Friday, October 20, 2017

CUNY Law's Climate Change, Environmental Justice, and Urban Resilience symposium: Proceedings of Panel 2: Waterfront Resilience: Coastal Protection, Restoration, and Retreat

[This is the second 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]

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 # 2, on Waterfront Resilience: Coastal Protection, Restoration, and Retreat, moderated by CUNY School of Law associate professor Sarah Lamdan, addressed legal services and community-based organizations’ advocacy strategies for improving coastal resilience and increasing public participation in resilience planning.

Margaret Becker, Director of Disaster Recovery and Community Development for Legal Services of New York City, addressed equity concerns and information gaps in the uneven implementation of three post-Sandy programs: New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program, which allocated funds for some community–proposed projects; Build It Back, which offered to elevate utilities and in some circumstances building foundations for qualifying properties; and buyout programs, which, at the state level offered a few communities the option for buyouts followed with nature-based strategies (wetlands, parkland) and, at the city level, buyouts with the idea of redevelopment.

Beryl Thurman, president of the North Shore Waterfront Conservancy of Staten Island, spoke of the advocacy efforts of North Shore, Staten Island residents and small businesses, in an environmental justice community burdened by unremediated contamination from industrial uses, to protect the tidal and fresh water wetlands against further development that threatens the area’s ecological balance and stormwater management.

Pamela Soto, research analyst for the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance (EJA), a nonprofit citywide membership network connecting grassroots organizations from low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, discussed her organization’s efforts to protect New York’s industrial waterfront, by reducing the concentration of environmental hazards in the City’s Significant Maritime and Industrial Areas, and its community engagement with the Hunts Point Resiliency project in the South Bronx, focusing on the needs of the City’s major food distribution center. She outlined key areas of focus in the EJA’s recently released NYC Climate Justice Agenda, including urban heat island mitigation, food system resilience, renewable energy, coastal resilience, and community engagement.

Between panels, we featured a conversation with Daniel Zarrilli, the Senior Director of Climate Policy and Programs and the Chief Resilience Officer for the City of New York.  I focused the exchange on the structural role of this position in climate governance, which came into being after Superstorm Sandy.  We discussed the Chief Resilience Officer’s oversight of the City ’s coordinated action on climate change mitigation and adaptation, under the City’s OneNYC program, and the City’s advocacy with FEMA to revise the City’s flood insurance maps to preserve some affordable insurance options for homeowners based on current levels of risk data.

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