The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has abruptly ended a study of strategies to protect the New York-New Jersey coastline from rising seas and future devastating storms such as Hurricane Sandy that flooded coastal communities and killed scores of people in 2012. The study was evaluating engineering projects including a proposal for a five-mile storm surge barrier from Long Island to the New Jersey coast.
Linda Shi, assistant professor in architecture, art and planning at Cornell University, researches how cities adapt to climate change. Shi says the cancelling of the USACE study comes as funding for adaptation strategies is desperately needed, and that New York City’s resiliency plans will set a precedent for cities across the country.
“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal, however it resolves, sets a precedent for how the country responds to long-term sea level rise and storm surge. Mega-infrastructure responses to the challenges of sea level rise and storm surge can pit considerations of equity and justice against aspirations for repairing ecosystems function.
“A nationally-funded barrier would protect a wide range of New York City neighborhoods, many of which are unable to fund individual building-level retrofits. But Boston and the Bay Area have also evaluated these schemes to varying degrees of detail and come to the conclusion that they are too costly, too ecologically damaging, and unlikely to achieve long-term protection given current emissions trajectories.
“Retreat presents a third option. After 9/11, many Wall Street businesses left for Brooklyn or the suburbs in part due to federal requirements to deconcentrate and geographically spread their risk, leaving Lower Manhattan one of the cheapest real estate markets on the island. So the idea of retreat is not unfamiliar even to high value areas.
“Too many studies have focused exclusively on physical risks, and more funding is needed to assess a wide range of adaptation options. This can only happen if funding is there to study the options - whether that's through USACE or other entities.”