Though his time at the helm of New York City is running out, Mayor Bloomberg announced on June 11 a long-term plan for greater resiliency against extreme weather events. The plan encompasses actionable recommendations to improve 14 areas of infrastructure and the built environment. It also proposes plans to fortify five of the most vulnerable areas of the city against future storms and other extreme weather. The plan, called the ‘Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency’, is estimated to cost about $20 billion—though the cost of implementing the projects over time will eventually far exceed that amount. The Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency was assembled through a six-month process that involved state and federal agencies, community organizations, citizens and the New York City Panel on Climate Change.
The report’s Climate Change Analysis warns that, “clearly, while Sandy was historic, it was not, in fact, a worst-case scenario for all of New York City. And as the climate changes, raising the prospect of storms coming more frequently, the risks that New York City faces will only intensify.” The analysis also points out that storms aren’t the only climate threats that New Yorkers face and that the city is also vulnerable to other “extreme” events, such as heavy downpours, heat waves, droughts, and high winds. It explains that chronic conditions, such as rising sea levels, higher average temperatures, and an increased annual precipitation can make the effects of extreme events worse.
The report takes a holistic approach to resiliency and makes in-depth recommendations in 14 areas of citywide infrastructure and the built environment. One of the areas of focus is coastal protection, which steers away from the idea of retreat and instead focuses on minimizing impact on coasts by using measures such as bulkheads, flood walls, levees, and storm surge barriers. The other 13 areas of improvement include buildings, economic recovery, insurance, utilities, liquid fuels, healthcare, community preparedness and response, telecommunications, transportation, parks, environmental protection and remediation, water and wastewater, and other critical networks.
Five regions of New York City suffered greatly after Hurricane Sandy with widespread damage, significant business interruptions, and lost infrastructure. These five regions include the Brooklyn-Queens Waterfront, the East and South Shores of Staten Island, South Queens, Southern Brooklyn, and Southern Manhattan. The Community Rebuilding and Resiliency portion of the plan describes the vulnerabilities these areas possessed before Sandy. It explains what happened during the storm and predicts what future risks climate change will bring. Lastly, it outlines dozens of citywide and community-specific initiatives that will make these vulnerable communities resilient and able to better withstand future extreme weather events.
So, how does Mayor Bloomberg plan to fund all these measures and initiatives? The city’s proposals, if they are all enacted, would cost upwards of $19.5 billion. Bloomberg insists that these investments are necessary to prevent increasingly expensive and damaging storms. A storm like Sandy could cost the city $90 billion by midcentury, so any costs towards preventative measures will easily pay for themselves over time. Bloomberg says that $15 billion has already been provided through previously allocated city capital spending and federal disaster relief measures. That leaves a gap of $4.5 billion, which the mayor intends to seek from the federal government.
For successful implementation, the mayor’s plan will build on the systems and structures that have made PlaNYC a success. Four strategies will be taken from PlaNYC and applied to the resiliency plan, including assignment of clear accountability, development of regular, required reporting, identification of near-term milestones, and the creation of a clear and compelling federal agenda.