Is NYC ready for serious sea level rise: a talk with Klaus Jacob (transcript)

Scroll this

Lilas Randrianarivony, Emily Rutland, Ana Deustua and Angie Koo attended Klaus Jacob’s talk at the AIA/Center for Architecture in March. Emily Rutland assisted with transcription, and additional lecture notes were provided by Angie Koo and Ana Deustua. Lilas’ synopsis of the talk is below, followed by a complete transcript:

Our former Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, announced that we won’t retreat from the water, although the future of New York might have to reconsider that decision depending on our present actions. Ironically, there has been a trending increase in population in low-lying areas while a decrease in high-lying area.

In order to successfully prepare our city, Daniel Zarrilli pointed out that there has to be continuous adaptation as our weather begins to shift with a changing climate. The city’s response to Hurricane Sandy included a $20 billion budget for social and economic resiliency, renovation programs (“NYC Build It Back”) and greater investments in coastal defense. The first East Side segment of the levee project “Big U” has a green light; the entire project, when complete, would be a protective park-like berm around lower Manhattan, shielding 10 continuous miles of low-lying geography against rising seas and storm surges.

Cynthia Rosenzweig emphasized the urgency of more frequent and active international climate discussions if we want to preserve the city for future generations. New York has to act as the leader because the rest of the world watches our response to this global threat.

Many natural disasters are low probability, high consequence events. We can no longer avoid what’s in front of us, especially when we’re caught by surprise when tragedies occur, knowing we could have done better. In a city as influential and creative as New York, full of life, full of diversity and full of culture, the changing climate and its repercussions disregard any notions of preference or biases; we are all vulnerable and together we must choose long term solutions.


Event information. Full video is here. Slides for the talk are here, with thanks to Dr. Jacob. Many of the sea level maps used in the talk come from Climate Central mapping tools

Transcript begins:

Lance Jay Brown, introduction:

Since the founding of the DfRR, we’ve had numerous programs on topics from sea level rise to seismic risks, to man-made disasters and safety in the public realm and public health, microgrids and, most recently, extreme heat; you can find those all archived on our website. Since our inaugural presentation in 2011, we’ve only had a few programs devoted to the knowledge and experience at a single individual (?) and we are very thankful that three of those experts have returned this evening, our 2011 inaugural speaker has joined us, Klaus Jacob, subsequent visits with Dan Zarrilli and Cynthia Rosenzweig, and both Donald Watson and Deborah Gans who were respondents of the 2011 program at Klaus’ inaugural presentation.

I also want to take a moment to thank Eve, Alex, Camilla and the whole staff of the Center, and the AIA New York Chapter who worked so diligently to make all of our programs possible, including preparations, audio/visuals services is important, hence we will find today’s program on the ____ chapter’s website in about 10 days.

Please take note we have a couple upcoming events, on the 26th of April we’ll have,”The Effect of the Extreme Heat on Populations, Health, Cities and Buildings,” and on May 17th, “Sustainability and Resilience, Coexistence, Collaboration and Opportunity.” All of those will be on the Chapter’s calendar and website.

A few words about tonight’s run of the show, the playbook: I’m going to introduce all the speakers upfront and then for the most part and then try to get out of the way. Klaus will give a keynote and each expert will speak for 5 minutes in turn afterwards. They may respond, dispute or expand as they wish and I will then return to moderate a discussion or perhaps a debate and, time permitting, we will have a Q&A session.

About tonight’s program, as noted October 6th, 2011 Klaus Jacob gave the inaugural presentation here, entitled, “VisioNYC 2080.” His presentation explored the ever changing environment of the New York region, natural and manmade that represents the context in which we design, build and live and I will continue to return to the context in which we design, build and live because this is very much of a design-oriented discussion that we’re going to hopefully have tonight.

As requested by then by us Klaus looked forward well beyond the 2030-2050 benchmark being touted 5 to 10 years ago and the presentation illuminated what opportunities and what risks need to be addressed in the design and adaptive reconstruction of the region’s’ built environment; this was before Sandy. His predictions thankfully harkened to by at least the MTA saved us multi-millions of dollars, millions of hours and time and, no doubt, lives. Much has happened since 2011. In the 2010-2011 UN Habitat State of the World Cities Report, the word disaster in their multitude of documents, millions of pages, the word disaster does not appear.

A perusal yielded no reference to hazards, catastrophe, hurricanes, floods or earthquakes. Today on the heels of COP21 in Paris and all the work being done globally in preparation for Habitat 3 next October in Quito these words are found throughout the UN documents.

So now, 5 years since Klaus first spoke here, he’s agreed to return, reflect upon and comment on the changes that have taken place since then and the circumstances we now face moving forward. He and our panel will discuss what needs can be met, if we’re really prepared for, planning for, designing for and implementing for serious sea level rise another climate change issues, or perhaps getting ready to move! Klaus is wise and knowledgeable man worth listening to…you can somewhat disregard the doom and gloom which he’s a little bit too well known for.

A few words about our speakers – you’ll see longer bios in the handouts but let me start by saying that, of course, without Klaus Jacob, we would not be here. I recall hearing Klaus speaking about sea level rise, in perhaps 2003 and over the years come to realize we wouldn’t get him here without creating a committee to receive him, so we made the DfRR so he couldn’t turn us down. He, along with James Hansen, Cynthia Rosenzweig and others are among our constellation of climate change heros. Klaus is a geophysicist, he has worked at Columbia University Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory for over 40 years. He’s a renowned earthquake and climate expert.

Cynthia Rosenzweig has honored us with her presence before and as I’ve said to her that she’s the only true expert that because of her sheer joy for life, her smile, her buoyancy, makes me think climate change is a really good thing…that’s Cynthia, you’ll see.

Klaus and Cynthia are a little bit like the odd couple that way. Cynthia heads the climate impacts group at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. In addition, she is co-chair of the NYC Panel on Climate Change, arguably the most important group that advises the city on climate risks and adaptation.

For those of you that may not have met Don Watson before, Don wrote the book, or should I say books. He is such a most modest man that his bio is the shortest but he literally wrote the book, you can buy his books, “Design for Flooding: Architecture, Landscape, and Urban Design for Resilience to Climate Change,” and “Time Saver Standards for Architectural Design and for Urban Design,” so when I say he wrote these, get right. He’s an architect, an author, a planner, an educator, a member of the Rebuild by Design project team for resilient Bridgeport and an extremely good friend of this Chapter and this committee.

Deborah Gans is the principal of Gans Studio and a professor of architecture at Pratt Institute. The Gans Studio has tackled extreme sites and programs from refugee camps to reconstruction in both New Orleans after Katrina and after Sandy. They’re currently working on the city’s post-Sandy rebuilding effort in Sheepshead Bay, suffice it to say that I was on it and privileged to to nominate her for a significant award, as president you can do that, and that’s how highly I think of her and what she’s done.

