Last fall, 43 New Yorkers lost their lives, tens of thousands were injured and displaced by Hurricane Sandy, and communities across the five boroughs were devastated by flooding and fires from the worst coastal storm in New York City history. In the face of incredible hardship, New Yorkers, especially our first responders, showed extraordinary courage, generosity and determination.
Unfortunately, Sandy warns of escalating dangers to come, as predictions indicate that climate change and rising sea levels will leave 800,000 New Yorkers living in flood hazard zones by the 2050s. Our City faces increasing risk of destructive climate events, including events five times the economic and personal destruction wrecked by Sandy according to projections outlined in Mayor Bloomberg’s resiliency report.
As the recovery process continues and New Yorkers get back on their feet, we have a responsibility to not only rebuild communities impacted by Hurricane Sandy, but also to reinforce our infrastructure, mitigate the potential impact of future disasters, and help lead the nation in changing local and national practices driving the climate change that threatens our planet and the very existence of our City.
When Hurricane Sandy hit New York City last fall, Bill de Blasio quickly mobilized the Public Advocate’s office to provide on-the-ground assistance to communities devastated by the storm. De Blasio was tireless in working to assist and protect vulnerable New Yorkers who were stranded without heat and hot water, encouraged comprehensive solutions for mold remediation, and sought expanded health protections for at-risk New Yorkers.
Effectively managing the impacts of climate change is one of the most urgent and pressing tasks facing this city. The next mayor will have three major challenges in the wake of Sandy: overseeing a transparent and effective rebuilding process to repair storm damage; improving the City’s disaster response experience for future storms; and strengthening the City’s long-term resilience to storm surges and extreme weather in the face of global climate change. Mayor Bloomberg is to be commended for his comprehensive plan for rebuilding a more resilient NYC. Bill de Blasio intends to make those plans a reality through a process that includes every neighborhood in planning a more resilient future that makes our City an even better one.
Support Community-based Disaster Preparedness. Guided by his discussions with community- and faith-based organizations (CBOs) following Hurricane Sandy, Bill de Blasio has outlined a series of recommendations to better harness the power of CBOs in preparation for the next major disaster. This includes (1) formalizing a collaborative plan that integrates CBOs into the City’s emergency management plan and ensures training for these groups, (2) enhancing communications networks to facilitate better coordination and distribution of supplies through CBOs, and (3) strengthen on-site coordinate through the creation of neighborhood specific emergency plans.
Increase Resiliency in Our Neighborhoods. In outlining his resiliency plan, Mayor Bloomberg wisely rejected big headline-grabbing, budget busting solutions like offshore barriers, which would cause unknown environmental damage and likely increase damage to coastlines farther away from protected barriers. Instead, the City needs to do a lot of targeted upgrades in every community, from armored stone shoreline protections in Coney Island to hardening vulnerable overhead power lines in Queens against winds, in order to protect local assets from the multiple threats of flood, rains, drought, windstorm and a host of other threats where general resilience, not any single solution, will be the key factor to weathering the next storm.
Expand Natural Storm Barriers and Protections. By restoring our coastal ecosystem, including wetlands and dunes, New York City can make important strides in protecting against future storm surges. Tidal wetlands serve many functions, from filtering water going out to sea, to perhaps its most important purpose, slowing and storing rising storm waters that could cause damage on shore. Sand dunes, especially ones with dune grass, played a vital role in sheltering communities from high winds and seawater. A modest investment in lining our shores with sand dunes, especially on the Rockaways and other beach areas, can save our city tens of millions of dollars when the next storm hits. New York City will also renew our waterways — such as the Gowanus Canal, Newtown Creek, and Jamaica Bay — to improve our water ecosystems and implement a ﬁve-borough bioswales initiative to minimize the pressure on our water and sewer system.
Upgrade and Strengthen the City’s Infrastructure. In his role as a trustee of the City’s largest pension fund, Bill de Blasio introduced a resolution in 2012 to dramatically expand local investments in infrastructure. Using both disaster relief funds and additional resources from the state and federal government, Bill de Blasio will coordinate financing for the construction, rehabilitation, replacement and expansion of infrastructure – maximizing the use or public funds while also mobilizing private sector resources.
Rebuild Smarter by Embracing Green and Flood-resistant Technologies. As the rebuilding process continues, New York City has an opportunity to upgrade construction to improve the long-term resilience of our communities. Bill de Blasio will ensure that new buildings meet new green energy and resiliency standards, while the City will provide long-term loans, using recovery funds and anticipated energy savings, to assist retrofitting older buildings. The City will adjust zoning to allow greater height in flood zones to account for elevating buildings and support upzoning for more resilient multi-unit housing to replace more vulnerable low-lying housing in flood zones.
Improve Resiliency of Power Systems. We need to embrace green technology and modernize our electrical system to increase efficiency and create redundancies, while reducing consumer energy demand and using smart meters to ease power management in times of emergency. By rebuilding schools with backup solar power systems, for example, they can serve as energy-independent emergency centers during future storms or blackouts. Where feasible, we will add new solar infrastructure in areas prone to power cutoffs in places like the Rockaways.
Make Our Health Care Systems More Secure. To protect our medical system in times of emergency, we need to improve the design of new hospitals, retrofit older ones, and expand electronic health records to ensure access to patient data during emergencies or in case of the destruction of medical facilities.
Plan for Extreme Heat Danger. With predictions that summers in New York in coming decades will resemble Birmingham, Alabama, Bill de Blasio will develop plans for dealing with extreme heat, especially for the poor and elderly population. We need to create a community response system to implement a Heat Health Warning system with expanded outreach to vulnerable individuals and access to air conditioning during heat waves.
Use Post-Sandy Rebuilding to Put New Yorkers Back to Work in Living Wage Jobs. One key way to assist communities devastated by Sandy is to ensure that local residents in affected areas are put back to work at living wage jobs on both immediate recovery and long-term work upgrading the resiliency of our City. We need to expand efforts like HireNYC and include incentives in every city contract for recovery to encourage those local residents to be hired for the work upgrading and retrofitting infrastructure and buildings.
Exercise National Leadership on Fighting Climate Change. However, nothing New York City does alone can stop the escalating damage of increasing climatic events if our nation and world does not limit the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change. Bill de Blasio will help lead other mayors and grassroots organizations across the country to demand national politicians enact the legislation and policies needed to radically reduce carbon use nationwide over the coming decades to limit the causes, not just the consequences, of climate change.