Design in a Time of Uncertainty
By Rives Taylor, Principal, Global Resilience Research Lead
The city of Houston, aided by HARC, is not alone among major cities in exploring ways to adapt to the risks posed by a changing climate and build a more resilient future.
Inspired by Hurricane Sandy’s devastation in New York City and neighboring areas in 2012, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg set the nation’s largest city on a path toward what InsideClimate News called “the most ambitious and scientifically accurate plan of its kind in the world” for adapting to – and protecting against – the hazards posed by a changing climate.
The plan, “A Stronger, More Resilient New York,” was announced in June. If fully implemented as envisioned, would direct $19.5 billion toward “more than 250 initiatives to reduce the city's vulnerability to coastal flooding and storm surge,” InsideClimate News reported:
As bad as Sandy was, future storms could be even worse," Bloomberg said in a speech on June 11 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, an industrial park severely damaged by nearly five feet of floodwater during Sandy. "In fact, because of rising temperatures and sea levels, even a storm that’s not as large as Sandy could, down the road, be even more destructive."
“Over time,” the New York mayor wrote in the plan’s preface, “implementation of this plan would address many of the risks that a coastal city like New York faces. By hardening our coastline, by making our building stock stronger, by creating a more durable power network and better stormwater infrastructure, and so much more, we can be better prepared for anything the future holds.”
Jennifer Ronk, the HARC researcher developing adaptation recommendations for Houston officials, looked at other coastal and near-shoreline cities in other nations for good adaptation plans that Houston might learn from.
She identified three in particular that impressed her – London, Rotterdam in the Netherlands, and Durban in South Africa.
London’s mayor issued his administration’s climate change adaptation strategy, “Managing Risks and Increasing Resilience,” in October 2011. The municipal government describes the plan in these terms:
To maintain London as one of the best big cities in the world, we need to ensure we can cope with extreme weather events today and that we plan for future long-term changes. This means that the city’s infrastructure, buildings and services must be resilient and that we have tried and tested emergency plans to manage extreme situations that may be beyond our normal capacity to cope. It also means that communities and individuals at risk are aware of the risks they face, know how to help themselves and are able to do so.
A key focus of the strategy is ensuring that our buildings are comfortable, affordable and sustainable. As 80 per cent of the buildings we will be living and working in by the middle of the century are already with us, it is important that we adapt these to serve us well in the future. Retrofitting our buildings to be energy efficient, water efficient and climate resilient is therefore a key challenge. We also need to increase the quantity, quality, interconnectivity and performance of our green spaces to keep us cool in the summer and dry in wet weather.
Rotterdam says its strategy aims to make that city “climate proof” over the next few decades:
Robustness, resilience and awareness are the key elements of the Rotterdam Adaptation Strategy. The Maeslantkering storm surge barrier, the dikes and the sewage system need to be ready to carry out their tasks. Dikes may become green connections in the city, or multifunctional water barriers. By enhancing the adaptiveness of public spaces - for example by investing in green infrastructure at street level and on roofs, providing more space for water to run off, such as water plazas, or using the river Meuse as a tidal park - water safety and water nuisance issues will be linked to new urban development which will actively improve the city's attractiveness. Floating developments not only result in new and inviting areas to live and work in, but also in innovations that strengthen the city's economy. Developments in the unembanked areas will be based on the multilayer safety approach, consisting of a combination of prevention, spatial adaptation and disaster management. In addition, the strategy aims to raise the awareness of Rotterdam citizens and businesses and actively involves them in helping to increase water safety and dealing with water-related inconvenience and urban heat stress effects.
Durban officials report that in that city, “municipal adaptation plans have been developed for three priority high risk sectors: Health, Water and Disaster Management.” Cost-benefit analyses “resulted in a consolidation of the original 47 Municipal Adaptation Clusters into a reduced set of 16 Municipal Adaptation Clusters, which is greatly easing the implementation and tracking of the interventions.”
The Disaster Management and Health sectors will be more actively involved in the  new Municipal Adaptation Clusters. With regards to the Disaster Management sector, implementation and tracking of the Clusters will be driven through the Disaster Management Technical Forum, which is strongly associated with the City Manager’s Disaster Management Forum. The Technical Forum will be steered by the Environmental Planning and Climate Protection Department, and will involve participants from diverse sectors within the Municipality. One of the priorities of this intervention is capacity development in natural disaster management prediction, but also response to perturbations resulting from extreme environmental events tied to a changing climate. Another project is developing tracking tools to following the implementation, progress and success of the various Municipal Adaptation Clusters across all participating sectors.