Finally, it’s about a privilege and a pleasure to once again to introduce Daniel Zarrilli. In January 2016, Daniel was named by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to be the Senior Director for climate policy and programs. He served as the director for the Officer of Recovery and Resilience (ORR) since it was formed in April 2014. Prior to that, he served as the acting director to the New York City Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability. In 2013, he became the city’s first director of resiliency after serving on the Mayor’s post-Sandy special initiative for rebuilding and resiliency. All of that is really much to Dan’s credit, I mean that really says a lot in terms of that ladder that he’s been climbing. Dan’s unique value to the citizenry of New York and our own community is underscored by the fact that his work is in this area being carried out under two Mayoral Administrations, an extraordinary level of recognition for knowledge, ability and contribution so we’re very happy to have you in that office and we’re very happy to have you here.

It’s now my pleasure to introduce Klaus, please give him a warm welcome.


Thank you, Lance for the warm welcome. I really feel it home here, in this place, with all the friends and colleagues. Over the years it has been a sheer pleasure to come here several times and be actively engaged and I’m, of course, very proud that my dear colleague and friends on the panel, some recurring members, Donald, have come to this occasion to have this conversation. I should make an up front statement that, yes, I’m a member of the NPCC but I do not speak for it. I was a member of the Rebuild by Design research advisory group. I do not speak for Rebuild by Design nor anybody else; I speak only my own mind and sometimes that shows.

This is not New York City. This is a wonderful piece of art that you can stumble across when you walk the sidewalks in Berlin. However, I think it applies to a climate that’s all too prevalent for the South in our congressional halls, titled, “Politicians Discussing Global Warming,” and we are all a little bit politicians. So often it’s a little bit difficult to face up to the reality that we can talk and talk and talk but at one point we have to face up to realities and I want to discuss some of those at least the way I see them.

So this talk, if you like, has two versions: a short one and a long one. Let’s start with a short one. There was a subtitle to this talk called, “Is New York City Prepared for Serious Sea Level Rise?” It’s not quite right, it should be really saying, “is it preparing for serious sea level rise” because, obviously, we are not prepared if we would have to face up to sea level rise of what we would expect, let’s say, 100-200 years from now as of today or tomorrow.

So the short version goes like this: no, is the answer. I don’t think we are either prepared nor are sufficiently preparing. But, there’s a but!

If we take the short version, Lance you can call the panelists… I have an easy way out and they have the chore to face up to the realities. But I won’t let you get away or let myself get away with that, so here is a longer version of the “but,” and there are really three parts that I want to cover. The first is, I want to look a little bit at long term sea level rise projections and what they may imply for New York City towards the end of this century but also actually look ahead, beyond that; then I want to have a quick look at the history of this town in terms of its coastal risk awareness, both from the pre-Sandy and the post-Sandy time; and look at a few examples of what I think are perhaps characteristic but insufficient examples to cover the whole range of developments that are going on in this town and around; then I want to revisit the third part, the basic options that one has available to adopt to serious sea level rise and how can the current adaption measures and plans that we do have mesh with this long term needs. I think that’s a very difficult challenge and it’s this challenge that I potentially want to address, not so much what we do in the short run but how they mesh with long term issues.

So, part one is long term sea level rise and what it may look like for NYC in this and maybe a few centuries ahead. There has been quite an extensive sequence of reports. Since we started in the late 90s and then and came out with the so called Metro East Coast (MEC) report in 2001 and several subsequents reports since and from a science point of view, the last one that the NPCC published was in February of 2015. I will use some of the information, particularly in the last report, they really are the bases of many decisions that are being made in this town and are actually noted as a nationally and internationally ways as to go about it.

One example of the information that is in there are sea level rise projections for the 30s, 50s and 80s in the end of the century. There are multiple bunch of curves here which I labeled the 90 percentile, 75 percentile, 25 percentile and the 10 percentile; now, what does this mean? That’s rather a mysterious way of conveying information.

Let’s assume you put a lot of scientists in one room and each one grinds his own computer and you have one hundred scientists in the room and allow only one solution from each scientist and then you put them all in your hopper and ask where are 90% of all solutions, so 90 solutions? Below a certain level and 10 of those are still above a certain level, that’s that’s upper curve here(red curve). So they’re still 10% solutions that are actually higher and 90% lower, that’s the simple way of explaining and I will leave out the detail, the same applies more or less to the other percentiles where there’s 75 lower and 25 higher and so on.

So in the system the city has opted and I think the New York State sea level task force and the Governor’s initiative delegated to the DEC also seem to follow the same story. Adopted essentially for planning purposes, it would be wise to use the 90 percentile. That doesn’t mean in every application you would have to use that but as a channel guidance that was conveyed.

If you took a flight out to San Francisco and have a 10% chance not to arrive, you probably wouldn’t take the flight, and so the question is, is the city better than that? So just to give you a bit of a personal feeling for why one would like to be erring on the safe side.
So the 90 percentile has about 6 feet by the end of the century in terms of sea level rise. Of course, the world won’t stop in 2100, and those lines will further curve upwards unless we find some real geo-engineering to do something about it and even then it difficult even if we were to suck out CO2 and all the greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere ! Because we have front-loaded the atmosphere with so much CO2 that warming goes on and, accordingly, all the consequences from warming including sea level rise have incredible inertia. You can’t keep this trend from stopping just because someone puts a signal a signal up and says slow down.

[Inaudible question from audience]

I don’t entertain any questions right now, that’s for later.

So what is the problem and why do those things accelerate? Well, some of the problems are not here in New York City, are not in Beijing, are not in New Delhi; they’re up here in Greenland. We have land-based ice in Greenland, we have it in Antarctica and they’re few glaciers still left, mountain glaciers, in Alaska, Himalaya and so on and when the atmosphere gets warmer they decide that they melt.

This water, of course, goes into the ocean and there’s a very complex interaction which we will not go into. It’s not just the water that rises just like in a bathtub, there is gravity and and all sorts of very sophisticated geophysical issues that have to be addressed that are really on the frontier of where we’re pushing the science on the cutting edge.
A very old study, science 10 years ago, really old is this Colorado-based study in which they looked if the glacier ice sheet in Greenland would only respond to to the temperature increase in the atmosphere and to nothing else, then there would be this behavior over the next few hundred years up to a thousand years depending at which temperature do we stabilize the atmosphere, by not emitting any more substantial greenhouse gas amounts?

So we have fifteen feet, but that’s for very high temperatures, and it’s stretched out over a long period of time.

Now science has progressed, and there are all sorts of dynamic issues going on in these ice sheets. The role of water, buoyancy, where the glaciers are grounded where they’re heading to the coast, and all sorts of issues — again, skip all of that.

And then, some scientists decided, ok we can scratch our heads and try to model all those things, but sometimes it’s good to look into the past. Maybe we can learn something from that. And so one of the most recent papers that I highlight here is showing something — on the left, the parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, and in just over one hundred years we raised it from the upper 200 parts per million, to just over 400 parts per million. Which in that period of time, temperature rose about one degree centigrade. So that’s a duration of about a hundred years, and that’s happening right now.

