What Does Resilience Mean For New York?

The Gotham Innovation Greenhouse met last week at the Municipal Arts Society (MAS)  in New York.  In response to the problems caused by Hurricane Sandy in the New York metropolitan area, MAS is holding a series of forums to design a plan that will improve the resilience of the region.

To get the thought process initiated, MAS asked the GIG collaborators to start addressing the issue of resilience.  The room was filled with a diverse group – scientists, artists, architects, designers, technologists, public policy, etc.  Here is a summary of the key take-aways.

  • With remediation plans in New York and New Jersey costing upwards of $80 billion dollars, it does not make sense to just spend money to recreate the situation as it was before the storm.  Instead, the group focused on what needs to be done with that money to make the area more resilient in the face of the well documented threats of rising seas.  (This attitude is in marked contrast with the position taken by many others who have spoken on the issue so far.)
  • Various possible plans were shown, including those that use nature as a bulwark or even work to integrate man-made and natural designs as means to stop the water.  However, this is more than a traditional public works problem whose solution is to “build something”.
  • First, recent experience and scientific data show that the threat to the urban areas is not merely where we see as the water’s edge.  In Manhattan and elsewhere, the sea also surged from under the ground.  Although the common assumption is that all of New York is built on solid bedrock that goes down thousands of feet, the reality is quite different.  Much of it has been built on landfill or natural formations that can be permeated by water.
  • Second, the city is not just a collection of physical structures so making it resilient also involves the people who live there.   The urban community is ultimately what needs to be resilient.  This is especially important given that the many of those most affected by the storm were the poor and elderly who have been housed on the edge of the ocean – out of sight and mind.  Perhaps just getting the people who lived there back into harm’s way as quickly as possible does not serve their best interests nor the interests of the city at large.  Thus, thinking about resilience in this case also means thinking clearly about what constitutes environmental justice. 
  • Thus, MAS, GIG and others need to work to help devise a plan to transform the currently vulnerable metropolis into a resilient Eco-polis.  The tools to do this are at hand.  The geological and other data is available.  Betaville provides a tool for people to collaborate on a joint vision of the future.  

GIG invites all who wish to contribute to this effort.  

I was also reminded of a statement from Taleb’s recent book:

“Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness: the resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better” [… as it learns]. 

New York needs to develop anti fragility.

© 2012 Norman Jacknis