NYC Flood Map: Interview Update

To date we have conducted one interview with another interview scheduled and several others pending.

The conducted interview was with Doborah Morris who is the Executive Director of Resiliency Planning, Policy, and Acquisitions at NYC Dept. of Housing Preservation and Development. Ms. Morris had many interesting things to say and her primary goal because of the department she works for is ensuring that adequate and affordable housing continues to be built in NYC. Perhaps because of this Ms. Morris is a strong advocate for continuing to build housing within flood plains and believes that these structures can be made resilient either as new construction or retrofits to existing structures such as elevating them and moving utilities to higher floors.

She has a lot of experience working with residents to help them rebuild post-Sandy and spoke about the difficulties of doing this type of work in New York's housing typology which tends to be more multi-family and attached units than other cities. This makes the task of convincing residents to rebuild their housing in a more resilient way quite difficult because you have to get all the neighbors of a building or row of attached units to agree. Additionally, she indicated that many residents just don't have a good understanding of the risk. Often people fall into two camps; those that are traumatized by an event like Sandy and want to make significant improvements to their units or leave the area altogether, or those who oppose making necessary improvements for seemingly arbitrary reasons such as the fact that their pets might have to walk up stairs to enter the building if they elevate.

Ms. Morris also reiterated the difficulties of managing resiliency upgrage and rebuild projects in the flood plains because of the rules set forth by FEMA which are often written for single family homes built on a barrier island off the coast of the Carolina's rather than the complexity of the dense urban fabric of New York City. Additionally, if a program wishes to offer residents buy-outs so that they can leave the floodplain altogether they often can't offer residents enough money for them to buy another home within the City due to the restrictions of federal laws. The interaction of agencies within the City as well as with the State and Federal government makes this work complex and difficult. Nevertheless Ms. Morris stressed that NYC is often leading the way when it comes to navigating and successfully implementing programs for resiliency and floodplain management.

Finally, Ms. Morris talked about a new approach the agency has taken recently trying to work with the community of Edgemere in the Rockaways to create a community based plan for resilience. The goal would be to try to identify parcels where housing could be converted to open space to create a green infrastructure barrier for the community as whole, while at the same time building up density in other less vulnerable parts of the community. The goal would be for those who need to relocate to be able to relocate within the same community into these less vulnerable areas. The project is in the early stages of their first successful relocations. However, it is quite difficult to convince residents, especially those with waterfront properties with views, to relocate.

We have an additional interview set for next Wednesday with Thad Pawlowski, co-director of the Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes here at Columbia as well as Katherine Greig who was the point person for NYC on flood plains until she just recently departed for a position at Wharton. While Thad will be an excellent resource and provides years of experience as an urban designer working on resilience issues at NYC Emergency Management and the Departmenr of City Planning, we are especially excited to speak with Katherine. Our hope is that since she is no longer working for the city she may feel inclined to be candid with us about her experience dealing with the flood plain issues and can certainly provide insight into what she thinks is the most interesting parts of the process.

We also reached out to Kate Orff ED of SCAPE, a landscape architecture firm with an innovative resilience project off the coast of Staten Island to create a wave break with an oyester colony which was an award winning project through Rebuild By Design. Kate is also a co-director at the Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes and is recent MacArthur Genius Grant recipient. She has put us in touch with her colleague Brad Howe at SCAPE and we are in the process of firming up an interview time. He has also offered availability next Wednesday.

We are also in the process of identifying other potential interview subjects from places such as Lamont-Doherty/Earth Institute, other city agencies, and community advocacy groups in the neighborhoods we will ultimately pick for our case studies.

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