But in the past there are several events we know about. [Referring to slide] That was about 125,000 years ago, and it lasted about 13,000 years, in which the CO2 was not much higher than it is right now. But it was around long enough that warming — and this is the fraction of ice sheets that disappeared in Greenland and Antarctica — because it was given enough time, it rose to six to nine meters [of sea level]. 18 to almost 30 feet. With about a CO2 content that we had at the beginning of the industrial period. So that’s quite disconcerting. And then if you go a little bit farther back in time, 400,000 years, there was an event that lasted 30,000 years of warming, and it created 13 meters of sea level rise. Again, with a CO2 level in the atmosphere that’s really not that outrageous. We have far exceeded it.

And then, if you really want to have it big time, you go back to three million years, and yes the CO2 level in the atmosphere was probably a little bit higher than we’ve achieved right now. And then sea level was as much as 30 meters.

So, that’s taking the geological timescale, which clearly goes beyond our own lifetime; it goes way beyond generations. But it’s important to keep these things in your mind as a backdrop.

So now I will take a very timid approach. I just look — that’s the current sea level — at six or ten feet of sea level rise. So way away from all this stuff.

What does this mean on various maps and areas of the city? I will go later on to a higher level of sea level rise just to unveil what our topography holds here in New York City. But let’s start on this more reasonable level: six feet was the 90 percentile at the end of the century, ten feet would be somewhere in the next century. Nobody knows of course, could be in 2150, or if we’re lucky maybe later.

So here is a six-foot sea level rise, superimposed on the following sea level. It’s superimposed on the ‘mean higher high water.’ Twice a day we have a high tide, twice a day we have a low tide. If you take the high tide, and average it over an epoch, 23 years or something like that, then you get the average mean high higher water.

So it’s essentially where, on average, the water shows up once a day. Sometimes it’s higher — new moon, full moon — sometimes it’s a little bit lower.

And that’s as if there were no weather. No storms, no nothing.

So that means in all the areas that are blue here, the water will show up once a day. And in the lower one (by the way I took this courtesy of Climate Central, they have these wonderful maps out) this is the daily inundated property value. These are the properties that — if not themselves are inundated, certainly the street in front of them will be inundated. You have to move your car regularly, 27 times a year. I live in a ‘nuisance flooding zone,’ I live it day by day. I put boots in my car because I don’t know when I come back from the movie if I can get to my house. I’m the living example of living with risk.

So, that’s for six foot sea level rise. Now we go to ten foot, sometime in the next century.



While the buildings themselves may be ok, the question is, how does the daily presence of water on the streets affect infrastructure, do people get to and from where they want to go, do we all drive amphibian cars or what?

Let me focus on one particular area, which I will come back to later in the talk, which is in the Rockaways. And, that’s what the 6-foot sea level rise is. The A train comes up down here and splits up. And here is an area that’s relatively high but all these streets here that are colored are under water once a day. Unless we find a solution to prevent this. If you have 10 feet, then everything is covered.

So, now let’s go to extraordinary sea level rise. Not that I think we should use them for any planning and assigning, but just to keep them sort of in our conscious. Because there will be generations that will actually deal with this. The question is, how can we get from here to there, and do we leave it all to them and just think “me me me”? Maybe for our children, maybe for our children’s children, and then wash our hands and say the rest is up to them.

So I will look at 3 meters. This is now in meters because that gets a little bit scientific. So, 3 meters means we are back to 10 feet from before. I will look at 10 meters, that would be 30 feet. And I’ll look at 30 meters too because maybe we want to know whether we all learn to swim 20, 40, 50 generations down the line.

This is what it looks like, 3 meters. So we have seen that before with 10 feet. 10 meters and you see the differences. There’s a lot of property. And, with 30 meters, practically all of Manhattan. We see the high concentration of property values of course. So I don’t think we need to plan for that, but it’s always nice to keep that in the back of your mind, whether we help or hinder where further generations will have to go.

Also, these maps are interesting because at 10 meters is a 30 foot water level, which is probably the worst category 4 storm that roughly can hit this area. These are low probability events but probably high consequence events. So it doesn’t hurt to think about these extreme cases.

These are topographic highs to note here and we’ll come back to some of them later.

So, with that, let me go to part 2 both for pre and post sandy and look at a few examples of current developments and see how they fit into any long-term thinking.

Again, a lot of good thought has been put on paper and on the web and from these early studies to the latest of the current administration that came out in April 2015 – Dan of course was responsible for much of both of those in putting them together. And there is incredibly detailed and very sophisticated thinking about what can be done right now in a very site-specific way and with milestones and everything. So it’s really a treasure trove to look at it. And I will take sort of the birds eye flight over that and don’t go into detail too much but look at more of common denominators for I think what may be issues we may have missed.

So, up there I say are many excellent studies and reports today. A modest amount actually invested but of course there’s more in the pipeline. When I say modest, I compare that to the loss of Sandy, which is in the order of 20 billion dollars. So it’s a fraction of 20 billion dollars – a few billion dollars we have spent and the city has a plan of 15 billion dollars they think they have secured and there will be a deficit of 5 billion dollars, and I’m sure Dan’s job is full of thinking how to make those things work.

I will go back pre-Sandy because, when I gave this talk here 5 years ago, Sandy of course hadn’t occurred. So I want to revisit 2 or 3 slides of what I said then. Well, first of all we had done the land valid 100 year flood zone map in red and then we added at this time 2 and 4 foot sea level rise and we see how the lateral extent of those flood zones substantially expands in those areas that are really flat and low lying like on the edges of Manhattan. So, clearly we knew then already but we quickly found out the Achilles heel of New York City is the subway system and so we focused on that and here are our estimates we asked these questions what is the expected damage, how long will the services need to be restored, and what’s the potential economic losses from the outage. At that time that was our estimate.

I think that, for reasons that are obviously – this picture here which is not a flood map, this is the daily mean high water with a 10 foot sea level rise, so that’s the middle of the next century or something in the 90th percentile curve, which we know may not. But those people can’t get to and from their houses on certain hours of the day. Yeah, the houses on top of these hills may very well be okay, but there is something that the utilities will have to do to live with this influx of saltwater on a daily basis.

We have other efforts in the city. There was the HUD-funded Rebuild by Design – there were 48 teams admitted and 6 winners. Here are two of the New York City winning examples. That’s the Big ‘U’ around southern Manhattan and that’s Hunts Point and right now, only the segment up here, from 23rd street to Montgomery with Williamsburg Bridge is the one that’s funded by HUD. 

The problem I foresee is, that we might start to feel very happily safe behind that. And the question is, when is the lifetime of this protective structure breached when it doesn’t fulfill its function any more or if it does, we can see what we will have to do about it. Here is the rest of the venue, so this is the lower east side that I just showed. It wraps around Manhattan and, clearly, if built as planned, will do a very good job for at least half a century, maybe for the rest of this century.

