As climate change changes us, ways we can adapt


Rockaway Waterfront Alliance’s Rockaway Institute for Sustainable Environment

Climate change discussion
Sunday, January 20. 1 – 3 p.m.
Ocean Village Community Center, Beach 58th & Shore Front Parkway


“Prior to the storm, if we had a summit on climate change I don’t think people would have showed up,”said Jeanne Dupont, president of the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance, before the organization’s sustainability summit on January 20th.


Living through Sandy, and dealing with the realities of recovery, seems to have changed people’s interests . The community room of the Ocean Village housing complex was at standing-room only capacity, with people lining the walls to hear urban scholars, architects and scientists discuss the ways we’re continued to be effected by climate change — and the ways we can adapt.


First up was Dr. Klaus Jacob from Columbia’s School of Public and International Affairs,¬†showing examples of the direct connection between emissions and coastal sea changes.


“International actions with emissions will come right home to our beaches,” he said, noting that increase of CO2 emissions and RIMS — Rapid Ice Melt Scenario.


While not an expert on Rockaway, Jacob said he is an expert on Sandy. His own home saw two feet of water inside, and before the storm he warned of subway flooding, contributing to a 2011 report on the effect of climate change in New York by writing mostly about transportation.


As sea water continues to increase, those along the coast will of course continue to experience flooding and damages.


By 2080, he said, the chance of your home flooding is 50 percent higher as sea levels rise along the coast. Expect a Sandy every other year, he said. So then what?


New flood maps expected from FEMA will most likely place the entire peninsula thretened by a 100 year storm. It will also change national flood insurance premiums, making it more difficult for homeowners to stay where they are. The idea that beachfront neighborhoods are wealthy — images of Malibu, California dance through our heads — isn’t necessarily true in New York City. The working-class neighborhoods on the peninsula, as well as on Staten Island and in Brooklyn, were hit hardest by the storm, and residents will continue to suffer as it becomes more expensive to live here,


The storm may have forever altered the physical landscape, but also the social landscape of these communities.


Jacob’s suggestions for adaptions were focused on both short and long-term plans. Short term plans incluse improved evacuations and warnings, and emergency preparations. You can evacuate, he said, but then you’ll still come home to a flooded house.


“You’re better off not needing an evacuation plan,” he said.


He suggested restoring and preserving wetlands and sand dunes as well as considering storm barriers for medium-term and long-term protections, noting that these don’t help during all situations.


It’s hard for the city to plan for these, Jacob said, since despite all the hard-work and research organizations like the OEM does, it’s still just a plan. Each natural disaster is different, and people tend to reflect upon the latest disaster.
“We always live the last disaster instead of looking forward,” he says.


Husband-and-wife architects Walter Meyer and Jennifer Bolstad from Local Office Landscape Architecture spoke next, revealing their intimate knowledge of Rockaway and their suggestions for aesthetic improvements that allow for protection.


The opportunity for rebuilding is a big investment and opportunity to not just patch up what’s been broken, Meyer said, but to anticipate the next storm.


Their team worked in the coastal town of Mayaguez,Puerto Rico, creating the largest urban park in the country. The park incorporated hard and soft protective surfaces that utilized the natural environment to not just protect residents from the ocean, but the ocean from the residents. The team showed how something similar could be placed on Shore Front Parkway to serve a similar purpose.


When asked about his thoughts on rock jetties, Meyer said it’s an all-in or all-out proposition, and is in favor of something more dynamic to the ocean. Something that moves, he said, and allows for protection. Additional sand is necessary for protection, and can be brought in from various places.


Meyer even suggested bringing sand from the boring of the 2nd Avenue subway tunnel to strengthen Rockaway’s beaches.
The most interesting — but perhaps least practical for Rockaway — presentation came from Arjan Braamskamp, who works for the Dutch consulate.


Sixty percent of the people in Netherlands live below sea level, and seventy percent of the country’s Gross Demostic Product is produced below the sea. Without coastal protection, Braamskamp said, two-thirds of the country would be under water.


This actually benefits the country when it comes to funding. Since so many are affected by coastal flooding, the country doesn’t have as many problems securing funds for protection. The government has spent considerable money to finding solutions to adapt to flooding


Braamskamp presented plans in place in Rotterdam, the second-largest city in the country. The Netherlands created a sand motor — essentially an extremely-focused sand nourishment project — which allows them to build with nature and use natural forces to their benefit.


The environmental impact of dredging was considered, Braamskamp said, and the country tried to created the best solution while factoring in that impact.


When you have people living on the coast threatened by constant flooding, you have two solutions — ask people to move, or created reinforcements. In their case, it was a reinforced dune and building that worked with the land, not against it.


In Rotterdam, parks serve as water overflow spaces for inevitable flooding. People live with the reality that their land will flood.


They’ve also created “adaptive buildings,” which have buidlings moving up and down during water increases.


Rotterdam’s floods, though, aren’t any match for the strong surge Rockaway saw during Sandy. Flooding is one thing — but 30-foot waves is another.


The summit ended with an encouraging speech by Far Rockaway activist Prince Brown, who remarked on the large turnout for the event.


“Sandy pushed something on us that we didn’t expect,” he said.


He was joined by Ron Shiffman, an urban planning professor from Pratt who’s worked to help communities increase engagement and fight for the best improvements possible.


The cleanup in the days following Sandy was vital. But the most important days, Shiffman said, may be found in the months ahead, as Rockaway embarks on the “tedious but necessary process of looking towards the future.”

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