After the devastation of Sandy was over, New Yorkers both in and out of city government began having the inevitable conversation: What do we do to stop this from happening next time? Most ambitiously, some scientists proposed a system of giant flood walls that would mechanically close off New York harbor from the sea, preventing the deadly and damaging flooding and storm surge from overflowing the city. That idea might not come to fruition (at least not yet), but today Mayor Bloomberg announced a still-ambitious plan to protect the city from the ravages of the next disaster.
The plan, according to the New York Times, involves a lot of new infrastructure construction:
In the first phase, the report calls for building barriers in Hunts Point in the Bronx to protect the food distribution center; on the East Harlem Waterfront along the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive; at Hospital Row north of East 23rd Street in Manhattan; the Lower East Side; Chinatown; the financial district; and in Red Hook in Brooklyn.
On Staten Island, the plan calls for a system of permanent levees.
Along some parts of the coastline, stone or concrete bulkheads would be installed, while in other places dune systems would be built.
The plan would also require power companies and hospitals to prepare for a once-in-500-years storm, not just a once-in-100-years storm, as they were before. Many hospitals lost emergency power during Sandy because the flood waters in their basement topped their flood-proofing: The storm was larger than anyone had possibly anticipated. The solution is to anticipate larger floods, with the Mayor’s office acknowledging that “by 2050, sea levels could be 12 to 29 inches higher, according to the plan. By 2080, they could be some 55 inches higher.”
A key part of the plan is the embrace of the concept of resilience. Large parts of the city won’t be designed to not flood, but to rather flood without loss of life and property. As you can see in the slideshow above, the beach and steps can take a large rise in water levels without destroying the structures (similar to these beach structures designed for post-Sandy beaches).
As Andrew Zolli, the author of a book about resilience told us a few months ago, what’s important to create a city that can bounce back from a Sandy-level disaster isn’t to plan for a specific event: It’s to plan for any deadly eventuality: “”It’s not like you can say if we just do X, Y, Z, then we’ll become resilient,” says Zolli. “It’s not about a checklist of things we know are problems, but about having systems that can deal with things we don’t see coming. There are risks that we don’t even know are risks.”