As Larry Levine and Ben Chou discuss in their NRDC blog post ”New York and Pennsylvania: Among the Best at Planning for the Inconvenient Truths of Climate Change”, we have already seen what the progress of climate change has done to the most recent weather patterns and the harm it has caused to our infrastructure. Rising temperature throws off climate balances making some areas wetter and others drier, complicating water supplies, farmland and infrastructure. In the post, they point out the specific affects on densely populated urban areas and outdated infrastructure that cannot support heavy rains and increased runoff, which inevitably ends up in our waterways: New York City, Albany, Buffalo, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. While many parts of the country lack a comprehensive strategy to respond to these mounting threats, nine states have created detailed reactionary and preventative measures to deal with climate change (see the NRDC report).
However, public policies, regulations and reports are not always in sync with what people choose to construct or what actually gets built. New York’s 2012 Green Infrastructure Grant Program is promising in that respect; it is a step towards bridging that gap that exists between building purely for utility versus building to keep cities livable, functional and safe. The program focuses on storm water management, giving private enterprises the incentive to make responsible decisions that will alleviate the burden on the NYC sewer system. The grant has set aside $4 million for green infrastructure projects, which include green roofs, blue roofs, combined roofs, bioswales, permeable pavers and perforated piping. This money is open only for use on private properties and businesses, or along streets that abut privately owned properties and are located on sites that drain into a combined sewer. The full report is outlined here.
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New York is taking a number of steps and has set goals to address the effects of climate change. Levine and Chou mention that NY has set an 80 percent reduction of pollution goal since 1990 by 2050. It is a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), an effort to reduce carbon emmissions from power plants and has developed programs the address sea level rise. With the Green Infrastructure Grant Program, NYC is committing millions of dollars to develop private interest in green infrastructure with green roofs and rooftop farms, plantings and porous paving. Regulation of sewer systems is underway in an agreement between the city and the state as part of the Clean Water Act and sets targets for twenty years.
In order to maintain effectiveness in these policies, cities will have to continue to predict and preempt climate change with innovative strategies in policies, management of the various agencies, and incorporation of designs that push the status quo. NRDC has also created a report that shows the progress of cities’ readiness for climate change.
As Adam Ulam points out in an article in the Architect’s Newspaper, the projects that are promoted under the Green Infrastructure Grant Program will help reduce resources that go to gray infrastructure, ”such as holding tanks and sewage treatment plant expansions”. The stormwater, which is now seen as a waste product, will be used as a resource by the plant life that is proposed for rooftops and streets. The Department of Environmental Protection is prioritizing the riskiest areas to water quality control: Gowanus, Newtown Creek and Flushing Bay located in Brooklyn and Queens, New York.
The DEP has distributed three Requests for Proposals and has piloted projects as examples for the types of design strategies that will be effective. Ulam writes: ”One is an ‘enhanced’ tree pit on Autumn Avenue in Brooklyn that involves a curb cut that diverts water into the pit, where specially engineered soils and native plant species are used to absorb and filter pollutants. Another is a project at P.S. 118 in Queens that involves the study of green roofs and blue roofs which are non-vegetated source controls that slow stormwater runoff with weirs and drain outlets.”
In time, these street features will become staples in the way in which cities and streets are designed. In the meantime, due diligence is required by the both the government and designers to ensure that the infrastructure we build today has longevity and adaptability, and can endure climate change for future generations.
References: “New York and Pennsylvania: Among the Best at Planning for the Inconvenient Truths of Climate Change” by Larry Levine and Ben Chou; NRDC “Sweeter Swill” by Adam Ulam; Architect’s Newspaper