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A Plan for the Urban Resilience of New York City and Its Neighborhoods

Road to Resilience

Since the prescient events of Superstorm Sandy, which swept across the northeast coast of the United States in late October, 2012, the Municipal Art Society of New York has pulled together a number of convenings with coastal experts, local community leaders, and diverse stakeholders to discuss the lessons from this recent experience and to develop some key resilience principles going forward. For the third event in the series, MAS hosted Charting the Road to Resilience: From the Ground Up on Saturday, January 12. Joining the wide array of New Yorkers were a handful of recovery-hardened New Orleanians, who arrived to offer their support and recovery experience from seven years post-Katrina.

 

Pulled together with over 80 partner organizations, the program included a day-long conference, preceded by site tours of affected neighborhoods on Friday, January 11.  Untapped Cities one of our event partners, posted this photographic summary of the conditions tour participants found.

The Saturday was a mix of plenary discussions and sixteen concurrent working sessions, pulled together to tackle the most pressing questions, including:

  • Do we need a revised zoning regime to deter development from vulnerable areas?
  • Have theses events provided us with an opportunity to re-address environmental justice issues?
  • How can we better support NYCHA and other city agencies in their rebuilding and future preparedness efforts?
  • What are the most effective ways to connect community-based responses (Occupy Sandy, neighborhood led initiatives) with the more formal efforts of the city, state and FEMA?
  • What are the opportunities going forward to place a higher priority on sustainable building practices?
  • How can we help neighborhoods bolster their own preservation and recovery?

The tone of this diverse group on Saturday was markedly positive and respectful. There was a careful balancing act between acknowledging the state of disarray that many in affected neighborhoods still face, and the longer-term imperative to plan to cope better with whatever the next challenge or shock may be. There was a mutual recognition that the storm events around Sandy may have provided NYC with a useful wake up call from what climate scientist Klaus Jacobs appropriately labeled a previous state of ‘risk denial’. Jaime Rubin, the NYC-based coordinator of the task force charged with coordinating federal departmental responses, cautioned attendees that he wasn’t simply a ‘wallet’, encouraging us to recognize that we needed to be developing integrated strategies to which resources and expertise from all levels of government could be directed. Enviro-justice advocate Eddie Batista echoed that in the afternoon plenary, repeating the adage offered by veteran New Orleanians advocate Carol Bebell in the working session on cultural resilience:  “If you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu”.

Going forward, MAS is now working with the group facilitators and resource people to collate the results from all of the sessions and identify common approaches. We will continue to roll out an ambitious convening and community-based response and planning initiative, which, together with the many initiatives from partner organizations that are emerging, will ensure that a more resilient New York continues to be not only our shared ambition, but a reality.