The city’s $20B plan for the future

Do cities have to be tough? Or is being smart even better?

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The cover of the preface to the NYC Special Initiative on Rebuilding and Resilience report
The cover of the preface to the NYC Special Initiative on Rebuilding and Resilience report

Mayor Bloomberg spoke today to describe the sweeping plans his administration has for making New York stronger and more resilient in the face of continued climate change, including storms like Hurricane Sandy and prolonged heat waves.

The city’s full report on Sandy and the future is a massive document, rich in ideas and detail, and is available in chapter form via the Special Initiative on Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR).

The release of this report in response to climate effects on America’s greatest city may turn out to be a historic shift in perspective. An American politician known as a thinker, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, is credited with the line, “everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts.” Moynihan might have made an example of the responses to Sandy on either side of the Hudson. East of the Hudson, the full intellectual and planning resources of New York have produced a 400 page report on climate change, the future, and how the city can adapt. West of the Hudson, there is an equal determination to rebuild, but climate change is not yet accepted as reality.

New York cannot control worldwide emissions, and New York can’t prevent the weather phenomena that result. The challenge to reduce emissions continues on across the Hudson and beyond, on both a global and individual scale — global, by leadership from the US and China, and our president and Congress; individual in the choices we all begin to make to adapt to a world in which 10 billion of us, or more, can share a planet successfully. And in which, astonishingly, “current concentrations [of CO2] are trapping an extra amount of energy equivalent to 400,000 Hiroshima bombs exploding across the face of the earth every day.” (NYT, 7/10/13)

And so, communicating to each other, and across the Hudson, and beyond the Hudson, is really the most important chapter in New York’s climate adaptation plans if you care about this city. The SIRR sets a great example for taking the problem seriously. We will be digging in to the enormous content in the report on City Atlas in future posts, and we will reach out for responses from many stakeholders. But the single crucial fact, known well to the mayor in his other role as leader of the C40 group of cities, was evident even before today’s press conference: the long term solutions to New York and New Jersey’s climate challenges are on the national, and global, scale. Ultimately, the city can’t build its way out of this problem.

Reading the moving dedication in the preface to the report, a thought also occurs: do cities always have to be tough? Is that the purpose of a city? New Jersey is practicing being “Jersey Strong” right now as well. It could be that where we need to get truly tough is in our action to avoid preventable problems. That would be EVEN BETTER than tough. That would be smart.

Some takes on today’s announcement from around the web:

New York Times “Bloomberg Outlines $20 Billion Storm Protection Plan

WNYC “Mayor Details Climate Plan, Including New Neighborhood

Daily Beast “The Cost of Hope: $20 Billion

The Verge: “Mayor Bloomberg unveils $20B plan to build new NYC defenses against climate change”

Watch the mayor’s press conference: