PRACTICES IN PROGRESS – Update on the NYC Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency, winner of 2013 BCP contest

In 2013, ICCG awarded the first prize in its Best Climate Practices Contest, held on the theme of “Climate Change and Urban Resilience”, to the NYC Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR). This Special Initiative had been convened in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which caused more than $19 billion in damages and dramatically revealed the City’s vulnerability to the threats posed by natural hazards and climate change.

SIRR produced a blueprint to transform the City into a highly resilient urban space, paying particular attention to both infrastructural and social resilience. It proposed 126 detailed initiatives organized in thematic areas including, for example, buildings, telecommunications, climate analysis, and transportation.

Since then, SIRR has been subsumed into a larger, long-term plan with sustainability and resiliency goals called OneNYC. The implementation of this plan is overseen by the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency.

In 2016, the City released a progress report detailing the advances made in attaining the goals of SIRR and implementing its initiatives. Best Climate Practices brings you a summary of SIRR’s implementation progress to highlight how one of our award-winning “best climate practices” is developing.

The implementation of SIRR’s initiatives for climate resiliency is carried out in four broad areas: community preparedness, small business preparedness and resiliency, hardening of important infrastructure (both public and private), and advocacy with the New York State and federal governments to further the City’s resiliency efforts.

Multiple initiatives aiming to improve the flood resiliency of new and existing buildings in NYC have seen interesting developments since the report was published in 2013.

For instance, the City has changed and is continuing to update its zoning laws (i.e. land use regulations) to improve the flood resiliency of new buildings, and is carrying out Neighborhood Resiliency Studies to explore how zoning changes can most effectively promote resiliency. It has also modified the lending policies of its department of housing preservation and development, introducing resiliency guidelines for existing buildings.

In addition, the City is using its Building Retrofit Accelerator, which provides free advisory services on energy efficiency retrofits, to actively screen existing buildings for opportunities to incorporate flood resiliency measures. Under this initiative, the City is studying the possibility of developing a finance tool to help households fund upgrades and incentivize risk reduction by individual homeowners. Furthermore, the City has established Community Design Centers to assist property owners in developing resiliency design plans for reconstruction and retrofitting.

Interesting progress has also been made in the City’s aim to ensure that the recovery of businesses, especially small businesses, after Hurricane Sandy made them resilient to future natural hazards. The City launched a Business Preparedness and Resiliency Program which develops “business continuity plans” and conducts resiliency workshops and webinars for businesses. In the summer of 2016, the program also began providing on-site resiliency assessments and micro-grants for eligible businesses in flood-prone areas.

As a way to finance technology adaptation and resiliency in businesses, the NYC Economic Development Corporation launched a contest for innovative resiliency technology. The 11 winning projects will share $28 million of federal funds to install their innovative technologies in Sandy-impacted small businesses and help them make their operations more resistant to the impacts of future storms and climate change. It is expected that this program will serve as many as 10,000 small businesses in the city.


Map of coastal protection projects carried out through the OneNYC Plan. Retrieved from “OneNYC 2016 Progress Report.”

Many of SIRR’s initiatives related to the adaptation of key infrastructure and public assets to the future impacts of climate change have also seen great progress in the past two years. For example, the City has significantly advanced the initiative to build green infrastructure projects as a way of reducing sewer overflows, investing $804.5 million in a multi-year program. To date, 1000 small green infrastructure projects have been completed, with 1500 more under construction. Additionally, five New York City departments are coordinating to carry out “green infrastructure retrofits” on publicly owned land around the city; 10 such projects have been completed with 5 more under construction. The City is additionally expanding its investment in bluebelts, a program which preserves wetland ecosystems as a way to cost-effectively manage storm water, increasing the flood resiliency of neighborhoods while saving millions of dollars of equivalent storm water management capacity in sewer infrastructure.

The City has also worked closely with utilities and state-level regulators to support the hardening of facilities and ensure that adaptation plans adequately reflect climate risks. The City has supported the implementation of NYC’s electricity provider, Con Edison’s, $1 billion storm-hardening program, which includes risk-planning measures based on climate projections made by the New York Panel on Climate Change. Additionally, through the Climate Change Task Force, the City has convened 57 public and private regional infrastructure owners and operators (including, but not limited to the utilities) to develop a climate change risk assessment and guidelines for future investments.

NYC’s efforts to make critical infrastructure and assets more resilient to natural hazards also include the city’s parks. The City, through its Department of Parks and Recreation, is carrying out studies to increase the health and resiliency of natural areas, which can in turn provide benefits in mitigating the impacts of climate change, like heavy storms and hot weather. These include a a shoreline erosion monitoring protocol, a study of salt marsh restoration projects conducted on parkland throughout the city, and watershed protection plans for specific waterbodies within the city (so far, the plan for Alley Creek has been completed and that for Harlem River initiated).

The management of disaster risks requires extensive analysis of risk impacts and vulnerabilities, and NYC’s SIRR, now through the OneNYC plan, makes provisions for climate analysis that are unparalleled at the local level. One example includes the City’s engagement with the federal government to explore improved ways of mapping future flood risks. The City is also seeking funding to launch a pilot program to test strategies for protecting vulnerable neighborhoods from extreme heat health impacts.

The New York City Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency was awarded the BCP prize in 2013 because it demonstrated not only a thorough commitment to reducing disaster risk in the city, but also presented numerous actionable initiatives that touched on a wide range of infrastructural and social resiliency opportunities.

The work the City has done in implementing these initiatives so far shows that just as varied as the initiatives themselves are the methods and tools the City can use to put them into action. Indeed, the City is engaged in a number of efforts, from changing land use regulations and City contracting practices, to working with business owners to make finance tools and preparedness knowledge available to them, and bringing private actors like utilities and cell services providers together to encourage resiliency investments.

This demonstrates that disaster risk reduction is a multi-faceted effort requiring the involvement of multiple actors at multiple levels.


(Image: nyc skyline pt 3. Photo credit: Athena Iluz/Flickr.)