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Vin Cipolla Op-Ed on Steps to Resilience

NYC aerial MAS President Vin Cipolla discusses how to build a more resilient city in an op-ed published in Crain’s New York Business. Many of the points raised in Vin’s piece will be addressed in our new series, The Road to Resilience. On December 13th, in partnership with the Center for Urban Real Estate (CURE.) at Columbia University, MAS presents Sink or Swim: Principles and Priorities for Waterfront Restoration in a Post-Sandy Era (registration is now closed).  And, on January 12th, MAS will continue the series with a special program, On the Road to Resilience: From the Ground Up. We have included Vin’s op-ed in its entirety below.

The next storm—and what NY needs to do
Steps the city can take to be better prepared.

As many communities and homeowners across the region grapple with the tragic consequences of Superstorm Sandy, conversations have shifted from the immediate crisis to the long-term challenges presented by severe weather. What the governor, mayor and other leaders have made clear is that we can’t continue to do what we’ve done and expect different outcomes.

The challenges to our city and region will only grow if we don’t come to terms with the difficult work ahead. As many have argued, these natural disasters are exacerbated by the choices we have made. Where we allowed housing, what we required for buildings, how we handled storm water and protected our infrastructure—all affected our resilience to Sandy.

It is time to start making different choices. Replacing what we lost cannot be our approach. Rebuilding requires far more careful planning. We need to think differently. As Mayor Michael Bloomberg sets out to craft a plan to make the city more resilient, here are starting points:

Rethink development in areas particularly prone to natural disasters. We need to understand our risk and have the courage to recognize that some places are not suited for development.

Locate—as much as possible—vulnerable populations away from flood-prone areas. This is an acute issue not only for nursing homes and hospitals, but also for crucial parts of our power grid and other infrastructure.

Align insurance regulations with a planning framework. The problems with flood insurance administered by the federal government and private insurers are well documented. Policies need to be consistent with a planning framework that describes where development is appropriate. They can’t undercut it by supporting or underwriting development in hazardous areas.

Create a more adaptable approach to keeping our city safe by incorporating ecological solutions. Some areas require costly interventions to prevent storm surges. But elsewhere we must innovate and embrace ecological approaches—for instance, by adding permeable material to our streetscapes and rooftops to better manage water, or, more broadly, by integrating the disciplines of landscape architecture, development and sustainability, and seeing them as indispensable parts of a city.

Refine and re-examine building-code regulations. We must think more creatively about the next generation of buildings and the opportunities to decentralize the power grid.

Recognize that neighborhoods need to adapt. All communities, not just waterfront areas and flood zones, must contribute to solutions.

Strengthen civic infrastructure. Post-Sandy coverage focused not only on the tragedies, but also the heroics of neighbors helping each other. We need to continue this civic spirit by engaging communities in conversations about their future. That will uncover better approaches, as well as identify people who -together will help rebuild a better New York.