Bloomberg Unleashes Plan to Guide City Into Climate-Changing Future


On Tuesday, the Bloomberg administration released its long-awaited resiliency plan to shape up a city that will see a quarter of its land become floodplain in the next 40 years.

The city had a comparatively early start on climate planning–in 2007, it came out with PlaNYC, a set of recommendations to deal with population growth and climate change over the following 23 years. But as climate projections became increasingly severe, the city’s badly outdated, 100-year-old flood maps largely stayed the same. And then Sandy hit, wrecking the city in an unprecedented natural disaster.

The next New York City mayor will adopt an ongoing crisis. The New York City Panel on Climate Change estimates that sea levels will rise two-and-a-half feet by midcentury, along with increasing frequency of Frankenstein storms like Sandy–which is estimated to cost the city as much as $90 billion by 2050. Here’s a quick set of highlights out of the new game plan, along with how they’ll change our built environment over the next several decades.

Dunes, dunes, and double dunes. One of the main takeaways from Sandy was that beaches without dune barriers experienced the worst damage. That’s why the city will be working with the Army Corps of Engineers to implant dunes across beaches in Staten Island, South Brooklyn, Coney Island, and along the Rockaways. Breezy Point would see a double-dune system to protect the community from the kind of devastation it took in last year. Storm surge barriers would also be erected in “backdoor” flooding areas like Newtown Creek and Jamaica Bay.

Seaport City. This was probably the sexiest recommendation in the 400-page proposal. The mayor said he wants to build something akin to Battery Park City on the East Side of Lower Manhattan–an entire neighborhood constructed above sea level with new housing and office space.

Maps and flood insurance rate reduction. While the city works to develop updated maps with climate science taken into account, the plan also suggests adjusting flood insurance rates–which, in part, are determined by those map estimates. Homeowners who raise their houses on stilts, for example, could see a rate reduction for flood insurance, and low-income homeowners would receive insurance vouchers.

“Living” Shorelines. In line with dune protection, floodwalls, storm surge barriers, bulkheads made of stone at the water, and “groins” (jetties), the report also gives a shout-out to wetland protection, coastal forests, and oyster reefs, which could mitigate extreme waves. The plan suggests installing living lines of defense on Jamaica Bay, Staten Island, and along Long Island Sound.

Those are only four items out of hundreds of suggestions listed in the report. But is there anything the Bloomberg administration didn’t include? Despite recommendations from scientists like Columbia University geophysicist and risk management expert Klaus Jacob on “managed retreat”–pulling out of low-level areas and inhabiting higher ground–Bloomberg insisted that the city continue to develop its more vulnerable areas. “As New Yorkers, we cannot and will not abandon our waterfront,” Bloomberg said. “It’s one of our greatest assets. We must protect it, not retreat from it.”