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Urban Resilience in the Age of Northeast Hurricanes

As Joaquin Approaches, 150 Leaders in Urban Sustainability Ask: Are we building cities to be resilient?

In the lead up to this month’s three year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy’s landfall in New York City, 150 experts from the fields of advocacy, development, government, and academia gathered to debate the state of the city’s resilience planning. The discussions, held at the Museum of the American Indian and hosted by the Municipal Art Society of New York, came just as news of the now-Category 4 Hurricane Joaquin’s trajectory turned toward the East Coast.

Of central discussion at the event—titled Talking Resilience: NYC—was the future of New York’s application to the National Disaster Resiliency Competition (NDRC), through which the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development will distribute $1 billion in funding for disaster recovery and long-term community resilience. The importance of the competition, inspired by the resilience needs identified in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, was underscored as weather reports began to roll in.

“Whether Joaquin is remembered as a sequel to Sandy or just a fire drill, we must accept and plan for the fact that hurricanes along the Northeast Corridor are no longer an aberration,” said Mary Rowe, Executive Vice President of the Municipal Art Society. “For four hundred years, we have built some of America’s greatest cities in an area of the country that now faces weather threats that could never have been predicted or built for a generation ago—let alone ten generations ago. New York must set a model for cities in the region and around the world in proactively and intentionally addressing resilience challenges.”

Dan Zarrilli, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency, unveiled the linkages between the Mayor’s OneNYC plan and the overall resilience plan for the City. He invited New Yorkers to weigh in on the City’s draft Phase 2 NDRC application this weekend via the NYC Recovery Website at The application proposes a comprehensive plan focused on at-risk, high-population flood zones in Lower Manhattan and Two Bridges. The plan would protect and connect residents, businesses, infrastructure, and economic activity in these communities to bolster their resilience during disasters caused by changing climate and extreme weather and improve their everyday livability.

In addition to Ms. Rowe and Mr. Zarrilli, “Talking Resilience: NYC” featured presentations and discussions with Lisa Bova-Hiatt of the New York Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, Holly Leicht of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, Illya Azaroff of the AIANY’s Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee, Amy Chester of Rebuild By Design, Pamela Puchalski of New America, and Laurie J. Schoeman of Enterprise Community Partners.  A series of facilitated discussions in the afternoon provided opportunities for advocates and residents of the neighborhoods that would be impacted by the plan to weigh in.

Background on National Disaster Resiliency Competition

On June 22, 2015, HUD Secretary Julián Castro invited 40 states and communities who experienced a major disaster between 2011-2013 to compete in Phase 2 of the National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC.) The candidates will compete for almost $1 billion in HUD funding for disaster recovery and long-term community resilience. MAS is proud to serve as a lead adviser on community engagement for New York City’s application. The results of this week’s event will help inform that final proposal.

Background on MAS’s Resilience Work

The Municipal Art Society is New York’s leading advocate for building a more resilient and livable city for all New Yorkers. Our work is grounded in a commitment to building a City by Design—the guiding principle that cities must be built, planned, and programmed in a way that is intentional and strategically matched with the challenges they will face. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, MAS was a lead partner in Rebuild by Design, which secured $930 million in HUD funding for the Dry Line/Big U project to bolster resilience in Lower Manhattan.