Adaption, Advocacy Next Steps

Based on our initial examinations of options and opportunities by the various working groups—Transportation & Infrastructure, Housing, Critical & Commercial Buildings, and Waterfront issues—some general conclusions can be drawn for how to define and implement resilient planning and development strategies in this new post-Sandy world.<

Can we prevent Sandy-like occurrences in the future? No one pretends we can, even with the most aggressive carbon-reduction programs. Although compounded by man-made situations, such events are punctuations in a timeless and continuing cycle of natural change —a cycle that appears to be increasing in intensity and frequency, and which will bring us extreme events that are an evolving reality with which we need to contend.<

Can we mitigate the impact of these extreme occurrences and protect ourselves against their effects? The answer is a qualified “yes”—if we take a deliberate and measured risk-management approach based on adaptive responses. Such an approach must carefully balance the benefits of various interventions and their costs, bearing in mind that, as always, we are dealing with scarce economic resources. We must balance expenditures for other pressing public and private needs with disaster recovery and protection (in which a dollar spent today will save multiple dollars tomorrow).<

One of the conclusions emerging from the investigations undertaken as part of this Post-Sandy Initiative is that different types of investments may require different adaptation strategies.<

For instance, long-term investments should be those with the longest useful lives—the 100-year-plus life span for many types of new large transportation and utility infrastructure (whose failure can be truly catastrophic), or the similar time frame for extensive rebuilding of waterfront areas (where protection is critical to nearby social and economic stability). These should be designed with the long view, even at a premium cost, to deal with maximum potential risk. This strategy commits the government to protect its public investments, guarding its citizens against the threat of failure.<

On the other hand, buildings and redevelopment in threatened areas present shorter-term opportunities and needs. New and renovated housing and critical/commercial structures—and remediation, as opposed to reconstruction of infrastructure or waterfronts—should involve lower but more affordable costs and risk levels. The caveat is that they may be required to upgrade to a higher level of risk protection as conditions change over time—accepting the potential of failure, coupled with a commitment to learn from experience. This strategy can bring private investments, insurance funding, and relevant public subsidies more in line with realistic capabilities—an issue that today threatens individual capacities.<

In the immediate term, the planning and design community will undertake  a program of advocacy for both shorter-term tactics to deal with critical issues at hand, and longer-term strategies growing out of these larger-concept approaches:<

  • Giving input into the various task forces now under way to develop consensus on next steps for public investment and private response—including challenges to be examined as part of the upcoming mayoral election.
  • Contributing to considerations at the City level (Mayor Bloomberg’s SIRR initiative and other agency responses and approaches), at the regional level (partnering with other planning and design professionals in adjacent municipalities and states in areas of common interest), at the New York State level (both short-term recovery responses and longer-term policy proposals), and at the national level (for instance, lobbying for possible refinements to FEMA standards and regulations).
  • Reinforcing analysis through relationships developed with various city agencies both prior to and during our interactive post-Sandy events.
  • Building upon the collaboration among organizations represented by this Post-Sandy Initiative, developing common positions, sharing research and proposals, and propounding advocacy initiatives—with the understanding that speaking with one voice is more powerful than many uncoordinated efforts.
  • Apprising other organizations that are not part of the collaboration of this work, undertaking parallel efforts to generate conclusions, and engaging in dialogue to learn from other initiatives.
  • Expanding outreach and educational efforts through contacts with education groups, institutions, student groups, and others.
  • Advocating for refinements to laws that facilitate planning and design assistance in disaster recovery (such as the proposed Good Samaritan Law exemption to indemnify professionals for pro bono responses in times of emergency).
  • In many ways, the most important advocacy point going forward is to ensure that architects, planners, landscape architects, and engineers—those who understand the physical implications of the various policy and strategic options under consideration—are part of the discussions at the outset.

