Photo: Paige Polk/Mayoral Photography Office

Opinion We Can’t Effectively Plan for Climate Change without Real Community Dialogue and Long-term Planning

As we march toward a new climate reality, are we leaving the public behind? The New York City Panel on Climate Change’s (NPCC) 2019 report, released on March 15, offers a sobering new lens known as the Rapid Ice Melt scenario: the metropolitan region could experience 9.5 feet of sea level rise by the end of the century. That’s six inches short of the height of a regulation basketball hoop.

The real ‘March madness’ spilling into April and beyond is that we have barely any plan or resources to adapt our broader metropolitan region and, most important, effectively educate and engage the public about the financial, environmental, and social tradeoffs that will become increasingly necessary as waters rise. These are hard conversations. But they are also an opportunity to engage in a dialogue about how we will shape our cities for generations to come.

In this discussion, process and communication matter. Mayor de Blasio’s surprise roll-out on March 14 of the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency project, which features a precedent-setting plan to infill up to 500 feet of the East River to protect the Financial District, echoes cautionary tales of two other disputed plans that have fallen short of the kind of public engagement necessary to succeed.

A substantially updated and fast-tracked proposal for the resiliency of Manhattan’s Lower East Side and the aborted Long Island City Amazon campus reveal an unwelcome common thread: big ideas that carry great importance for the economy, environment, and resilience of our city require understanding, buy-in, and a sense of how they fit into a plan for the larger whole, before they are presented to the public.

Questions remain about the details of alternatives for the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency project, not to mention what follows. Does our city of water become a city of levees? What about equity? And are we setting a damaging standard for environmental impacts?

It is hard not to consider the ghosts of past land use decisions that we have made, that have led to our present predicament: Water Street, Canal Street, Pike Slip, areas long since filled in to support our growth. Without a full understanding of (and say in) the trade-offs, it will be hard for the public to feel comfortable with a presumed conclusion.

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