Building Back A Resilient City After Superstorm Sandy

Last month, The New York City Council Committee on Resiliency and Waterfronts held an oversight hearing to coincide with the eighth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. The storm devastated New York City: over a dozen residents were killed, almost 2 million people were left without power, and nearly 300 were homes destroyed. Sandy cost roughly $19 billion in damages and lost economic activity. These impacts illuminated the city’s need for a comprehensive coastal flood protection plan to prepare New York for future storm emergencies.

Following Superstorm Sandy, the New York City Mayor’s Office of Resiliency (MOR) strived to improve coastal infrastructure, which included securing a $20 billion resiliency relief budget. However, the Committee Report states the majority of this funding ($14.5 billion) is from federal agencies. This budget has provided much relief, including the completion of the Rockaway Boardwalk, a heat mitigation program, and the launch of multiple resiliency projects across the city. NYLCV testified that while the steps taken by the City have been critical for affected communities, New York needs to establish its own resiliency plan for future emergencies rather than rely on federal emergency funding.

New York City needs legislation, including Intro 1620, to ensure that our shoreline is protected from the increased intensity and frequency of weather events associated with climate change, including storm surge, extreme heat, sea-level rise, and flooding. Along with emission mitigation, coastal and infrastructure protection is needed to lower the threat of future storm events. A plan is needed to evaluate individual neighborhoods and assess which of those are most at risk, using flood and climate data. Implementing effective mitigation measures including floodwalls, wetlands, and erosion prevention, is needed. Additionally, lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color should be prioritized for risk assessment and hazard prevention, as they are generally the areas who are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. Local community organizations should be included in this process as well.

Despite Superstorm Sandy’s damage, it presented an opportunity to recover and reconstruct a more resilient city. Going forward, the city must focus on a preventative and forward-thinking resiliency plan, rather than waiting on the aftermath of the next crisis and relying on federal relief. NYLCV looks forward to the Mayor working closely with the City Council and its agency partners to create a citywide strategy to build more resilient coastal infrastructure.