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Designing a climate resilient New York City

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Humans have adapted to a changing climate for as long as we have been around. The rub is that now, humans have settled in with large cities, economies, transportation networks, and an agricultural system dependent on a snapshot of the climate in time. A change in the climate (either warmer here, or colder there) can stress on the systems we’ve laid down.

New York City is as a prime example of a city negatively impacted by climate change. Its vulnerabilities were made all too apparent by Hurricane Sandy: transportation networks flooded, electricity was lost, homes and businesses sustained billions of dollars in damage, etc. However, Hurricane Sandy is also serving as an impulse to reimagine New York City for a new reality of rising water tables, more frequent severe storms, a growing population, while maintaining the aspects that make New York City a boon for tourism and investment.

New York City of the future could incorporate green spaces and more density to be resilient to a changing climate while retaining characteristics that make New York City, well, New York City. Image from Atlantic Cities.

A post from last December in The Atlantic Cities by Roy Strickland offers a vision of a Manhattan redesigned to be more climate resilient. On the design above:

Here, river fronts are made more accessible to the public; flood mitigation structures are integrated with new public facilities such as schools and recreation centers; neighborhoods in flood plains are provided campuses mixing work and living spaces above the water line; congested streets are turned into landscaped pedestrian ways; energy-efficient and aerodynamic skyscrapers vertically layer commercial, office, research and learning places; and mass transportation choices are increased.

The results: A Manhattan more durable in the face of climate change that accommodates growth while providing a more sustainable, less stressful environment.

Check out the rest of the designs. Climate change isn’t all doom and gloom; it can be an opportunity for creativity and new ways of thinking.

David Wogan About the Author: An engineer and policy researcher who writes about energy, technology, and policy - and everything in between. Based in Austin, Texas. Comments? david.m.wogan@gmail.com Follow on Twitter @davidwogan.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Jerryhamilt 6:12 pm 01/27/2013

    I will be glad when Idiots quit using the oxymoron Climate Change, it’s only been changing for 4.5 billion years.

    Link to this
  2. 2. RobbyM 7:13 pm 01/27/2013

    Would it be possible to design cities with disease outbreaks in mind? I know this isn’t an issue related directly to the climate changing, but dense cities seem like places where disease outbreaks are likely.

    Perhaps keeping cities divided into neighborhoods where a person could get everything they need to survive without straying into other neighborhoods. If there is an disease outbreak, people could get their groceries, their medical help, their schooling, without having the entire city converging on a single spot. There would have to be procedures in place for delivering supplies in a way that doesn’t create too many vectors for the disease to spread. A bonus would be that everything would be within walking distance, so people would be healthier no matter what.

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  3. 3. priddseren 10:55 pm 01/27/2013

    Design for change, now this makes more sense than the typical global warmist propaganda of certain doom and we must go back to the stone age to survive.

    Climate Change always occurs, it is a better use of resources to rebuild cities to be either able to exist on the planet with minimal effects from something like climate or build them totally resilient to whatever the climate does.

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  4. 4. davidwogan 8:23 pm 01/28/2013

    1. Jerry – please refrain from attacks or your comments will be deleted.

    2. Robby – that’s a great idea. The article I linked to (briefly) mentions health as a design goal. It seems like limiting disease outbreaks by having self-sufficient neighborhoods aligns with energy/resource goals; not having to leave you neighborhood could help limit outbreaks, which means you’re probably not driving/taking mass transit and therefore saving some energy.

    3. Priddseren – global warming/climate change is not propaganda – there are scientific principles underlying the extremely complex topic of climate change. With that said, I don’t think the adaptation side of climate policy is discussed as much as it should be. Even if greenhouse gas emissions went to zero tomorrow, mankind will still need to adapt to the effects from the greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. Perhaps there is a silver lining in dealing with climate change in that we might design our cities differently, in terms of how we move people, information, and goods. Our cities, for the most part, our designed in a post-war period dominated by cars and the like. Designing for long-term changes to the climate might help us reach shorter term goals of improving quality of life in cities and conserving resources.

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