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Seven Months After Hurricane Sandy, Two Road Maps for the Future

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg released plans to help protect the region from the effects of climate change.

By Ronda Kaysen
June 14, 2013
Sandy
Photo via Flickr user buzzthrill
A home damaged by Hurricane Sandy in New York City's Far Rockaway neighborhood.

Seven months after Hurricane Sandy devastated the Northeast, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg released two reports, one calling for major changes to the city’s building codes and the other laying out a $20 billion plan to protect the region from the effects of climate change.

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Together, the proposals offer a glimpse of how the city’s buildings, roads, parks, and infrastructure may look in the years to come. The first report is the 438-page findings from the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency, a panel the mayor convened last December. It includes an array of suggestions including increasing wetlands, sand dunes, and floodgates. The second report, from the Building Resiliency Task Force, lays out 33 recommendations made by members of a city task force on how to protect buildings. It calls for owners to install wind resistant doors and windows, add hook-ups for backup generators, and add safety measures like a community water faucet for residents to use during a power outage.

The ambitious proposals, intentionally released the same week, have the potential to reshape the city’s buildings, coastline, and infrastructure in the coming years. For architects, designers, and urban planners, the city’s initiatives amounts to a road map, providing guidance and suggestions for a range of issues.

“Sandy was a wakeup call for architects and designers as well as everyone else involved in the construction industry,” says Jason Harper, an associate principal at Perkins + Will and a co-author of the AIA New York Post-Sandy Initiative Report. “It focused the entire design and construction industry on what was needed as a response.”

The Building Resiliency Task Force, an expert panel of more than 200 architects, engineers, designers, city officials, and property owners, was convened by the mayor and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn after Hurricane Sandy. Panelists looked at how to make the city’s existing and new buildings more resilient. Some of the recommendations require changes to the building code, which needs city council approval. Other changes, however, could be followed voluntarily.

At the heart of the Task Force findings lies a new attitude toward storm response: Rather than focus on evacuation, buildings need to become a place where residents can shelter without power. “We’ve had four major blackouts since 1965. What happens if one of those happens in the dead of winter?” says Russell Unger, executive director of the Green Building Council and chairman of the Task Force. “Fundamentally it comes down to designing buildings that can still be habitable if we don’t have power.”

While the Task Force’s findings address the city’s brick and mortar, Bloomberg’s sweeping report examines the city’s 520 miles of coastline. It zeroes in on specific neighborhoods, offering targeted recommendations like raising bulkheads, stabilizing shorelines, and improving roadway drainage. The result is a nuanced collection of 250 recommendations.

“One thing is clear: Having a plan that is based in the art of the possible leads to economic vitality,” says Claire Weisz, a principal at WXY Architecture and Urban Design, which advised the city on the Queens-Brooklyn waterfront. “Having these things spelled out helps the stakeholders and everyone involved.”

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