The cover of this report graphically quantifies Sandy’s impact—and future potential implications—in terms of comparative feet and inches. Sandy’s regional inundation levels are shown in the adjacent map.<

As we now understand, many of the most acute impacts of Superstorm Sandy resulted from the confluence of several unique circumstances: an off-shore hurricane that entered the New Jersey / New York City / Long Island region at full bore; a fast-rising storm surge that came and went quickly; one of the highest tides of the year combined with a full moon; a Nor’Easter, and a disturbance in the jet stream that caused the storm’s turn west into New Jersey. We need to learn from Sandy in order to address other different but equally threatening factors that may emerge from the next storms. For example, Hurricane Irene in 2011 caused flooding resulting from intense rainfall, rather than the storm-surge-driven flooding seen during Sandy. Wind damage from Sandy was limited to the area of first landfall, although tree damage and resulting power outages were major issues in adjacent inland areas. Obviously it is difficult to predict the factors and results associated with any storm.<

Superstorm Sandy resulted in large numbers of people losing their homes, livelihoods, and in some instances, their lives. More than 10% of the City’s population (almost 850,000 people) lived in Sandy’s Inundation Zone—over 325,000 dwelling units in 78,000 buildings (85% of which were built before 1983 flood-related building code upgrades, and over 60% of which suffered FEMA-inspected damage). The New York City Police and Fire Departments rescued more than 1,700 people, with likely many more unreported. While the vast majority in the region did not suffer to the degree as those in that zone, what did affect everyone unilaterally was the damage to our citywide systems: transportation and utilities, housing, critical and commercial buildings, and the waterfront. The energy infrastructure was damaged along the regional supply chain of fuel terminals, pipelines, and gas stations. Hundreds of thousands were without power—approximately 80,000 residents in more than 400 New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) buildings were affected by loss of electricity, heat, or hot water. The storm revealed vulnerabilities across the Tri-State Area and focused attention on the question of long-term viability. Since October 2012, numerous initiatives are under way at local, regional, and federal levels to determine how to respond to future impacts from such storms, which are anticipated to happen with even greater frequency and intensity.<

Sandy’s unexpected power and breadth created a need for realistic standards to protect communities in the way of future storms—which may be even more powerful in terms of wind, rain, and potential damage. This unprecedented challenge, complicated by estimates of rising sea levels and increasing frequency of events, will define how we plan and regenerate the inundated areas and the regional context.<

Even as people and buildings suffered terrible direct impacts, the City and region as a whole suffered massive indirect impacts of the storm. Adverse effects to economic vitality, communications infrastructure, and connectivity networks were widespread.<

The initial step in any disaster is response, preserving life and critical property in the midst and immediate aftermath of the event (ideally preceded by effective pre-planning for evacuation and staging of needed resources). This is followed by recovery, returning to as much normalcy as possible, in turn followed by organized and deliberate rebuilding. The overarching long-term objective is resilience—modifying buildings and land-use patterns over time, and infrastructure where significant investment prevents physical relocation, and waterfront edges that transition between the shore and upland areas—hardening and/or softening as relevant to mitigate the impact of future events.<

In order to deal with these challenges, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR) program is engaged in preparing an integrated strategy to address how we rebuild New York City to be more resilient in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, but with a long-term focus. The City will use its first allocation of federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to support recovery from Sandy and to build in resilience to the challenges of climate change, including programs to build and support housing, businesses, infrastructure, and other city services. This process, undertaken through the coordination of numerous governmental agencies and multidisciplinary advisors, relies heavily on community outreach to define issues and priorities. As planning and design professionals, our intent is to support that process through our parallel volunteer efforts.<

But as we step back from the immediate shock and imperative response to emergency conditions, we must recognize that much of the problem lies in our own culpability as a client society—the way we have helped over the years to create a susceptible built environment:<

  • Land-use patterns that encourage fragile dwelling units and critical facilities in the most vulnerable locations;
  • Transportation and utility systems that fail more and more frequently in the face of natural events;
  • Stormwater management and development policies that increase rather than decrease the impact of runoff;
  • Existing buildings that are barriers to sustainability—and that, in NYC, use 94% of electrical production and produce 75% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Overall, sea levels are rising and extreme storm events are becoming more frequent, both because of natural cycles and the worsening impact of human-induced climate change. By building back better and smarter—moderating our past poor decisions through careful planning, becoming more energy-independent, and setting in motion new, sustainable design and construction practices—we can begin to mitigate or reverse the effects of centuries of misguided development policies.<

