoughts of Eco Logic are those of Madeleine Dale and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Halstead Property, LLC