How Would You Spend $9 B. to Protect New York From the Next Superstorm?

We're gonna need more than just sandbags next time. (Getty_

We’re gonna need more than just sandbags next time. (Getty_

That was the question The Observer put to a group of planning and infrastructure experts yesterday, after Senator Chuck Schumer announced that he expected the state to receive about $9 billion for storm mitigation measures, as part of its request to Congress for Sandy aid. After all, that is far from enough money to build some of those vaunted sea gates, though there is nothing to suggest more money might not be on the horizon in the future.

For now, though, here are their recommendations on what to do with $9 billion in new storm-securing infrastructure investments.

Richard Anderson, president, New York City Building Congress

Funds should be allocated toward proactive measures designed to strengthen and expand the region’s infrastructure. This is far more preferable than enacting defensive measures designed simply to protect our existing assets. Investments should be targeted toward creating a more resilient and redundant transportation network. Candidates include East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal, a new Trans-Hudson Tunnel and the rebuilding of the region’s three major airports. Another worthy idea is the creation of a government matching fund in order to further incentivize power companies to bury their existing power lines.

Hope Cohen, chief administrative and finance officer, Battery Conservancy, and former fellow, RPA and Manhattan Institute
It seems to me that what works best for resiliency is distributed resources and meshed networks—which is not quite the same as saying “redundancy.” I think sea gates are exactly the wrong way to go, as they constitute a single point of protection (if they work at all). For example, MTA’s relative success in this storm stems from moving rolling stock to multiple places of high ground, as well as proactive shutdown of electrical systems.
It’s probably worth building sea walls higher in certain key locations. But I think the biggest opportunity is creating building- and campus-based cogeneration plants. These would serve more than just the host building, connected to the grid and meshed. It’s a big technological investment, but also requires significant broadmindedness in regulatory approach. NYU actually did this, and kept the lights on for itself throughout the blackout.

I also think redesigning entrances to key underground infrastructure—subway stations, and thus tunnels, and vehicular tunnel entrances—would be worthwhile. Finally, I’m all for the “softer” mitigations of greater greenness and more permeable surfaces to deal with excessive water. Especially now that I’m back in the parks business after a 17-year hiatus.

Ron Schiffman, founder, Pratt Center, and former member, City Planning Commission
Engage in green infrastructure projects in areas along the water’s edge recreating/creating barriers protecting now extremely vulnerable areas. Also, where appropriate, use green infrastructure to retain water and create land barriers to slow down, break up and/or divert tidal surge. Develop non-intrusive cradles in shallow water areas like the Bay Ridge flats and the Gowanus to raise oysters that will clean the waters and reduce hazardous toxins in flood waters and retard wave action.
Retrofit public housing in vulnerable areas so that stairwells are lit even when electricity is out. Provide alternative energy sources to operate elevators. Relocate to higher floors all mechanical and electrical equipment. Employ and train tenants as emergency workers able to assist disabled and elderly residents and to engage in other emergency activities. Train staff on how to respond in case of emergencies.

Fix sewers in places like Red Hook, Gowanus and Newtown Creek so that water does not blow back through the sewer pipes and flood the streets.

Establish a commission to implement a Tobin tax/Robin Hood tax and or stock transfer to raise the monies necessary to do the job and to mitigate and adapt to global warming—thereby avoiding the environments cliff we are rushing mindlessly toward. Our environmental deficit is really endangering our children and grandchildren.

Gene Russianoff, senior attorney, NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign

One, harden the subway, bus and commuter rail systems from flooding, both storm surges and heavy rains. That could include elevated station entrances and grates, additional pumps and pump trains and, maybe, inflatable tunnel plugs. Two, create a whole network of faster Bus Rapid Transit of routes to provide an alternative transportation system in many parts of the city. Any mitigation strategies should be subject to serious fiscal and environmental reviews.

Vishaan Chakrabarti, director, Columbia Center for Urban Real Estate, and partner, SHoP architects
Beyond funding for communities in immediate need, I think it’s just too early to say. We need some serious analysis before we start spending billions, which is why we need a Harbor Protection Commission.