The Post-Sandy Initiative, the collaboration that produced this summary report, is structured as the planning and design community’s response to this challenge. Initiated by the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter (AIANY) in the weeks that followed the storm and in collaboration with a wide range of other professional organizations and concerned individuals, it has been supported by the participation of a variety of local, regional, state, and national public agency participants. At publication time, still only months after Sandy swept through our region, this report is a slice in time of our efforts as of April 2013—a definition of issues, an analysis of options and opportunities, and the establishment of a framework for next steps. As our community continues to explore these issues and develop ideas for building better and building smarter, progress reports will be issued online at<

Unlike many of the areas devastated by comparable American storms, New York City is a major urban region whose vitality and resiliency depends on a complex web of interconnected systems. With more than 8 million residents, 6 million commuters each day, and 50 million annual visitors, New York City is the largest regional economy in the United States, and the second largest city economy in the world after Tokyo. New York is a cultural capital and home to hundreds of museums, performing arts venues, and historic sites; and more than 600,000 students are enrolled at the City’s 110 higher education institutions, a larger number than the entire population of Boston.<

Through the Post-Sandy Initiative’s working groups, it quickly became clear that “one size does not fit all”—the imposition of national or other standards, often based on rural, suburban, or small-city situations, may not always be applicable to our high-density environment, and falls short in addressing our complex, interconnected social and economic culture. A series of complementary initiatives, many based on experience from outside the United States, is required to affect meaningful change.<

As part of this Initiative, many professionals have given their time to explore important issues about Sandy and the response to date, both in terms of shorter-term recovery efforts and longer-term resiliency considerations.<

It is clear that we can, and need to, do better in the face of future extreme weather events. Key areas for further discussion include:<

During a Major Storm Event:

  • Dealing with governmental/OEM and FEMA evacuation mandates in the face of concerns such as public housing constraints, property owner reluctance, and public safety considerations;
  • Ensure that evacuees have places to go out of harm’s way, and reliable means to get there;
  • Reinforce and protecting building systems, infrastructure function, and ability to provide police and fire protection.

Short-Term Recovery:<

  • Assess the damage to property and community;
  • Provide equitable public support in the face of varying insurance coverage;
  • Justify and balance rapid-recovery efforts and costs with follow-up repairs;
  • Define the standards for remediation, and resulting costs, in terms of medium-and long-term benefits;
  • Understand the implications of insurance rates based on those standards, and their impact on property owners of various incomes.

Medium-Term Remediation:<

  • Define workable standards for both relatively easier new construction and significantly more difficult existing repair and reconstruction;
  • Develop approaches for rebuilding based on sustainability and resource conservation;
  • Establish clear standards from amongst differing expectations on the rate of climate change and sea-level rise predictions;
  • Deal with social inequity, community, and economic issues of long-term settlement in areas that are now in harm’s way;
  • Create equitable (and appropriately funded) programs for purchase of destroyed or damaged homes and transference into open space.

Long-Term Resilience:<

  • Analyze long-term infrastructure and waterfront investments despite a lack of definitive new scientific standards for flood zones and sea-level rise;
  • Evaluate how to finance premiums for design and construction based on short-term cost but long-term benefit without affecting immediate alternative needs or choices;
  • Advocate planning and design solutions that reduce carbon emissions and our reliance on fossil fuels, as well as work with anticipated future water levels.

There are two major determining factors in defining resilience:
Achieve consensus among the responsible parties (FEMA, the states, the City, and other municipalities, insurance companies) as to standards— what constitutes “harm’s way.” This definition will necessarily be based on predictions of sea-level rise, possible storm surges, and recommended allowances for “freeboard” above those flood levels—and how they are predicted to increase over a series of benchmarks throughout the coming century and beyond. Careful cost-benefit analyses that take into account funding cycles and the benefits of funds at the users’ end, present value, and alternative uses of funds.<

As the planning and design community, we are one voice in these critical issues. But our expertise and perspective are invaluable components of the solution. Architects, landscape architects, planners, and engineers must be at the table as policies and standards are developed to mitigate or reduce the risk of catastrophic damage from the next storm. We must apply our experience to those issues that speak to the physical, social, and environmental implications of possible decisions. More value and emphasis must be placed on long-range comprehensive planning under the initiative of elected leaders. Systems and resources must be organized so that short-term decisions are aligned with long-term health, safety, and sound investment.<

We framed this Post-Sandy Initiative in terms of design implications and applied design thinking. A set of working groups examined key aspects of the built environment in detail, through collaboration, research, workshops, and design charrettes. We have examined these topics in terms of short-, medium-, and long-term time frames, and at a range of scales, from individual buildings to neighborhood contexts, the surrounding city, and the region as a whole.<

The following chapters summarize issues, options, and opportunities identified by four of these working groups—Transportation & Infrastructure, Housing, Critical & Commercial Buildings, and Waterfront. The valuable work of a fifth working group—Zoning & Codes—has been incorporated throughout the text. Each of these reports is supplemented online by additional material delving into specific areas of concern and concepts for building better and building smarter at<