NYC's Plan to Mitigate Future Storms

Immediately after Hurricane Sandy hit the North American Eastern seaboard last October, NYC embarked on a debate on the ways in which the city could be protected from future storms that climate scientists predict will escalate in frequency. Engineers, architects, scientists from myriad disciplines came up with proposals, inspired by international solutions, to apply to this particular application. We were presented ideas of sea walls, floating barrier islands, reefs and wetlands. Diverse in scope, the ideas have gone through the ringer of feasibility. Should we build to defend or build to adapt?

On Tuesday, NYC Mayor Bloomberg announced a plan that includes $20 billion worth of both: a proposal of removable flood walls, levees, gates and other defenses that would be implemented with adaptive measures such as marshes and extensive flood-proofing of homes and hospitals. We have learned over the years that resilience must come with a measure of adaptability if we are to acknowledge that climatic and environmental conditions will continue to challenge the way in which our cities are currently being developed.

What does this plan entail and what can we imagine for the future of NYC? Find out after the break.

The mayor's plan, a long-term adaptation that would be implemented over "many years, possibly decades", includes both tangible measures in addition to new policy implementation. According to Jennifer Pletz of ArchRecord "smaller systems of gates and levees should be built to help shield a creek in Brooklyn and possibly other waterways that can carry floodwaters inland. The removable floodwalls in lower Manhattan would essentially be a system of posts and slats that could be put up before a storm. They would be at ground level, perhaps combined with planters or an esplanade."

Additional measures within the 400-page plan suggest building dunes in Staten Island and the Rockaways, building a permanent levee along some waterfronts, including Lower Manhattan. The plan also suggests expanding beaches and marshes, measures that have been proven to naturally mitigate storm surge. Part of the $20 billion budget would be allocated to property owners in the form of grants to flood proof existing buildings through a series of measures updated by the Building Department and NYC Zoning Resolutions. Another portion is allocated for nursing homes and hospitals to update pumps and electrical equipment.

These tangible solutions are just one factor in creating resilience to a threatened system. Bloomberg's plan also includes policy changes that suggest adaptability, which requires changing the ways in which the city has been developed and advising methods of construction and future settlement of the NYC. Much of NYC has been developed within floodplains, low-lying areas prone to flooding that will only increase based upon sea level rise predictions. To address the vulnerability of these areas FEMA has already released updated maps last February that indicate the "base flood elevations" throughout NYC. These calculations have been raised by as much as two feet in areas of Brooklyn for future development. In response, NYC's Building Department has created more stringent guidelines to address the raised elevation which includes banning dwelling units from existing below this line, and in some cases, raising buildings on stilts to rise above the potential flood levels and incorporating a series of alternative egress solutions into the street.

Without delving into too many specifics, Bloomberg stated on Tuesday that "the report includes 33 recommendations that address resiliency in a wide range of buildings – including commercial buildings, multifamily residences, hospitals and 1- to 3-family homes – and offer options to help existing buildings become more resilient and strengthen the Building Code and Zoning Resolution to ensure future construction meets the highest level of resilience. It also proposes measures that would establish backup power if primary networks fail, protect water supplies and stabilize interior temperatures if residents need to shelter in place." ( The full report of the Bloomberg's Building Resiliency Task Force for existing buildings and future construction is available for download here.

Over the past eight months, proposals and support from federal and state level have surfaced to provide other potential solutions. Just this past February Governor Cuomo announced New York's buyout program that would help address the damaged homes and coastline with $400 million of federal aid money. The buyout program is a voluntary initiative to get people living along vulnerable coastlines on the Rockaways on Long Island and Staten Island to sell their land to the government at pre-storm values. The goal is to discourage resettlement in these areas and instead use the land to build up protective barriers of marshland and wetland. As of this announcement, the program was only expected to appeal to some 10-15% of the population. It is too soon to tell if a significant number of homeowners are willing to take advantage of this program, but it is a step in acknowledging that adaptability also implies relocation.

With the next hurricane season fast approaching, NYC is making strides in mitigating the next storm with a series of solutions that not only updates city-wide infrastructural solutions, but implies that property owners must enlist measures to safeguard their spaces through the city's devised recommendations. We can theorize about how this may change the development of NYC, and may one day have to face the increasingly apparent fact that much of the city will one day be submerged in New York Harbor, but in the near future we must face the impact of our present development and engineer adaptable solutions that acknowledge vulnerability.

About this author
Cite: Irina Vinnitskaya. "NYC's Plan to Mitigate Future Storms" 14 Jun 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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