Post-Sandy Resiliency: Up Until Now, and to the Future


By Tanya Silverman

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Though the storm occurred back in October of last year, there are still residual effects of Hurricane Sandy being felt throughout the New York Metropolitan area. Many residents, who remember anything from subway closures to power outages to residential displacements, are anxious about what will happen if another storm hits.

Earlier this month, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his 438-page proposal, A Stronger, More Resilient New York. As a multifaceted packet of solutions to facing possible future storms, this $20 billion plan calls for the construction of various dune systems, levees, floodwalls, tidal gates, surge barriers, and bulkheads to be built throughout the city. Some other aspects include updating building and construction codes, as well as going about various forms of infrastructural and systematic reform, from insurance to healthcare.

To get insight on the dynamics of resiliency within and beyond this plan, BTR interviewed representatives from two active organizations in New York City.

Municipal Art Society Engages Ongoing Resiliency

Examining Bloomberg’s A Stronger, More Resilient New York, Mary Rowe, the Vice President of Municipal Art Society, considers the 250 proposals to be a “very complicated set of relationships to actually invest in the resiliency of New York,” having reservations over the reality of the “cost, timing, and the risk that those things will fail.”

Though this ambitious, transformative plan was laid out recently, MAS — an organization that has been around for the past 120 years and active in the historic preservation, environmental efficiency, cultural vibrancy and economic sustainability of New York City — had been involved in various efforts of future hurricane resiliency well before its announcement.

For one example, Rowe explains how members of MAS have been pursuing efforts in “preserving the fabric” of Brooklyn’s Coney Island, an area that had been greatly affected by the storm. She considers it a “fabulously eccentric place” whose culture should be cherished. MAS has been looking at ways to balance preserving the character of the place in light of guarding it against future environmental damage.

Another area that MAS was concerned with was public housing as the organization has put effort into encouraging community members to speak with city innovators who are working in their area about what the community would like to see happen. Over 400 public housing properties were affected by Sandy, and Bloomberg’s plan calls for retrofitting these buildings. Hopefully, implementing such reforms will be carried out in a timely manner that falls in line with the wants of the tenants and their communities.

“I think it’s tricky to try to determine how you stabilize that neighborhood and protect it from further intrusion; but at the same time, you want the folks that live there to have a sense of ownership on how their neighborhood’s evolving,” Rowe explains the need to balance such important attributes.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance Analyzes the Plan

Roland Lewis, CEO of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, explains that although this organization did not directly write any of the plans for A Stronger, More Resilient New York, its final product did incorporate many of the ideas that they pursue:

“I think the work we’ve done with members of the administration over the last few years around this topic were heard.”

For instance, Lewis is thrilled that the plan calls for building ferry service throughout waterfront areas, a prospect the MWA has been pushing for years:

“We need to create a water-borne transit system which is useful and wonderful for any number of great reasons. For commutation, for economic development to liven waterfront neighborhoods in good times, and when the need arises, we’ll have it there in times of emergency.”

Lewis favors the vast majority A Stronger, More Resilient New York, which had been compiled by city officials, insurance representatives, and engineers. He points out that before the team’s engineers had proposed their various bulk heads, levees, dunes, and flood gates, they effectively analyzed the geomorphology and tide patterns of the region, taking into consideration the smaller bodies of water that caused flooding, such as Coney Island Creek, Jamaica Bay, and Newtown Creek.

Of course, there are some unsettled open ends that this plan could entail. If huge storms like Sandy become more frequent, certain waterfront neighborhoods may become impossible to maintain.

Furthermore, some of the proposed building regulations and requirements could possibly force low-income tenants to move out of their neighborhoods to be replaced by more resistant housing that only richer people could afford.

More predictably, there is also the reality that Mayor Bloomberg is leaving office in the midst of executing this plan. Lewis explains that MWA has taken this situation as initiative to for a petition that would highlight the best aspects of the plan, and then pursue waterfront resiliency as an important platform for the next mayoral administration.

Though Roland Lewis supports how Bloomberg’s plan incorporated all of the different areas of NYC, from Midtown Manhattan to Staten Island, he acknowledges that his organization also incorporates waterfront New Jersey, a place which has yet to come up with any idea of a solution. He suggests an integrative approach.

“There’s hundreds of townships in the in the state that are various parts of the waterfront up and down the coast in the New York Harbor, and each one of them needs to work together to try to create resilience,” says Lewis. “I’m always an optimist, but I think we have a little further to go on the Jersey side to create a resiliency solution.”

What proposals may get stuck in bureaucratic entanglements, who will win the next mayoral election, when the next storm will hit, which neighborhoods will be most effected, and how efficiently the response will go, may all be important issues that the New York Metropolitan region will face.

Nevertheless, at the present moment, residents can at least give credit that part of this plan has gone forth. In the Rockaways, crews have begun to lay out materials to rebuild the beach dunes.