Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg

Rhetorically Speaking: To SIRR, with Respect

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg outlined the roadmap to resiliency in a remarkable speech titled “A Stronger, More Resilient New York” on Tuesday, 06.11.13 at the Duggal Greenhouse of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Announcing and summarizing a 400-page report prepared by an interdisciplinary and interagency team led by the NYC Department of City Planning and NYC Economic Development Corporation staff, the Mayor was eloquent, cogent, and succinct.

Representing AIANY at the event were AIANY 2013 President Jill N. Lerner, FAIA; President-elect Lance Jay Brown, FAIA; Policy Director Jay B. Bond, and Executive Director Rick Bell, FAIA, your scribe. Brown, also the co-chair, with Illya Azaroff, AIA, of the AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee, said, “The comprehensive nature of the 400 page proposal to protect the city is laudable. It will take some time to review the entire proposal but it lays down the gauntlet, as no doubt intended, for whatever administration succeeds this vitally committed Mayor of our City, a true follower of the Ephebic Oath.” Some remember Mayor Bloomberg in an inaugural speech promising, as per the Athenian or Ephebic Oath, to leave the City “greater and better” than it was before.

Excerpts from the Mayor’s remarks follow after the jump. The recommendations parallel many of the options outlined in the Post-Sandy Initiative Report: Building Better, Building Smarter: Opportunities for Design and Development prepared by the Post-Sandy Initiative team led by AIANY with a host of sister organizations including the ACEC, APA, ASLA, CHPC, NYSAFA, RPA, and SEAoNY.

Remarks by the Mayor:

“Hurricane Sandy made it all too clear that we face real, immediate threats. These concrete recommendations for how to confront the risks we face will build a stronger more resilient New York. We’ve been working to prepare for what comes next. We are implementing sixty recommendations on how to be better prepared. This is a comprehensive plan to better prepare the City for climate change.

We’ve brought in dozens of experts from highly specialized fields, and we’ve done an in depth look on what happened during Hurricane Sandy and why. We consulted with people from every sector. Today, as a result of this unprecedented effort we have 250 concrete recommendations in a four hundred page report. We propose to strengthen fifteen critical areas including telecommunications and hospitals. There are five chapters on the communities that suffered the most from Sandy.

This was a phenomenal about of work led involving many people including the Department of City Planning led by Amanda Burden and Seth Pinsky, Director of the Mayor’s Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency.

This is urgent work and it must begin now. We will use every one of the remaining 203 days of the Administration to lock in solutions and not just pass along implementation to the next mayor.

The area covered by the FEMA flood plain maps keep growing. By mid-century up to a quarter of our land area will be in a flood plane with over 800,000 residents at risk.

We now have a choice to make. We can do nothing and expose ourselves to an increasing number of disastrous storms. Or we can abandon the waterfront. Or we can invest when and where necessary to build a stronger and more resilient city. We cannot turn our back on the waterfront. We have reclaimed large areas of the waterfront for new uses. And we are not going to stop now. It’s up to you to hold the next Administration responsible to get it done.

Offshore breakwaters and barriers are needed in some places. Fortifying natural defenses are critical. But it is impractical to build a giant barrier to close the harbor. But smaller surge barriers are feasible, especially to shut the back doors of flooding through canals. One storm surge barrier would be at Newtown Creek to prevent flooding in Long Island City and Greenpoint. We’re also starting a series of studies for other waterfront barriers, for example at Coney Island, where water came in through Coney Island Creek, a back door that Sandy easily kicked open.

Dunes, bulkheads, levees and other protection such as revetments can take place in a variety of place, including in Southern Brooklyn and on the East Shore of Staten Island from Fort Wadsworth to Tottenville, including Midland Beach.

A flood wall can be part of a park or other recreational area. Working with the Corps of Engineers this can take place immediately.

We are also going to expand the Bluebelts which have been extremely helpful on Staten Island. Also expand the Blue Belts to Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.

Adaptable sea walls, or integrated flood protection systems, for Red Hook, Hunts Point, Chinatown, near Bellevue Hospital and possibly down to the Battery can provide a strong line of defense. Temporary flood walls with removable panels can augment protection.

We’re going to have to live facing some of these new realities. Some views will be blocked. Some solutions will be controversial. But a range of new and exciting possibilities can be opened. Some places during Sandy did better than others. Battery Park City did pretty well, because it was designed to anticipate extraordinary flooding. This proved to be a great investment.

A new “Seaport City” on the east side of Lower Manhattan would capitalize on that demand, investing on the East River waterfront – an idea that deserves more study to handle extreme water but also make the city more vital and vibrant.
We need to integrate protection into vital new esplanades

This is NYC. We’ve always changed problems in to opportunities if we only seize the moment. We need to make it easier for buildings to continue in use. We are working with HUD to create a $1.2B incentive program to encourage homeowners to make improvements to existing buildings. When extreme weather hits, people will be able to return to their homes and offices sooner.

Insurance rates are also an issue. The problem is that insurance rates go down only if buildings are elevated, and sometimes this is not possible. Partial rate reductions should be possible for homes that make improvements even if they are not elevated. For example, moving building mechanical systems higher could make the difference between being able to stay in their communities instead of being priced out. What a shame if people had to move out because of higher insurance costs. We just can’t let that happen.

We also need a plan for protecting our health facilities and hospitals. We need to be sure that the buildings we depend on will be there when we need them the most. Today we are proposing a $15M incentive program to help nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Right now there are benchmarks for utility durability, but we need stronger measures to protect the power grid from storm surge and sea level change.

Our goal is not only to harden the electric system but to develop a cleaner method of use of technological change, not just hardening but modernizing. Currently, utilities are not held to service restoration standards during severe weather events like Sandy. If utilities want to continue to use our streets they will have to make improvements.

A new Planning and Resiliency Office will be created within the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications will work with service providers to increase the resiliency of New York’s systems. We will set resiliency requirements for telecommunications and hold companies responsible to keep the lights and heat on.

The City will work with utility companies, technology developers, and building owners to increase the flexibility of the grid and strengthen it with the integration of distributed generation and renewable resources. The City will also develop a robust system to provide fuel during supply disruptions caused by severe weather events, supply emergency response and other critical fleets. Breakdowns in the regional supply chain diminished availability of gasoline after Sandy.

Our analysis of critical infrastructure was citywide, but focused on particular areas. A stronger boardwalk and beachfront along the Rockaways should go hand-in-hand with economic development.

We’ve been asked how much will it cost. The total cost of the more than 250 recommendations detailed in the Special Initiative for Rebuilding report is $19.5B. The City can rely on $10B provided through a combination of City capital funding already allocated and Federal relief, as well as $5B from additional expected Federal relief already appropriated by Congress. We’ll press the Federal government to find additional funding.

I’ve directed our Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability to lead the City’s resiliency effort. We can get a lot done in six months, including making changes in the Building and Zoning Code.

Breakwaters and barriers are our first line of defense and reinforced dunes and widened wetlands will help diminish the impact of the waves that get through.

Homes and businesses will be better fortified and new smart construction better able to withstand storm surge. We can make our city safer and stronger and we can start now. This is New York City. We have a plan. We know what needs to happen and we need to get started today.”