Climate Central: New York Boardwalk Shows Climate Adaptation Costs

June 5, 2017

Climate Central discussed New York City's adaptation efforts with Jessica Grannis of the Georgetown Climate Center. The Climate Center has helped advance the city's adaptation progress, such as through the Rebuild by Design competition. 

Beachgoers in the New York City oasis of Rockaway Beach can now flip-flop along a fully rebuilt boardwalk, one that reflects a coastal reimagination underway along the Mid-Atlantic and that heralds the staggering costs ahead of adapting to a changing climate. Rockaway Beach, where a holiday getaway at the southern edge of Queens long ago transformed into a dense neighborhood, had its wooden boardwalk shredded by Hurricane Sandy. The homes behind it were crushed by a storm surge and inundated with floodwaters.

Seas along the New York coastline have risen by about a foot during the past century. Warming has melted ice and expanded ocean water, currents have shifted, and geological processes have caused land to sink. That extra sea level exacerbated Sandy's heavy toll.

"The city and state were both working on climate change adaptation and resilience before the storm hit," Grannis explained. "That helped tee them up to do a better job in terms of rebuilding with resilience. They already had a lot of the plans on the books."

Subway lines and rail yards were rebuilt and fortified against flood risks after Sandy. Emergency shelters were built and volunteerism has been promoted. Building codes have been revised. Electrical equipment is being placed high in skyscrapers instead of at ground or basement level, where it risks being inundated. "Both New York City and the state have really institutionalized resilience into city programs and policies," Grannis said. "All of those things are examples that other cities can look to and replicate."

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