There are developments going on in the east river in the Brooklyn area of Williamsburg. So it’s the Domino Sugar factory development. I looked at the flat maps there and, you know, the buildings and their foundation should be alright for local sea level rise, as long as it’s not exceeding 10 meters. So they have a while to go. The question is, does all the infrastructure surrounding them really make it through, and that’s another story that we have to consider.

Here’s one of the new developments on the waterfront in Red Hook. It’s a private project. It’s not a city project. So someone is putting money into this. And, so I’m asking myself what’s the future of this. Well, I show only the mean high water not the floods – 100 year flood or 500 year flood, anything – that’s just the daily water level with a 6 foot on the right hand and 10 foot on the left – that’s where the project will be on the waterfront. So the water won’t show up there unless we find a way to keep it out. And keeping it out is another project.

The mayor in his address about the state of the city announced a new transit project BQX, some stuff that a blogger happily took and posted. That’s a north-south connection in an area that clearly needs better transit. Those people down in Red Hook are really, they rely on a few busses. But, it’s on street level and so wherever it goes through the area, will be subject to the flooding and so here is my proposal (air train) This thing has run for more than 100 years. I mean, it doesn’t have to be that way. All I’m saying is let’s think about it.

There’s another way to look at the dilemma. This time I use the SLOSH model which is a computer model that calculates the flooding level for category 1-4 hurricanes and, you know, those numbers are mind boggling in terms of the flood height so I don’t bother with them, but I’m looking at the World Trade Center construction site and I showed that 5 years ago. And that’s the category 1, 2, 3 overlaid on that construction site and, you know, you can ask yourself all sorts of questions, whether or not that will make it, with all it’s new colorful thing that will actually be opened this month – it’s already opened. And there’s a reason why reporters didn’t make much noise about it.

So, if you look at this, where is the water going with respect to (shows picture of Calatrava station – WTC memorial)- it’s not nice.

Part 3

So what are the basic options to adapt to serious sea level rise and how can current adaptation plans mesh with long term needs?

Clearly we’re doing a lot, the question is how do they mesh with long term needs. Some have said, let’s build barriers, here are one two three four. Some have suggested only two, one here and one there. What’s wrong with that? Nothing. They work nicely as the Dutch have shown, for at least 100 years or so. But, what’s wrong with it is that those rivers want to get out to the ocean and, once the sea level is so high that you want to let the rivers our, it doesn’t matter whether you have barriers or not. The water has to equalize, otherwise it piles up the barriers in the city. And that’s what the Dutch are struggling with right now. Making room for the river, well, we can’t make room for the Hudson River, we can’t move the Palisades.

So, let’s move on. That’s what it would have to look like. If you really want to go with barriers, you have to raise walls around Manhattan. That’s of course a Dutch cartoon. So we even can’t see the river anymore and that’s what’s happened in New Orleans. You don’t see the river. You have to climb up on the levies. And, if they don’t always function, and you are not prepared behind the barriers, you have a real problem.

So, what’s a sustainable resilience? And here are some definitions – too much text and I don’t have that much time, but essentially we shouldn’t do anything that’s only good for us now, but also addresses the needs of future generations – that’s the definition of sustainable resilience in essence.

So, other sustainable projects. I took one that comes close to it, not perfect by any means. It’s the (Harbor) city in Hamburg where, this was the old harbor and they planned to have this upper (harros) on top. Cost a lot of money. And they made a lot of margin here, they didn’t build a barrier at the Elbe river. They want the floods to come and deal with it in the city. So there’s a decentralized, democratized version of flood control. And, you know, there are piles with a walkway where those things go up and down. SO it’s not as grim as it may look, some of these things, if you combine it with some reasonable features. Here, now again a little bit more fantastic. I like the High Line, we need many more High Lines in the city. Because we can get from one building to the next if we have High Lines connecting all our skyscrapers, that would be an advantage. We have a lot of topography. If you look, what we did over the last 10 years – over the last decade I should say – censor strip the areas that are in blue, we densify the population. The areas in red, we took population out. Compare that with the topography with all extra people in the low-lying areas. We have somehow the wrong policy here. I’m not sure how to change it, but that’s what we’ve been doing.

And then we put high-rise and graveyards in the most valuable spots – of course our ancestors didn’t know that. I want to highlight one thing – Susannah Grigg came up with – she said that’s in the non-flood zone – raise the floor area ration. Densify. Sell the development rights and use at least part of that money to buy out those low-lying areas in green. I think that’s a scheme where financing comes into it which, of course is so important for solving those problems.

Now I come to my favorite ending. New Amsterdam has been around for a while and yes we had canals. And I think, what we are doing is we deny that the canals, instead we are sealing ourselves off. I think, my preference would be – that’s a rather hypothetical solution – to not do that. Make Water Street a water street and Canal Street a canal street.

How to do that is for you architects and engineers and designers to think about not me. That’s what it looks like, that’s where the canal was on Broad Street. That’s the 100 flood in yellow, the 500 year flood. It currents you know. And I think lance wants me to get off here. I take the skyscrapers off just to remind us what it really looks like without skyscrapers. And then we put them back on, and that obscures of course the problem.

So, having said enough, what are my my conclusions?

We have already problems in the current sea level. We know that sea level rise will amplify those risks. We can go about it by protection, that’s largely what we’re doing but I think it’s not sustainable in the long run. We can do accommodation again its an interim maybe an equally long lasting as protection. And we have strategic relocation. And I suggest that this is the only truly sustainable solution. Despite what mayor Bloomberg said, it’s a tough pill to swallow. And very hard to translate policy into action. This is my last – I simply want to say just – the community initiative in these relocation efforts and a consensus building is absolutely crucial in all these efforts because, we have seen small examples, a wonderful paper about what’s going on in Staten Island. If it’s not community based, I don’t think we will get it right. And inevitably there will be instabilities and injustices inflicted if the communities are not onboard. So, with that, Lance thank you.

Part 4

Lance Jay Brown:

As I said, the next phase of this playbook is that each of our panelists is going to respond how they choose. They have 5 minutes for maybe putting forth their own ideas on the topic, maybe responding to what Klaus has said, they can go with whatever they feel is most important from their standpoint and the first person to speak is Cynthia. So I will give the floor to her and we will continue through to a discussion.

Cynthia Rosenzweig:

Thank you Lance and thank you Klaus. We did a good thing when we brought Klaus on to the very first metro East coast study, right? When Bill Solecki invited him to be part of it, so okay we’ve been in the next century on the climate and way beyond and way into the deep past and the far future. But just as a climate scientist, I have to give you the update “right for today?”, we always end our NPCC meetings so here we are, this is what’s happening, the forecast for the temperatures.

This is at about a mile up for Thursday we’re basically skipping over spring and going straight to summer. And looking back to the winter it was the second warmest on record, in Central Park with temperatures over 6 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. The snowfall was very interesting this year, especially compared to last year when we had like remember every other minute a snowstorm. This time we are – our snowfall is still 10 inches above normal for the whole season but it all came basically in the one event at the end of January, of course the whole metropolitan region. So, this is the near term forecast for the spring – above normal temperatures and near normal precipitation.

