Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Superstorm Sandy, Climate Change, and Cities

So another of the long posts I intend to do is lessons for cities from the impact of Superstorm Sandy on New York City in particular. It definitely makes me reconsider the appropriateness of waterfront redevelopment in areas potentially vulnerable to significant storm surges.

In the meantime, probably far better than I could do, Professor Eric Klinenberg has a piece in last week's New Yorker, "ADAPTATION: How can cities be “climate-proofed”?."

Prof. Klinenberg is known for his study of the infamous Chicago Heat Wave in 1995, which resulted in 485 deaths in one week (and 521 total). His main conclusion from that study, published in Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago (see "The 1995 heat wave reflected Chicago's "geography of vulnerability"" from Chicago Now), is that communities with highly developed and maintained social networks and connections (the kinds of ties and use values of place discussed in Urban Fortunes: Towards a Political Economy of Placemaking), deaths were significantly reduced.

This kind of finding is related to the "community efficacy" thesis of Felton Earls. Frankly, I am not a big fan of this work as it relates to the economic revitalization of neighborhoods. See "Urban Health, Nasty Cities, Broken Windows and Community Efficacy."

I don't think that poor communities with high community efficacy necessarily end up better off economically. But that doesn't mean that community efficacy isn't important.  Neighborhoods with high community efficacy end up better off socially and in terms of community building and in able to deal with hardship and certain kinds of catastrophe (but still, they can be overwhelmed depending on events, e.g. New Orleans).

Prof. Klinenberg's New Yorker article discusses at great length social capital approaches to dealing with disasters and physical adaptation or what in the past I have called accommodation (see the presentation from the Dutch Embassy ""New Paradigm - Living with Water") in recognizing that you can't eliminate negative impact from disaster.

2.  Similarly this kind of recognition of reality is why Republican Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie can't reflexively be anti-federal government, as he has greater recognition post-storm that federalism just doesn't mean states going their own way, especially when they are overwhelmed by weather-related disaster.

3.  On Saturday, the Municipal Arts Society in New York City, one of the nation's leading local advocacy groups addressing urban design, had an all-day conference on lessons from Sandy.  Sessions are online.

4.  And interestingly, on Saturday there were two articles, one in the Washington Post, "Effects of climate change will be felt more deeply in decades ahead, draft report says," and one in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, "Report: Virginia must lead in fighting sea level rise," about dealing with climate change.

Hurricane Katrina on Yahoo! News Photos.jpgA damaged home is seen in the Lower Ninth Ward on 22 February 2006 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Nearly six months after New Orleans was drowned by breached levees, most black residents have not returned. (AFP/Getty Images/File/Justin Sullivan)

From the Post story:

A federal advisory panel released a draft report Friday on how Americans can adapt to a changing climate, a more than 1,000 page tome that also sums up what has become increasingly apparent: The country is hotter than it used to be, rainfall is becoming both more intense and more erratic, and rising seas and storm surges threaten U.S. coasts.

The draft of the third National Climate Assessment warns that with the current rate of global carbon emissions, these impacts will intensify in the coming decades.

The report does not include policy recommendations, but it is designed to guide decision-makers on the federal, state and local level on how to prepare for a warmer world. ...

Rick Piltz, who heads the group Climate Science Watch, said the report offers President Obama a rare opening. “He’s said he wants to lead a national conversation on climate change. He should start the national conversation,” Piltz said.

But congressional Republicans are expected to oppose any such efforts. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), who heads the Republican Study Committee, said in a statement that it is clear Americans will not tolerate any new climate policies: “Even President Obama acknowledged that our focus right now should be on putting folks back to work and growing the economy — not climate change.”

From the NVP story:

Virginia needs to get serious about rising sea levels and frequent flooding and take the lead in combatting the problems that threaten the allure of living and doing business on the coast, according to a report distributed this week to state lawmakers.

The report is hardly the first time that scientists have laid out the enormous stakes of sea level rise - especially in low-lying regions such as Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore, which flood almost every time it rains.

But the 135-page document is the first official statement on the politically charged problem as requested by the General Assembly and outlined by state scientific advisers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

"It's a significant first step," said state Del. Lynwood Lewis, a Democrat who represents the Eastern Shore and a section of Norfolk. "It gets us moving. And, to me, the best news is that it shows we can do something about this."

Lewis and others said the next logical step would be to study potential strategies for coping with rising waters and sinking lands, a one-two punch that makes Hampton Roads the second-most-vulnerable area to floods and storm surge in the nation behind New Orleans.

Just as in some states, Republicans can be leaders in smart growth policy, recognizing the economic waste arising from sprawl, maybe something similar will happen in climate policy, led by those states that are most vulnerable--although clearly not all Louisiana Congressmen remember the impact of the levee break in New Orleans.

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At 4:50 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

also this:

At 6:19 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

yep, didn't read that til this morning... and somehow I missed another NYT piece earlier in the week about a NY study on climate change.

and until i looked for this cite, I didn't know that the NYT just amalgamated their environment desk into other reporting units...

At 11:38 AM, Anonymous H Street LL said...

Slightly off-topic, but since you mentioned New Orleans: is it still in long-term decline now that its population is increasing at a significant rate?

What other yardsticks would be used to measure progress?

They have strong leadership with Mayor Landreiu. The state is a mess though...

At 12:47 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Good question. I haven't kept up. I used to provide online technical assistance to some neighborhood activists there, but we haven't kept in touch lately. I should check in with them.


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