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Building Resilience in New York City’s Neighborhoods

The Municipal Art Society of New York recently participated in a series of community workshops convened by the Mayor’s Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR). Held in 11 of New York City’s neighborhoods impacted by Superstorm Sandy, MAS recruited over 150 facilitators to lead working table discussions at the workshops and collect feedback from the communities.

 

The SIRR team is now in the process of synthesizing the materials collected from the workshops, to incorporate into its report to be released in May 2013. The report is expected to provide recommendations for implementing City departments and agencies, to guide the city’s rebuilding efforts and build its resilience.  The SIRR team has recently released a new website which can be found here, and also includes a page to submit additional comments.

With each table of workshop participants, facilitators were tasked to discuss what valuable assets in each community should be preserved, and to identify the vulnerabilities that need to be protected.  While ideas varied between neighborhoods, the workshops overwhelmingly demonstrated the personal resilience of community residents and neighbors before, during, and after the storm, and recognized those neighborhood vulnerabilities, many of which pre-existed the storm and were exacerbated by Sandy.

As experts on their communities, residents brought many great ideas to the table – from implementing a car-share program with pick-up and drop-off locations for commuters on the Queensboro Bridge, to creating a Home Resiliency Audit, to designing a central community Hub to provide shelter, information and supplies when any kind of sudden weather disaster strikes, or to developing recreational and economic opportunities along the boardwalk in the Rockaway’s where, “if you build the beach back the community follows.”

Recognizing resilience is more than just protecting against water: residents view the rebuilding process as an opportunity to address the economic, social, environmental and cultural concerns that have challenged their neighborhoods long before Sandy hit.  The storm brought some new challenges, such as damaged infrastructure, flooding in homes and businesses, and health concerns related to mold and stormwater runoff.  But primarily, the storm exacerbated pre-existing problems in neighborhoods that were facing a myriad of challenges for years, if not decades.

In the Rockaways, where isolation and lack of transportation has weakened their economic base, or in those neighborhoods in Brooklyn where their health and safety is threatened by the constantly flooding Gowanus Canal Superfund site, and throughout the city where public housing and low-income populations are housed in Zone-A flooding areas, these pre-existing vulnerabilities need to be addressed in order to provide the resilience needed to adapt quickly to future disruptive events. As one Staten Island resident stated, “We should have a good sense of who is living in each neighborhood and what their needs are.”

The storm is an opportunity for New York to evaluate its assets and address its vulnerabilities to ensure the City as a whole can build economic, cultural, social, and environmental resilience.  Acknowledging the importance of continued engagement with communities in the resilience building process, MAS is committed to continuing to work with communities in both the impacted neighborhoods and throughout the New York City to help build a Livable and Resilient City for all New Yorkers.

Through continued coordination at the MASNYC Resilience Roundtable, community capacity building at the MAS Spring Livable Neighborhoods Training, and ongoing research and outreach into the City’s resilience efforts, MAS will work to develop a Resilience Framework that will challenge the next administration to ensure the resilience agenda lives on.