Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Rethinking rebuilding

From NBC News:

Federal projects intended to help protect New York and New Jersey towns from hurricanes and coastal flooding have languished – many unfunded -- for decades, the I-Team has learned.

The stalled projects, often approved by Congress as far back as the 1980s and 90s, were intended to study the feasibility of manmade barriers like seawalls, marshlands or large sand dunes to protect coastal areas on Staten Island as well as the Rockaways, Long Island and the Jersey shore.

One such study, aimed at making recommendations for flood barriers along the south shore of Staten Island, remains unfinished even though it was commissioned in 1993.

The south shore of Staten Island was the scene of some of the worst damage caused by Sandy.

"This system is broken. It needs to be fixed. It needs to be overhauled,” said U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm. “Something gets approved and then it gets lost. It's almost like putting it in a bottomless pit and it never gets done."

From The Indypendent:

Sandy has triggered a public debate about how to protect the city in the future given the growing consensus that powerful storms and sea level rise are inevitable. But who will be protected? And who will pay?

Gov. Andrew Cuomo thinks New York City needs floodgates. Mayor Michael Bloomberg thinks other drastic measures have to be taken. Both of them have joined the chorus linking Sandy’s devastation with global climate change. But neither of them has suggested he would stray from government’s long tradition of protecting big real estate interests and abandoning those living at the margins, such as the tenants in the public housing projects of the Rockaways, Coney Island and Red Hook.

There needs to be a more equitable strategy going forward that forces the powerful real estate giants in Manhattan to pay the steep price of fortifying their luxury enclaves and puts public funds into protecting the most vulnerable working people.

The Cuomo and Bloomberg proposals are examples of short-term thinking dressed up in green rhetoric. They fail to look deeply at the long-term sustainability of the city. They obscure the basic questions of who benefits and who pays. If the chief beneficiaries of expensive dikes and other greening measures are downtown and waterfront property owners, why shouldn’t they foot their fair share of the bill? If the captains of the growth machine took the risk with their capital, why should government have to bail them out?

On the other hand, if the city and state administrations seriously want to address climate change, they might begin to limit development in flood-prone areas instead of promoting it. They could also put more money into preserving and retrofitting the city’s housing stock, especially public housing and homes in vulnerable areas, instead of wasting money to protect lavish new developments.

From the NY Times:

Across the nation, tens of billions of tax dollars have been spent on subsidizing coastal reconstruction in the aftermath of storms, usually with little consideration of whether it actually makes sense to keep rebuilding in disaster-prone areas. If history is any guide, a large fraction of the federal money allotted to New York, New Jersey and other states recovering from Hurricane Sandy — an amount that could exceed $30 billion — will be used the same way.

Tax money will go toward putting things back as they were, essentially duplicating the vulnerability that existed before the hurricane.

From the Huffington Post:

Given the size and power of the storm, much of the damage from the surge was inevitable. But perhaps not all. Some of the damage along low-lying coastal areas was the result of years of poor land-use decisions and the more immediate neglect of emergency preparations as Sandy gathered force, according to experts and a review of government data and independent studies.

Authorities in New York and New Jersey simply allowed heavy development of at-risk coastal areas to continue largely unabated in recent decades, even as the potential for a massive storm surge in the region became increasingly clear.

In the end, a pell-mell, decades-long rush to throw up housing and businesses along fragile and vulnerable coastlines trumped commonsense concerns about the wisdom of placing hundreds of thousands of closely huddled people in the path of potential cataclysms.

And of course we have the real estate industry's damage control piece in the NY Times:

Mr. Romski said that a heavy-duty, sophisticated drainage system, designed to handle flood surges, was instrumental in mitigating flooding. The system — which features underground chambers, wide street mains and storm drains on each house property — connects to large sewer mains that the developer installed in public streets that they rebuilt around the project site, as part of an agreement with the city, Mr. Romski said. Also helpful was a natural buffer of sand and beach grass that was maintained near the boardwalk. It also helped that much of the boardwalk in front of the project stayed intact to break the roaring surf, unlike the long stretch west of 88th Street that was obliterated.

So what he is actually saying is that they were just lucky that the boardwalk stayed intact in that section and bore the brunt of the surge. They may not be so lucky next time.

And the Daily News:

Rosemary Scanlon, dean of New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate, said the market will rebound.

“The fears were widespread that people would move out of New York” after 9/11, she said. “It didn’t happen.”

But buildings — especially in Zone A — will need to be constructed differently, she said. Boilers and electrical equipment may need to be moved to higher floors, generators may become standard and towers may now be built further from the shore.

“Building on the waterfront was considered to be a great idea until the storm came,” she said.

Daniel Kessler, spokesman for 350.org, a climate change awareness group, said with rising global temperatures and sea levels, building in flood-prone areas isn’t a “very smart thing to do.”

Actually, building on the waterfront was always considered risky. We were warned. We didn't listen. Zone B areas flooded as well as Zone A. Wake up, people.


Anonymous said...

My! My! My!

Do you tell me that the rag-tag bunch that posts on this blog got it right - were more on target than the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, Pratt Institute for Development, Columbia U, Partnerships for Parks and all those other touts that are in the pockets of developers?

Of course we need special mention to EDC, City Planning, the Mayor's Office, and everyone's favorite whipping boy, City Council?

Shall we strike while the iron is hot?

Of course not.

The development cult will encourage the people to build anew in the Rockaways and S I creating a public lobby for waterfront development that will provide cover for the real action with the luxury waterfront towers.

Even more importantly, we will reelect the same dickheads that voted for this crap.

Within two years it will be business as usual.

Anonymous said...

I always wanted to own waterfront property, but couldn't afford it. Now, water world has come to me at a great discount.

Anonymous said...

Everything will be rebuilt close to as before, and we all will pay. Get used to it. Move on.

Anonymous said...

The image of mankind shaking a fist at a hurricane... we gotta take this seriously. One of the things that we discovered is an area zoned "C" - at the same elevation as the "A" zone across the street. Families experienced flooding to the second story - and these, btw, were the classic two-family with unit in basement (not cellar) that we see in most new construction where two-fams are allowed.

Anonymous said...

"So what he is actually saying is that they were just lucky that the boardwalk stayed intact in that section and bore the brunt of the surge. They may not be so lucky next time."

Maybe so, but the developer also raised the ground level at least 5 ft.

From NY Times:
"Before building, the developer raised the entire area with a half-million cubic yards of fill, essentially raising the entire neighborhood five feet higher than it had been, said Michael Dubb, principal of the Beechwood Organization, a partner with the Benjamin Development Company in developing the project along with Denise Coyle, principal of the Benjamin Companies."

Anonymous said...

And the surge was 13-14 feet in many places...

Jerry Rotondi said...

The futility of Mankind shaking a fist at a hurricane can be seen in that silver screen hit, "Key Largo".

Gangster Johnny Rocco, played by Edward G. Robinson, is frightened by the oncoming hurricane.

Humphrey Bogart says to Rocco,
"Scared Rocco? Why don't you show it your rod"?

I ironically joked with my wife that maybe we should watch that film, as we took refuge in the basement, until Sandy passed over us.

She didn't crack so much as a smile. Neither did I. We came out of it all OK, for which we give great thanks.


Anonymous said...

I think its about time we sit down and look at campaign donations from those developers whom were involved with the waterfront and the politicians whose attention they "bought".

Now if information was provided before these projects were built that there was a risk that people were being put into harms way, and this was ignored, may we openly speculate if lawsuits could be filed ....

- against the developers, city and state agencies that ignored this advice, and (oh joy!) the politicians themselves?