Taking into consideration these proposed adaptive strategies, the areas studied by the working groups should be further analyzed and more detailed implementation steps proposed. This report presents a framework for this continuing, broad, and multi-disciplinary evaluation of options and opportunities. The issues are varied, and many are beyond the scope of our volunteers. For the most part, responsibility resides with various levels of government and institutional advisors currently examining these critical issues. Together we can develop implementation steps for: Waterfront and infrastructure: make an in-depth comparison of regional options and opportunities for protection of natural and man-made features. The objective should be to make the hard decisions, based on what we know now, as to what long-term expenditures are necessary for long-term benefits. The scenario approach spearheaded by the Regional Plan Association (RPA) is a valuable framework for this effort.<

Buildings: examine the tactics of regulation—zoning, codes, and other standards—in terms of what is feasible relative to medium-term benefits. The objective should be to mitigate the economically unsustainable pinch faced by home and property owners, between one-size-fits-all standards and government/private insurance premiums. A detailed comparative analysis of the range of assumptions that underlie potential standards, and the implications of their implementation, will be an important part of this effort.<

Continue to advance our knowledge. We know as design professionals that it is critical to expand the proportion of funding allocated to research and development of resilient, sustainable systems for buildings and the public realm—super insulation, better glass, fuel cells, storage batteries, innovative transit, and stormwater technologies. Our future could be that our buildings produce as well as consume energy, that we minimize the need for fossil fuels, and that we handle all by-products, including waste, in a  sustainable manner.<

Finally, the imperative of sustainability must underlie the need for resiliency. We must ensure that new development not only adapts to extreme weather conditions, but also defines how to mitigate long-term climate change concerns. In a recent white paper, the AIANY Committee on the Environment (COTE) put forward a summary description of potential strategies to achieve this goal—from suggestions for urban policy and legislation, to district systems and strategies, and individual building scale.<

The decision-making process needed to refine such recommendations can be undertaken in the framework of proposed labs—multidisciplinary investigations, rigorously defined to posit, test, and evaluate potential solutions so that the best possible choices can be made.<

This report is the first step, a summary of where we are in our response as planning and design professionals to these unprecedented challenges in trying to understand the big-picture options ahead of us even as we grapple with the minutiae of pressing details. As we document more specific information from work already undertaken, and as we investigate the implications of these assumptions further (through workshops, charrettes, labs, and scenarios), we will present material on our new website, The site—currently a repository for appendices and background material generated at various working group events—will be a flexible and open-ended vehicle for next steps, updated regularly to reflect ongoing research, ideas, and recommendations.<

Our working groups are readying their next-phase efforts beyond this report’s initial definition of options and opportunities. They will continue this work using the website as a platform:<

Transportation & Infrastructure will continue advocacy efforts for best practices, both through collaborative programs and through interaction with regional agency and institutional initiatives.<

Housing will expand its work to: propose changes to FEMA multi-family standards; design options for spaces below the base flood elevation; explore alternatives to evacuation where infeasible or impossible; building system emergency responses, and further analyze best practices in the United States and worldwide.<

Critical & Commercial Buildings will prepare guidelines for implementation of recommendations for building owners and regulatory agencies, both locally and, to the extent relevant, nationwide.<

Waterfronts will press forward with its Waterfront Lab approach to defining and evaluating experimental solutions for testing ideas, producing data, and monitoring results, especially after substantial environmental events.<

In addition, the AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee (DfRR) will continue its multi-pronged focus  on education, training, preparedness, and advocacy, based on its partnerships with various city agencies and institutions. The other consortium members will continue their own independent efforts (for example, APA Far Rockaway consultations, CHPC zoning proposals, SEAoNY damage analysis coordination, etc.).<

Through this consortium and its member organizations, we will continue our pro bono efforts to analyze alternatives, assimilate potential responses, and advocate for relevant public policies and private approaches for the preservation and growth of New York City and the region in this new and challenging environment of unpredictable change. Please join us in advocating for the options and opportunities defined in this summary, and by responding to our evolving work posted on the website at<

Illya Azaroff, AIA
Margaret Castillo, AIA, LEED AP<

Venesa Alicea, AIA, LEED AP BD+C<

Ernest Hutton, Assoc. AIA, FAICP
Kirsten Sibilia, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP<

Editorial & Graphics:
Ernest Hutton, Assoc. AIA, FAICP
Gretchen Bank, Assoc. AIA
Maxinne Rhea Leighton, Assoc. AIA
Jonathan Lerner
Ouliana Ermolova
Kirsten Sibilia, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP<

Venesa Alicea, AIA, LEED AP BD+C
Joan Capelin, Fellow, PRSA, Hon. AIA
Kevin Parker
Kristen Richards, Hon. AIA, Hon. ASLA
Jessica Sheridan, AIA, LEED AP
Steven Zirinsky, AIA<