As we approach the three year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, many are asking if the City is now better prepared. Sandy was a wake up call that has compelled a lot of businesses, institutions, and infrastructure operators to invest in flood protection and make a plan for the next storm. Based on what I've heard from many of colleagues who do this work, if Sandy happened tomorrow, the hospitals, the subways--all of our critical infrastructure would be in much better shape than we were after Sandy.
Those with the means have taken action. But planners and urban designers should be more concerned about those who do not have the means but our still struggling to recover in the flood plain: the small businesses, middle to low income homeowners, and those who rent or struggle to maintain affordable and public housing. If you visit a neighborhood like Midland Beach or Edgemere you'll see a lot houses still damaged and many which appear to have been abandoned. You'll see a few houses which have been elevated which are owned by people who either had the savings or the fortitude to make it through the Build it Back program. In the next fews months, there will hopefully be thousands of more homes elevated by Build It Back, w. You'll also see multifamily buildings and public housing sometimes still running off of temporary boilers. Many of these will hopefully be replaced with systems which are both more resilient and more sustainable. A few like L&M's Ocean Village have already done so. But in general, there is just not enough public money to go around to make all of 70,000 or so buildings in the flood plain safe for future storms. A lot of those buildings present unique design challenges for adaptation. Accepted best practices of the National Flood Insurance Program are not suited to urban buildings like rowhouses and apartment towers. Thankfully, the City, the State, neighborhood groups, and advocates like the AIA and Enterprise have been advancing a public conversation about long term planning and design strategies for these neighborhoods. There is also an important ongoing process to remake the rules of zoning and code in the flood plain. We also need to advance reform of NFIP so that insurance premiums reflect risk. Before Sandy there was a major reform which promised to end the defacto subsidization of building in a high risk areas; but this was done without an understanding of the impact on affordable housing in urban areas. In general we need much more transparency in understanding risk and the ways to mitigate it.
And even though our infrastructure may now be better prepared for a storm like Sandy, the stress on this infrastructure from climate change, age and disrepair is ever increasing. We're going to have to find ways to make long term investments. This should be the most important issue in the presidential race: how are we going to fix our infrastructure and adapt our communities to climate change. We need a new deal and we can't allow politicians like Chris Chyrstie to score political points with the tea party and the Koch brothers by canceling a desperately needed rail tunnel under the Hudson.