I want to make three very brief points, opening it up a little bit beyond the great focus on New York that Klaus presented.

The first is that we have to very much have and be aware of something that Lance mentioned in his introduction, which is the Paris Agreement. Over 190 countries came together to pledge action on climate change, to hold the warming – the goal is 2 degrees centigrade – which was on some of Klaus’ charts and beyond. And the ambition is even stronger than that, to hold the warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade. So, while tonight’s focus is on resilience and adaptation, crucially important, just that we must also – and we New Yorkers can do this because we can hold two thoughts in our minds or 10 or 20 or 100 – we must mitigate the causes of climate change as well as adapt to them and why? Why do we need to be leaders just as much in resilience as in adaptation? Because that is gong to reduce those long-term risks that Klaus is discussing. So I think we need to be very holistic and this is extremely important for the architects and urban planners and designers – that everything that we design and plan and do – that we need to take both the mitigation aspects and the adaptation aspects and motivations into account in what we do.

Also looking worldwide, this is the IPCC for cities that we started with urban climate change researchers all over the world. And we presented this at the Mayor’s Summit at City Hall in Paris in December during the conference of the parties and, I’m going to just highlight one of the transformative pathways that we brought forward and shared with over 1,000 mayors – so, it is this intertwined pathway of thinking about mitigation and adaptation at the same time so that, when we have projects, any project, the public transportation projects are tremendously important because they help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So of course we have to get them right on the resilience and adaptation side as well, but don’t forget this crucial reduction of GHGs as well.

And my final point, coming back down to New York City, because we work not only with New York City but with cities around the world, I know that New York is the leader. The rest of the world is looking at how New York is responding and Hurricane Sandy, just as you said in the circle of flexible adaptation pathways which is always such a key concept, is that it really was the tipping point, not just for New York City but for cities around the world to take these climate change challenges seriously. So, thank you, and I look forward to further discussion.

Donald Watson:

It’s a great privilege to be here for this moment and actually to be able to thank Klaus for being the honest seer and keeping with this task. You present the most difficult facts that any of us can confront, so please keep at it. Don’t stop. We have every mechanism to cover over, to ignore, to go away, to say “this doesn’t matter”.

So, everybody here I’m sure has experienced a tragic loss, has had the rug pulled out from under you whether it was Sandy or another event. You know that, when that happens, there’s no recourse rationality – you’re operating on muscle memory – for a long time afterwards, we are disabled. We are not able to make sound decisions. We enter a period of chaos. This experience of the first responder and trying to train myself and others in that, the need for clear vision, rationality, return to level-headedness and consensus action and then to have that vision of the outcome never dissuade us from the surrounding confusing factors.

So that’s a little of what I’m going through personally as I’ve actually confronted the implications of climate for many many years. I’ve been a climate researcher and work after disaster recoveries in communities. I have three predictions, and what Klaus presented was just sea level rise and flooding. When you think of the heat fixture here, disease, failing government structures, the chaos that ensures. So let’s assume that will happen, if not here, there. But one of the interesting future predictions is that, this is the moment when everything in the world will matter. It will be a global conversation, without that, there will be no community of purpose or accomplishment, So we will be forced finally to deal with a global world. Our training as professionals in systems thinking, both the science and art of systems analysis is essential for us to understand complex parts and for the designers, please come to the table. The ability to imagine the future vision, to help others see through that, to go from standing on our feet to see the vision in the clouds is the way out.

As you go out tonight, look at the alcove on the first floor, there are two projects that to me represent what should be done in every community. One was done through a Rockefeller funded study of resilience, and there you will see what each of us should be doing in our professional studios, in our school communities, and in our communities in which we work, which is essentially playing forward the future and so we can see where in our community we should get out, where we should change a little, where we should stay and rebuild. Klaus’ vision of strategic resilience I think actually I agree with and NYC has to figure out how to take what’s underground and lift its infrastructure 2 or 3 stories up, but the knowledge, the technology, the design capability to do that is present. We can draw the pictures and I expect that to preserve property value, to preserve cultural heritage and to preserve communities, something like that is going to have to happen. We’re going to have to do all of those small measures. So to the architects in the audience, I would say develop within our own practice and private study, time to assess and learn and be a powerful knowledge broker. Bring that knowledge to your practices and to your clients and use the capability of design to innovate and make answer what is currently at risk. So those are some short comments I hope are helpful.

I will say that the work upstairs is work done by Katherine Sebit Nortenson (?) and a group at Princeton called Structures of Coastal Resilience that overlays directly on many of the comments Klaus made, so it’s worth a look it’s not a big one it’s an easy one and a good one. Deborah, would love to hear from you.

Deborah Gans:

Thanks Lance. So, the question is, how can one be ‘Klausian’ and ‘Wattsian’ and ‘Cynthian’ in one’s everyday practice as an architect when one isn’t necessarily spinning the highest lines but affecting smaller projects especially with myself where I’ve been working with Build it Back, in premature of the best project from the longest term vision.

Now I don’t know whether you know about Build it Back, but it is the city project to rebuild one house at a time. And in fact it could end up building a city, but it’s one house at a time. And that’s really operative, because you can’t do anything outside of property lines. And you can’t actually even lift the house more than for the 100-year flood. And that’s mandated, not by the city, or Amy Peterson who is the director of the project who I admire immensely, but it’s federal money and it comes with federal guidelines and that money trickles down to the homeowner to rebuild their home.

So, and we’ve been working on this and it really has its limitations and we finally, Amy Peterson has been pushing back against those political and financial strictures and in Sheepshead Bay, where we have these very unusual pedestrian walkways which prohibit or resist building one house at a time, because no house has an address and its not really on a street, we’ve been able to, we’re working on, at the scale of the block and I won’t go into details, this is just a brief comment but I’ve discovered a way to be at least half Klausian at this new scale.

We think very big, we have the necklace or the beard, whatever it is that’s going to go all around Manhattan. We have the single house. And we’re missing the scales in between. So, we’re trying different ways to have boardwalks. Its not letting go of the waterfront, but different ways to think on the scale of the block, which is also a social scale, going forward, that might allow us to create the big move through small moves that are joined together collectively. Thank you Klaus.

Now we’re all going to sit up here and have a little chat about some of the things that intersect and some of the things that don’t.

