Thank you to William Solecki for leading this week’s brown bag discussion
Two feet is all it took for lower Manhattan to lose power during Hurricane Sandy. Had the barrier for Con Edison’s downtown facility been two feet higher, it would have held back Sandy’s storm surge. Yet Con Edison was not intentionally unprepared — it used information based on high-water events in lower Manhattan from the last 50 years, including Hurricane Irene, to decide how high the barrier should be. Unfortunately, Hurricane Sandy topped them all. So the question is, is it too big a feat to adapt and promote resiliency? Will we always be two feet behind?
William Solecki studies the impact of climate change on cities and his research sheds light on the steps cities can take to prepare for the next extreme weather event. One of the challenges is understanding the infrastructure impacts that these extreme weather events can have on our cities. Today’s cities are constructed of highly integrated complex entities, creating the opportunity for cascading system failures, making it extremely important to build in redundancy and resiliency.
Besides focusing on redundancy and resiliency, it is important for cities and policy makers to shift to a system perspective so as to better identify tipping points and vulnerabilities. This also means enhancing interagency and intergovernmental cooperation. The devastation of Hurricane Katrina, due in large part to the inability of the federal, state, and local governments to coordinate an effective response to the impending crisis, highlights exactly why intergovernmental cooperation is essential for managing climate change.
As part of the Expert Panel for New York City’s Climate Adaptation Process, Solecki has helped distribute information about future climate change, such as how the flood profile for New York City might change in the future. The set of maps below, which shows flood plains from 1983 to projected flood plains in 2050. illustrates just how large the impact is projected to be.
With more extreme weather also comes the need to rethink how codes and standards can be adapted for climate change. For example, if the city is hit by hurricanes of increasingly high intensity, building codes may need to be revised to ensure that the city’s buildings can withstand higher wind gusts. Hurricane Sandy served as a catalyst for the creation of the NYC Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency to investigate how to rebuild New York City and to become more resilient. Five of the proposals from the Building Resiliency Task Force Report, including analyzing wind risks, were signed into law by Mayor Bloomberg on October 2.
Luckily many other local government across the United States are responding to climate change, hopefully positioning themselves to be two feet ahead for the next extreme weather occurrence.
You can see William Solecki’s presentation here.
Flood plain images: PlaNYC 2013. Title image: NASA
Professor and Director, Hunter College and CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities
William Solecki is a Professor at Hunter College and Director, CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities. Professor Solecki’s research focuses on urban environmental change, and urban spatial development. He has served on several U.S. National Research Councils committees including the Special Committee on Problems in the Environment (SCOPE). He currently is a member of the International Geographical Union (IGU) Megacity Study Group and the International Human Dimensions Programme (IHDP), Urbanization and Global Environmental Change Scientific Steering Committee. He also serves as the co-leader of several climate impacts in the greater New York and New Jersey region. Read more here.