Rebuilding for the Future: Resilience, Adaptation, Climate-Proofing

Despite all the problems inherent in bringing neighborhoods back after a life-altering, cataclysmic event that was Sandy, progress is visible. Demolition crews are on the way out; deliveries of sheetrock and appliances are picking up. While many people continue to need immediate help, the conversation is beginning to shift from simply making homes habitable again to looking ahead and asking – how should we plan for the future? What can we do better next time? What is worth retrofitting? Should certain areas be even rebuilt at all, or are we risking too much?

A cursory Google search shows that everyone – newspapers, think tanks, government agencies – is now jumping on the “resilience” bandwagon, trying to understand the impact of the superstorm on our infrastructure and to suggest ways to mitigate the damage in the future. While many questions remain unanswered (including where the money will come from), the very fact that the status quo has been disturbed and a discussion is happening is very good news.

To address these questions locally and in greater detail, SIMS will soon start participating in a series of community workshops in the Midland Beach area. The events are guided by the New York City Resilience System, a group that has been coordinating teams of volunteers in analysis of what New York City can do, going forward, to minimize weather-related damage in the future.

What does this mean in practice? In one way or another, the government will soon start a planning process that will eventually result in land use, transportation, and environmental changes to areas of the city. We need to ensure we have a voice in this process, and that can only be done by organizing and stating, loud and clear, what we want.

A fair bit of exploration, and even soul searching, may have to go in this. The community may pursue a variety of goals: borrowing ideas from other cities about flood protection and waterfront industries. Living less impact-fully. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Waterproofing wire conduits. Experimenting with changes in community character through elevated living. And any number of other things!

The conversation is just beginning, and this is an exciting time. Being jolted out of their comfort zones has caused people a lot of grief, but also a lot of opportunity to look past the (now broken) fence to their neighbor’s. It is now easier to have this conversation and imagine a common future. It is now easier to find similarities where we saw only differences. Sandy is our common bond, now and forever.



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