Climate change means higher sea levels and extreme storms are the new normal. Hurricane Sandy , snow in Jerusalem , heat waves in Australia , and other recent weather events underscore the importance of preparing for climate variability. As these changing weather patterns create uncertainty, local governments, businesses and communities face the question of how to reduce their contributions to climate change, adapt to its effects and prepare for the next natural disaster.
Sandy caused unprecedented damage to hundreds of communities and has led to a critical examination of all options for enhancing resilience. PlaNYC has explored long-range climate questions in its waterfront planning which would require development projects that need city approval to plan for sea level rise. NYC’s new city-managed development projects are being elevated out of the floodplain. A recently passed amendment to the zoning code amendment will make it easier to elevate electrical equipment to building roofs. The city is also working with FEMA to update floodplain maps, which will inform planning and zoning and trigger building code requirements. Local jurisdictions face many questions as they move to rebuild. With rising sealevels, what is the best method for rebuilding? If we rebuild along the same footprint, are we setting ourselves up for the same vulnerabilities?
For many cities like NYC, a comprehensive adaptation strategy will include soft measures, such as restoration of wetlands and oyster beds, and zoning changes, as well as hard adaptation measures with major infrastructural development including levees, sea walls and barriers. Perhaps there are lessons we can learn from the Dutch who have built massive storm surge barriers. We should be asking such questions as: What is the role of ecosystems and green infrastructure in protecting against storms? Should the solution involve more hardscape or greenscape or a combination?