How New York City Balances Expansion With Managed Retreat

How does a city find a happy medium between growth and preparation for climate change?

NYC waterfront
Planners in New York City must deal with the city's expansion as well as the prospect of waterfront flooding due to global warming.
708718/Creative Commons
By Tobias Carroll / January 4, 2020 6:24 am

If you’re an urban planner working in and around the New York City waterfront, you may well find yourself dealing with an unsettling paradox. New York City itself is in a state of constant expansion: new residences and new offices are springing up by the day, along with a need for new infrastructure to serve the people living and working there. At the same time, New York City is also a waterfront city in an era of global warming — and the fact that the city is still recovering from Superstorm Sandy is indicative of how vulnerable it remains to catastrophic weather.

At Curbed, Emily Nonko explores the concept of “managed retreat,” a philosophy some planners have adopted in order to balance growth with the limitations that come with rising sea levels.

Nonko cites two neighborhoods — one in Staten Island and one in Queens — where new developments post-Sandy are being built alongside environmental remediation to counteract the (literal) rising tide. In some cases, as in Edgemere, Queens, that can mean not building anything new at all. “The city owns about 30 percent of Edgemere’s land, according to [the Department of Housing Preservation and Development], and the plan calls for keeping the most vulnerable properties uninhabited, as well as buyouts to facilitate relocation from extreme flood hazard,” Nonko writes.

Finding a balance between existing cities and the environmental needs of the coming decades is not limited to New York City; far from it. Much of the discussion of this phenomenon has focused on the Netherlands, which has grappled with similar issues. Nonko’s exploration of how New York City is (and is not) dealing with the onset of climate change puts a recognizable face on a pressing issue — even when that city is constantly in flux.

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