Most American homeowners are aware of the pervasive risk of flooding that seems to become more frequent and more severe year over year. While many individual Americans are purchasing extra flood insurance, more urban areas need to consider the same problem, at scale. Mayor Bill de Blasio recently unveiled his proposal to do this for New York City.
Mayor de Blasio’s plan would physically lower the Manhattan coastline by about 500 ft, which is roughly two city blocks. That would certainly push back the flooding danger, but it would not eliminate it completely. Predictably, lowering the Manhattan coastline is not a cheap task. Initial estimates predict that it will take about $10 billion to pull it off.
Lowering the coastline itself may sound extreme, but New York is so crowded that it’s virtually impossible to build flood protection on the existing land. That land is already covered with utilities, sewers and subway lines.
According to the plan de Blasio announced Thursday, “The new land will be higher than the current coast, protecting the neighborhoods from future storms…Extending the shoreline into the East River is the only feasible way to protect these vulnerable and vital parts of the city.”
Most everyone is in agreement that something needs to be done, and this plan seems like a viable solution. Unfortunately, a project of this magnitude, particularly in New York City faces a virtual mountain of red tape that must be cleared before it can be enacted. The city is in a race against the clock; the water has no timetable and will continue to rise regardless of whether the city enacts a plan in time to make a difference.
Jesse Keenan, a faculty member and researcher at the Harvard Graduate School of Design spoke with the Insurance Journal about some of the hurdles this plan faces.
“Once you talk about moving into the water, you’re talking about a level of coordination with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and likely Congress and other environmental stakeholders, that could significantly lengthen and complicate it,” Keenan said. “But maybe that’s inevitable. Maybe we shouldn’t run away from that.”
Only time will tell whether May de Blasio’s plan is the one New York will act on, but one thing is sure: the water is rising, and New York needs to do something about it.