NEW YORK—Hurricane Sandy brought water levels to 14 feet above sea level in Battery Park when it hit New York City on Oct. 29. The storm not only brought unprecedented damage, but a renewed sense of the significance of planning for climate changes.
On Thursday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg gathered both public and private officials to discuss measures the city will take to ensure its safety and security from the water that surrounds it.
Prior to the mayor’s remarks, former Vice President Al Gore surprised the audience for a short, but passionate 10-minute speech on climate change, a topic he has fought to bring into the national discussion for years.
Gore blamed the 90 million tons of pollutants being dumped into the atmosphere each day for the uptick in extreme weather events. “We have had 11 huge disasters related to climate,” said Gore. “Dirty energy causes dirty weather and we have to come to our senses and do something about it.”
It comes down to making smart choices and having the right data.
—Roland Lewis, president and CEO of Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance
Gore had sharp criticism for the Obama administration, which he said has done little about the issue of climate change, instead listening to special interest groups in the coal industry. “We cannot have four more years of mentioning this [climate change] occasionally and saying it is too bad Congress can’t act,” he said. “It all comes back to us. We have to send the message. It is time to act.”
Recovering from Sandy continues to be a priority for New York City, and Bloomberg wants to see smarter rebuilding. He suggests incorporating recovery plans with ideas already outlined in PlaNYC, a comprehensive plan released in 2007 and updated in 2011, to “green” New York City and prepare for a changing climate.
“The biggest challenge that we face is adapting our city to risks associated with climate change. And meeting that challenge will require us to take a leap into the future,” the mayor said. “But I think, as Al [Gore] pointed out, the good news is, compared to any other American city, we’ve got a running head start.”
While Sandy devastated many of the coastal areas of the city, new construction that had been built with the higher standards born from PlaNYC survived, or sustained little damage.
The park being built on Governors Island, elevated 4 feet to comply with new development guidelines, sustained no structural damage. Planned developments, such as Willets Point and the recycling facility in Red Hook will all be required to be elevated.
During Hurricane Sandy, all of our major infrastructure networks failed.
—Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Red Hook sustained heavy damage in the storm, proving the value of elevated structures in that particular area.
“For the most part, the waterfront development that has taken place over the past decade withstood the storm in pretty good shape, because of the environmental standards we adopted,” Bloomberg said.
Seth Pinsky, president of the City’s Economic Development Corporation, has been tasked with developing concrete recovery plans to rebuild smarter, more sustainable structures in the communities hardest hit by Sandy.
Learning to utilize and live with the city’s 520 miles of waterfronts is key to minimizing damage in the future.
“It comes down to making smart choices and having the right data,” said Roland Lewis, president and CEO of Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance (MWA), Thursday.
The MWA released a 12-point plan Wednesday, recovery ideas that came from a meeting last month.
Many of the points brought up by MWA have begun to be addressed by the mayor and his staff, including updating and retrofitting the existing waterfront infrastructure.
“During Hurricane Sandy, all of our major infrastructure networks failed,” Bloomberg said. He wants to see critical components, such as the electrical infrastructure, moved out of the 100-year flood plain map—a map that needs to be updated for the first time since 1983.
The revised map will be a key tool for Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway and Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda Gibbs, who are charged with reviewing how the city prepared for Sandy and making improvements on preparedness for future storms.
As Mayor Bloomberg pointed out, New York City has a history of learning and improving from tragedy: the Great Blizzard of 1888, which paralyzed the city’s elevated train system was the impetus to putting the subway underground; the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire that killed 146 garment workers led to improved fire and safety codes and restrictions of child labor.
“After each one of those calamities, New Yorkers recognized that the city had to survive and thrive, and we are only going to do that if we adapt,” Bloomberg said. “The future is in our hands. I’m 100 percent confident they’re in good hands and we will deliver.”
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