Daniel Zarrilli:

Thanks everyone for having us tonight. Every time I’m here I think, report card day. And I think it’s really important to have these moments and come together and think about how are we doing and the subtext of the question up there: “Are we prepared for sea level rise”? and Klaus makes the right point that, we’re definitely not that’s why we’re doing all the things we’re doing, and are we preparing enough and it’s a really provocative question, it’s an important one, it’s the question we need to be asking ourselves and how we think about the timescale, is what we’re doing today, are we precluding future action that’s going to be easier or more difficult in the future, are we planning for the 2050s are we planning for 2100, is it something in between, these are really difficult questions given the reality of  all the things we know that are difficult – the political cycles the budget cycles, the economic cycles we work with as a city. Ultimately, I think you guys are the ones that are going to have to answer that question tonight, if we are prepared directly, if we are prepared enough for what’s coming our way. I’m sure we’ll be reading about it on Twitter tonight in answer to that question. I guess, maybe just a few minutes of what we are doing. The city’s actions date back almost a decade at this point to the work Cynthia, the NYC Panel on Climate Change, all the work that they’ve done, the release of PlaNYC released in 2007, the original strategic plan to think about how we’re going to address the causes of climate change, reducing our emissions, thinking about adaptation, all of that was continuing and the NYC panel on climate change continued to advise us on what these projections are going to be, 2.5 feet, 6 feet, the numbers, depending on those percentiles, they’re all true, they’re all right. The way we deal with that uncertainty, I think is most important, and how we invest limited dollars now to make sure that we are in a better place and continuing to adapt over time. We’re never going to be done, we’re never going to be able to answer that question “yes” because we’re going to have to keep going, there’s going to be continued adaptation as we go. What was really unique about Sandy, besides the meteorological uniqueness, is that it happened in the media capital of the world. It really changed the conversation because it happened here in some ways of thinking, because we know the stats of what happened, 44 lives were lost in New York City alone, 19 billion dollars in damage, lost economic activity alone in NYC. But it really changed the conversation and what it brought was resources to bear, all of the good thinking all of the planning that had been done leading up to Sandy, we were able to turn planning into action for how we are going to address the challenges. And the real innovation that came out of Sandy was that we are, unlike other events in the past or other places in the world, we didn’t just look at it and say “how do we make sure Sandy doesn’t happen again?”, we took the chance to step back, look at the full range of risks we face with the climate, and really begin to put in place the measures and start that conversation on long-term sea level rise in a way that really hadn’t happened with resources behind it the way it did after Sandy. Long-term heat mitigation that we need to do, increased precipitation, really thinking about holistic water management, All that came to bear because sandy happened and, in some ways I would argue, because it happened here. So what are we doing, we are putting 20 billion dollars, that’s what we know we have invested at this point, a 20 billion dollar resiliency plan, thinking of this in a multilayered way, it’s not just the lines across the coastline and let’s make sure we stay dry on the coast, it really is multilayered, starting in our neighborhoods and making sure that we are increasing our social and economic resiliency, a range of activity there, we’re studying how land use an be a tool, a lot of good activity there in our Department of City Planning, but also the work we’re doing in our buildings program, I’m just thrilled to hear Amy Peterson getting credit she deserves for really leading our build it back program, we’re going to be building and elevating thousands of homes and ultimately if you look across all the work we’re doing for housing recovery, through our multifamily programs, through our public housing programs, something like 70,000 residential units are being improved in one way or another through those investments that we’re making. Across our infrastructure, we’ve been working regionally with all of the public and private players if you think about the Verizons and the ConEds or the MTA and the Port Authority, full range of folks that we really brought together, with guidance from the NYC Panel on Climate Change, we need that science to really inform our policy, to identify continued vulnerabilities and to continue to help direct where we’re putting our dollars to adapt and be ready for the future. And again, not a one and done way, we’re not just going to make one investment and we’re done, this flexible adaptation pathways is really guiding what we’re doing knowing that we’re going to make continued investment, but it’s going to happen over time. And of course the last piece that we’re doing is our work around coastal defense and we’re continuing to secure funds, billions of dollars are being invested through the city, through Army Corps and many other partners, to make sure that we are reducing that risk against a range of risks – erosion, sea level rise, and yes, hurricanes and coastal storms. This approach has been validated, again the science is there supporting what we’re doing, we’ve been published in Science Magazine, Nature, the Climate Change magazine just last week published an article on the comparison of cities across the globe – NYC is spending the most on climate adaptation right now across the major cities, there’s a lot of good things – that’s all well and good of course, the action we’re taking now is really the start of a conversation, it is a global conversation, things that happened in disaster risk reduction in Syndai that happened in Paris, through the COP process, the sustainable development goals, all of that is really stringing together into a coherent conversation that is playing itself out here in NYC, probably first, and will continue to be what’s happening across the globe. And the last point I want to make, there’s been a lot of talk about adaptation, Cynthia made the right point – this is also about mitigation. We’re investing billions of dollars in reducing our own green house gas emissions, we are retrofitting thousands of city-owned buildings as a first step, we are working to ultimately stimulate and retrofit private buildings across the city as well – the things that we do to reduce our own contributions to climate change are what’s going to help level out these impacts over time and ultimately we have locked in some of this, we need to adapt, but we will need to adapt, the conclusion will be worse if we don’t reduce our GHG emissions ,and that’s something that NYC continues to be a leader in and helps show the world how this can be done. Looking forward to the rest of the conversation, thank you very much.


Right in the middle there (of the slide deck) was a couple of images of the Tuscan town of sienna. I thought that someone in the audience might look at that picture and say, “what in god’s name is that picture of sienna doing in the middle of all those pictures about water”? My life has become everything about water, I teach a course in it. But, it doesn’t ever exclude, and that’s why I put Sienna in there, the role and the purpose of the people. A factoid about Sienna: it is the city in the world that’s known for having the least out migration. If you are born in Sienna, the likelihood is, you will die in Sienna. It’s so well balanced in terms of its economics, its culture, its policy, that people don’t want to leave and they’ve had their own difficulties. So, I put it there as an underscore that this is really all about people, it’s certainly not about having people have to move, unless something is more catastrophic than we’ve had. The other thought is, just listening to these 5 people is, how proud I am of this city that I was born in and live in, it’s just extraordinary to listen to the level of concern and care that’s taken for where we’re going. Don said two things, he said something about people’s general health and anxiety. There is a woman who works in this center who lives in Mantoloking along the Jersey coast and when I talked to her she said her whole community has not recovered and maybe never will from Sandy. They all have PTSD, they really have it. They live in a panic all the time. Patricia came by, they thought they had been made a little bit whole by the core of engineers. Things happen, people got hurt. Her ideal was, not to (simplify) what Klaus was suggesting, the houses, when they come up for sale, should be bought by the government, people should move away and that should be a national seashore. So obviously there is something going on there.

I have a couple of questions I’d like to start with to get a conversation going and they relate somehow to some of the things that were touched on and they’re not in any particular order. I’m going to lay out 2 at one time so people can pick and choose. The first is, what’s the ozone hole have to do with climate change and the other is, I’ve actually been quoting myself horrible (consciously?), saying nature does not respect political values, I think that I’ve referred to this with nuclear pollution to acid rain, this issue persists. How are we dealing with the issues that are created elsewhere that we receive locally or vice versa, the things that we create locally that we may distribute globally? The thing that comes to mind, that I was told about recently, some people may have knowledge of it, is the international global shipping industry, which puts on the water some few hundred thousand ships – big transatlantic ships at any given time, and they’re moving unregulated. They burn diesel fuel, they dump their waste, and once they’re outside the 3-mile border, they’re unregulated. It’s like whale hunting with Greenpeace. So this is going on spewing out pollution, and it’s unregulated. So there are actually 3 things, well it’s 2 – it’s the intersection between global activity that we don’t have control over and how the receiver’s going to deal with it and the other instance, if anyone knows about the ozone.


