Soon, the city will make similar preparations but on a vastly grander scale. Under a $19.5 billion blueprint released last month, New York outlined plans to fortify itself not only against the next big storm but against seas that scientists say could rise 21
2 feet by the 2050s and other climate-related challenges, including heat waves.
The 438-page plan, which involved a neighborhood-by-neighborhood survey of potential problems along 520 miles of coastline, vaults New York to the forefront of U.S. resilience planning, experts said, along with the gulf coast of Louisiana, which released its $50 billion plan in 2012.
“New York City’s sophistication in approaching climate adaptation is way at the top,” said Debra Knopman, vice president and director of the Rand Corp.’s justice, infrastructure and environment division, who has worked with Louisiana and is familiar with New York’s effort. “It’s a very, very impressive report.”
Still, many are waiting to see whether New York can and will follow through. That might depend on whether the next mayor is as committed to resilience planning as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) and whether the city can find the remaining $4.5 billion needed to carry out its plans. Officials here acknowledge that they will be returning to a deeply divided Congress for more money and to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for regulatory changes that will enable some of their efforts.
“The question is whether Sandy is enough of an impetus to maintain and sustain a plan like this,” said Jordan Fischbach, a policy researcher at Rand. “Is it close enough to the top of the list, and will it compete with other priorities in the decade or two to come?”
As Morello, a carpenter, and city officials here can attest, adapting to climate change is generally not technologically complex. It is mostly about raising homes, buildings and other vital facilities to escape rising seawater or, if that is impractical, building barriers . It is about taking advantage of the natural topography to help sap the strength of damaging storms, waterproofing and protecting critical infrastructure such as electrical grids and assessing the possible results of prolonged heat and drought, and trying to mitigate them.
“It’s not rocket science. A lot of these things are things we do already,” said Jessica Grannis, adaptation program manager at the Georgetown Climate Center at Georgetown University Law Center, a clearinghouse for information on such preparations. “It’s just tailoring them to a changed future.”