Monday, October 23, 2017

CUNY Law's Climate Change, Environmental Justice, and Urban Resilience symposium: Proceedings of Panel 3: Resilience as Rebuilding

[This is the third in a series of four blog posts detailing the proceedings of CUNY Law's recent symposium.  Previous posts in this series are available here:  Post 1 | Post 2]

Recently City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law and its Center for Urban Environmental Reform (CUER) hosted a conference, Climate Change, Environmental Justice, and Urban Resilience: Incorporating Community Voices, to reflect on the impact of Superstorm Sandy, which struck New York and other parts of the Northeast five years ago, and to confront the increasingly severe impact of more recent climate-related weather along the Gulf Coast, Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean. CUNY Land Use Law Professor Andrea McArdle, who organized the conference with CUNY colleague, Rebecca Bratspies, director of CUER, shares some post-conference thoughts:

My colleague Rebecca Bratspies and I organized the program with the hope that we could engage a range of voices and perspectives on the challenges of governance for climate risk in densely populated urban areas.  We began with an appreciation that government policymakers and the research and science sector have embraced the concept of resilience as a policy response to the catastrophic consequences of climate-related weather disasters.

We set out to analyze and unpack that term, and consider how resilience is implicated in governance in such strategies as rebuilding, restoring, and retreat from the waterfront.  Although these strategies have sometimes been framed as alternatives, even as mutually exclusive, we hoped the conference discussions would illuminate ways in which, we believed, these aspects of resilience could be compatible and complementary.

We also wanted to examine how policy making on climate resilience could access community-based knowledge, and incorporate community voices. We invited conference participants to approach climate resilience governance through an equity lens that accounted for impacts on climate-burdened communities. We considered “climate-burdened” to include those living in the floodplain in at-risk housing, from wood frame bungalows to high-rise public housing, and those whose life circumstances in relation to race, poverty, disability, or social isolation compound vulnerability to the effects of severe weather.

Further, we asked panelists to consider the intersections between climate-burdened communities and environmental justice communities, united by their shared location on the urban periphery, where land values traditionally have been lower, municipal services and amenities less accessible, and environmentally noxious uses more prevalent.

With a mix of speakers drawn from government, community-based organizations, and academe, the program comprised four panel discussions and a conversation with New York City’s Chief Resilience Officer.

Panel # 3, “Resilience as Rebuilding,” offered academic and practitioner perspectives on the centrality of the idea of rebuilding to resilience planning, including some alternative framings of the climate resilience project. Moderated by Priya Shrinivasan, Director of Standards, Policy and Legal Affairs at the NYC Mayor's Office of Technology and Innovation, the discussion considered challenges to achieving equitable, community-informed outcomes in pursuing resilient rebuilding as a policy goal.

Joseph Sant, Director of Homeowner Services at the Center for New York City Neighborhoods, discussed his work designing and launching coastal resiliency programs such as the FloodHelpNY Home Resiliency Audit program, that support low- and moderate-income NYC homeowners’ recovery from storm damage while working toward resiliency against future storms. He drew on the Center's report, Rising Tides, Rising Costs, documenting the high concentration of lower-cost housing in the City’s more isolated waterfront areas, and the potential consequences of the twin threats of rising sea levels and rising flood insurance costs, including displacement, declining property values, and loss of homes to mortgage foreclosure.

Leigh Graham, Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY), and in Environmental Psychology at the CUNY Graduate Center, discussed her research comparing the resilience-practice capacity of two low-income, Sandy-affected communities in neighborhoods undergoing different development trajectories, specifically, how New York City’s Lower East Side, with its history of housing activism and awareness of gentrification threats, engaged in climate resilience organizing in contrast with isolated neighborhoods on the Rockaway peninsula that conceptualize resilience as a response to socioeconomic vulnerability. She also considered whether resilience measures actually accelerate the pace of gentrification, or whether resilience improvements become possible because the forces of gentrification have already been unleashed.

Denise Hoffman Brandt, Registered Landscape Architect, Principal of Hoffman Brandt Projects, LLC, and Director of Landscape Architecture and Associate Professor in the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York (CUNY), grounded her presentation in an understanding of urban landscape as ecological infrastructure — the “social, cultural and environmental systems that generate urban form and sustain urban life.” She invited a reframing of resilience as a “capacity to negotiate change across a system,” emphasized that the impact of climate change is not limited to coastal areas, and challenged as a false dichotomy the distinction between simple retreat to higher ground and the pledge to protect and never to retreat from the waterfront.

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