I’ll quickly take the ozone. Because, actually it’s very interesting because the ozone hole was a scientific, atmospheric challenge, very important environmental issue that arose in the 70s and 80s and it was because the atmospheric scientists recognized that there was an ozone at the high levels in the atmosphere which blocks the cancer radiation and so when the ozone hole, the human impacts of increased skin cancer was brought forward. So in some ways, the ozone hole was a precursor to the climate change issue – it’s atmospheric, both with these tremendous impacts on human beings. But it was also caused by human activity with the chemical compounds called CFCs. So the nations of the world got together and agreed on the Montreal Protocol to control the ozone hole and to reduce the level of the CFCs. And this is kind of a prequel for very large, human-made global problems dealing with the earth’s climate atmospheric system, that then the countries of the world came together to solve. And then, what eventually happened, is that the chemical industry which had created those CFCs then came up with compounds that were less damaging to the ozone hole. So there’s a lot of lessons for climate change that we can learn from that and I think the idea for solutions, tipping points – we will be able to solve climate change, it’s going to be very challenging, but it’s a combination technology, in this case there was a technological solution, it has to be many many things in terms of, it is a much greater challenge to redo our energy system and eliminate fossil fuel burning energy which is the major cause of climate change.


The reason I bring the question up about ozone is I was living under the myth that we had actually closed the hole, that’s what people generally are aware of and I did a lot research on this prompted by one of my argumentative students who really took me to task so I responded and found out we haven’t been doing as well as I thought we had and that in the end there’s something that happens with the hole as it exists that accelerates wind speed and has an effect on temperature, and becomes part of the system we’re discussing this evening. So I just wanted to share that there are many of these challenges going on at the same time. Some of you may have been at a program that the committee held a month ago, extremely hot cities, the obligation of which should be available later in the spring, so that we have dealt with Klaus, he lectured us on seismology, as well as on sea level rise and Don was at the extreme heat program. We are trying to deal with the fact that these are all connected, how they’re connected in what is now being called the “blue green conflict” which is, how do you both be greener while at the same time trying to be more resilient, two approaches which can be in conflict. So, we’ll keep that on the table and we’ll discuss it but in terms of the other questions raised, Klaus?


Just a quick comment on the shipping, I think the EU has planned to do the following: they will look at each airliner that lands somewhere in Europe, and when they take on the fuel for the next flight, they count how many gallons and they plan to tax each flight for that energy that they take on in their belly. The same could be done for shipping. A very simple solution


Deborah, you brought us down to the local level, which I appreciate, it’s very important, the level of Sienna. Both, I think Klaus and Don, spoke very directly to the design community in the room – the architects, the landscape architects, the designers, maybe the policy makers as well. From your perspective from what you’re working on, what would you have to say, for the architects and designers in the room, relative to the three priorities they should focus on when they go back to work?


I think that your previous point that any one single set of parameters, no matter how noble they are, are probably insufficient, and that if you want to (triumphate) it why don’t we say mitigation, adaptation, and community. I guess this is what I’d say. I think architects are very much too scared of their clients, and that, especially when those clients are understood not to be the intelligencia or aesthetes, it is my experience that the man in the street, given the correct information, will make the right choice, and the best design choice as well.


There’s nobody here, I think Klaus made it clear he wasn’t speaking for or necessarily against (army lee??) although it’s the largest and most heavily funded competition that’s ever taken place in the history of man to my knowledge. It’s not dismissible it’s going to affect at least six areas of our city dramatically, radically and I tend to look at some of those, especially Hoboken, which is kind of my canary in the coal mine, because Hoboken is an easy fix. It has some of the characteristics that I think Klaus discussed – there was a man standing on Stevens Institute hill looking at the Hudson River as the water rose, and he was on the phone with somebody, a government person, and he was talking to his office saying, “I don’t see any problem here, there’s no problem, water doesn’t seem to be affecting Hoboken at all”, and somebody said, “turn around”. Because Hoboken, like New Orleans, is a bowl, and the water came up and filled the bowl behind it, just as it may any area that is protected by a wall and I think this has been referred to and I very much appreciated Deborah’s comment about the middle ground, because that is, in a way, the larger area to be dealt with. And I was wondering, I would like to ask Dan because this is on the ground for you now with the Lower East Side for instance – the LES in Manhattan was affected by Sandy and we can protect the shore, but how do we really make sure that water doesn’t, as people have told me, just come right up under the ground beneath you, fill up that bowl?


So on the LES, just to give you some context for those of you who may not be aware, we were thrilled to be the recipient of the Rebuild by Design competition – 335 million dollars for the Lower East Side. We’ve been engaged in nearly a year long community conversation bringing to bear the risks, the signs of what the challenges are, but also just as if not more importantly, the local input from the community of the types of things they want to see, what’s important, what the values of that community are and how to preserve the character while also reducing that risk. So we’ve been going through a process where we’ve just been putting out a final design package pretty soon for procurement, and we’re continuing down that road, so that’s to give you context. The things we’re trying to address in a project like that is, yes we want to make sure we’re reducing risk against the storms and the Sandy-type events, but we’re also trying to make sure we’re thinking about how that project can have other co-benefits, whether it’s sea level rise protection, whether it’s urban heat mitigation or increasing access to the waterfront, making sure we’re not disconnecting ourselves from the waterfront. As we are continuing to adapt, and these are some of the first investments we’re making as part of that adaptation program, it’s important that we not wall ourselves off from the water, that we continue to understand how we coexist with water – we have 520 miles of shoreline in the city, we grew up here because we’re a port city, we’re a coastal city, and learning to live with that water in a new way is really important to us as we think about the long term effects of sea level rise, but we are really at the beginning of this conversation, we are at the start of this process where we are continuing to invest. Now, the specific “how to you keep the water from coming out of the sewers” question, those are really design questions that we’re getting into and there’s an integrated approach to water management where it’s not just how do you keep the water out, but we’re working to make sure we’re also adjusting our storm water management components to that, there may be other green infrastructure elements, and there’s a number of different ways – it goes down to soil condition and design considerations. The things we are doing against the risks that we’ve identified will be effective, and then they will have decreasing effectiveness over time as Klaus points out, as sea levels rise. What’s important is to make sure that we’re putting in place the measures now, we are buying time and in terms of how much time we’re buying depends how fast sea levels rise. And we will continue to reassess these risks over time. I think that’s the right way to start, it is the beginning of that conversation and all across the city we’re having these conversations among communities around risk, around the types of things we can do to reduce those risks, but also make sure we’re not disrupting neighborhood character in such a way that we don’t recognize ourselves as New Yorkers anymore.


