Manhattan Is About To Get Bigger To Prepare For Climate Change

“Hurricane Sandy showed us how vulnerable areas like Lower Manhattan are to climate change,” said Mayor de Blasio. TierneyMJ/Shutterstock

No matter how deep you bury your head in the sand, the effects of climate change are here and they're only going to get worse. To brace for the coming storm, both figuratively and literally, New York City has drummed up a grand plan to make the Big Apple a little bit bigger.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced his plan to extend the Manhattan shoreline into the East River to protect lower Manhattan, the hub of the city’s financial markets, from the perils of climate change.

Given the city’s low-lying topography and a lack of space, this is not an easy challenge. The Lower Manhattan Climate Resiliency project could involve extending Lower Manhattan's shoreline by up to 60 meters (500 feet), around two whole city blocks, with a buffer zone of parkland. It will also reinforce current coastal protections and supply interim flood protections for the Seaport, parts of the Financial District, and Two Bridges neighborhoods.

Climate change will affect New York, and indeed other coastal areas, in two main ways. Firstly, rising levels will flood into parts of the city. Secondly, climate change has also been shown to cause hurricanes to push further inland and linger longer, just as NYC saw with Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, which claimed the lives of 44 New Yorkers and caused $19 billion in damages.

“Hurricane Sandy showed us how vulnerable areas like Lower Manhattan are to climate change,” Mayor de Blasio said in a statement.

Plans of the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency (LMCR) project. NYC Mayor’s Office

By this project’s estimates, 37 percent of properties in Lower Manhattan will be at risk from inland storm surge by the 2050s if current trends continue. By 2100, nearly half of properties will be at an increased risk from storms and 20 percent of Lower Manhattan streets will be flooded daily by the tides.

“Climate change is real. Protecting Lower Manhattan is critical for the 62,000 New Yorkers who live here and, big picture, for the long term health of our city’s economy," added Jessica Lappin, president of the Alliance for Downtown New York.

Big projects need big money. The city will advance $500 million towards the plan, but they’re still seeking federal and private funding to finance the project. Furthermore, the plan to go through numerous environmental reviews could face objection from the local community. However, despite the obstacles ahead, New York City is all too aware that the clock is ticking.  

“Time is not on our side. This country has wasted too many years pretending it had the luxury of debating climate change,” Mayor de Blasio wrote in New York Magazine.

“The national emergency is already here. We have to meet it head-on. And we need Washington behind us.”

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