I want to add one comment which is, coming out of the experience of working with Rebuild by Design. As much as communities are part of the solution, there’s also a problem, because, now lets take the LES. They have immediate problems that they want to be solved. And in their zest for solving these problems, they want to see those issues being addressed, which in terms of focus takes actually away from the long-term problem. So community participation can have actually a negative effect, in my experience, for developing and building a long-term vision. That shouldn’t be so, but that’s what seems to happen.


It’s certainly an interesting observation and one I know the Dutch certainly have faced. What I’d like to do is open up to some questions from the audience.


  1. I represent the Rockaways and we’ve been asking for 4 years now for an evacuation plan, because the Rockaways – so I’d like to ask that question of Dan, what is holding up that time?
  2. I wonder if in light of the very entertaining election cycle that we have at this point, if you could comment how you view all of these activities being affected by potentially a fully republican congress and how your views on the federal level may impact the initiatives being attempted on the city and state level across the board.

We’re going to build a wall (laughter)


Well Dan, I’m sorry but it seems like you might have all of these.


Matt, thanks for your question. The work done by NYC neighbors has been absolutely amazing and if you didn’t catch that website, has been absolutely a great resource for coastal communities across the city to really understand the challenges of changing flood maps, increasing flood insurance premiums, and all of the challenges that come with having an affordable and available flood insurance program so thank you for your work. The federal activity has really been – probably if you catch me on different days I’ll say different things – we’ve been trilled to receive the support of the federal government, the resources have been there, working with FIMA, the Department of the Interior, the Army Corp of Engineers, I could go on and on and say lots of 3 letter acronyms after this, but a lot of great support. One I think the interesting thing that’s come out of the learning and dealing with federal government since Sandy struck is that when it comes to disaster dollars, they tend to put disaster dollars to non-disaster programs, so what comes with those is the normal barriers of federal dollars that’s just the natural federal cycle. When in reality, what you need after a disaster is the ability ot move money quickly and sometimes those things are very much at odds and you can look at the SPA loan programs, you can look at just all of the individual environmental review on one of those houses to rebuild it – it can be a little maddening and the process doesn’t always align with the goal, so that’s what we’ve been making some advocacy on, to help improve that, I don’t think we’re going to fix it with what we’re doing with these funds but we’ve had a really strong voice in Washington helping to advocate for changes, there are some voices in congress and the White House that are very interested in improving this for the future. I guess at the end of the day there is 20 billion dollars and a good chunk of that is federal that we are investing, so you take the good and the bad with this. We need those dollars to invest, to make sure we’re buying down our risk, that we’re planning for the future, that we’re not just planning for the next Sandy, the Federal Government has been really good in this on thinking that, in the past they would say you have to build exactly what was before and not be able to apply additional value to mitigate or add additional resiliency measures. Some of that’s been wiped away so we are able to think more holistically. There’s been a range of good activity and the good is tempered with the bad, that’s life, but we are using those dollars to their maximum effectiveness.

I want to follow up on the rockaways point. I may not be exactly aware of the situation, I’d be happy to talk about where the delay is, our center of emergency management has evacuation plans, if it’s not robust enough for what’s happening in the rockaways, I’d be interested in hearing about that. So we can talk afterwards.

Someone else can make the points they want to make around president Trump.


A lot of the questions were about the role of federal government. At about 5am every morning I’m on the web. I’m editor of an accessible list of organizations that are responding to resilience and sustainability. It’s called the OARS list: organizations addressing resilience and sustainability. I started about 2 years ago, limiting myself to US sites, and you’ll find there organizations that have resources freely downloadable and you can use in your practice wherever you are. So, add it and, what’s of interest to me is that I’m adding more and more international organization resources. Among them, Rockefeller Foundation and HUD Rebuild by Design are still signal projects. Hud rebuild by design 1 billion dollars federal, actually I followed it and been a member of a team. What it does have is the role of architects sitting down with communities and doing design. That aspect is unique compared to some of the other initiatives so watch this. They are reporting out accurately from the Hud office in NYC lessons learned. And when you see that you’ll see the role of communities has changed the priorities, has changed the designs, has created hiccups because of the way they were involved, at the beginning and at the end. In Hoboken, new community members, the affluent, came to meetings, once the money was there they didn’t show up in the design, so they wanted no high barriers, they wanted to see the water, so the Hoboken strategy has changed fundamentally to be a bunch of diverse projects. And I’m working with a process that you know well, the process of working with communities in a design workshop format where professionals are not on the stage, they are sitting sleeves rolled up side by side. That process is still helpful and even though its failing, make it work better. NYC is among all these organizations, distinguished by having 3 ingredients that I would recommend to any municipality, any town, any village. The Science Panel, representing the best science, and you need that authority to leave the understanding and knowledge at the table. It has a task group that takes those findings through engineering, building, architectural, code, social and community practices, so you need that. And you need at least more and more commonly what’s called a Chief Resilience Officer, they used to be called sustainability officers. Watch out, you need one, but you don’t want that person to be siting alone, its how that message is spread throughout the community. If you wish to measure your community’s resilience, measure it by those 3, and every architect has a challenge, we face it every day we pick up a pencil. The line you draw will have global consequence. Every building that we design that’s going to last 100 years has to have a net zero energy performance. It’s been proved that you can do it without adding to cost, and when you build you have to add back better, the ecosystem functions of water, soil, temperature, radiance, whatever it is that complexity of biology, it has to be added back and preserved as it is being taken away by sea level rise. You want a challenge? Go scratch your head on that one.


Thank you Don, I think we’re going to give the microphone to Cynthia, and she’s going to have the last word.


I wanted to address the election cycle challenge. But just again, look historically here in NYC. NYC has been addressing climate change for 2 decades across multiple federal administrations and it is really important that we continue the energy, the bottom up leadership that we have provided, regardless what happens at the federal level and you can see that that function is important when the administration is supportive of climate change efforts and it’s almost even more crucial when the leadership is not, at the federal level. So I really think NY also – Don thank you very much for the words about the task force and the leadership in NY. Finally, I want to end with, one of the ways NYC has done this and then address this election cycle issue is local law 42 which is to establish both the science panel (NYC panel on climate change) and CCATF I think is also very much embedded in local law. Administrations come and go, but those are in place. So for so many reasons, no matter what happens in the election, I really do believe that we all as a group and as our city and metropolitan region, absolutely will continue to lead through thick and thin, though whatever challenges come to bear.


Thank you, I think with that I am going to end with an invitation that this community come together again in 2021, another 5 years out, take a look at what we’ve been able to do to move this forward. I don’t know if I will be up here moderating at that time, but I’m sure my panelist would be happy to come back. And again, I’d like to thank you all again for coming because again, it’s all for us. Hopefully this is an ongoing conversation and I’d like to give it an enormous round of applause.