City of New York, New York: New York City Comprehensive Waterfront Plan

In December 2021, the New York City Department of City Planning (NYCDCP) released its third Comprehensive Waterfront Plan (the Plan) that outlines a ten-year vision for the creation of a more equitable, more resilient, and healthier waterfront. The NYCDP developed the Plan in accordance with its climate justice principle to equitably distribute climate resources and construct resilient and sustainable environments for all across the city. Among other parts of the Plan, it presents opportunities for the city to proactively incorporate climate resiliency and adaptation into its processes for everyday decisionmaking and long-term planning. One of the Plan’s five adaptation goals also focuses on housing solutions for residents of flood-prone neighborhoods. 

In the Plan, the city builds on its commitment to equitably advance waterfront development. The city divides the Plan into eleven sections that address many priority opportunities for waterfront development, including several that relate to climate change and building social resiliency: 

  • Waterfront Public Access: Currently, pedestrian access to the waterfront varies significantly across each of the city's five boroughs. The city seeks to improve connectivity, revitalize the waterfront, and expand access with an emphasis on equity through community-supported greenway improvement plans. 
  • Economic Opportunity: The Plan emphasizes the importance of expanding access to well-paying jobs tied to implementing the city’s climate mitigation strategies. For example, the activation of city-owned waterfront land can promote the growth and diversity of the city’s economy.  
  • Water Quality and Natural Resources: The Plan outlines the city’s pursuit of nature-based solutions for treating and transporting wastewater to reduce different sources of water pollution, such as combined sewer outfalls (CSOs). By improving water quality and public access to water, the city also seeks to expand opportunities for New Yorkers to connect to nature.  

One of the Plan's largest sections focuses on Climate Resiliency and Adaptation more specifically. To adapt to a hotter, wetter city, the Climate Resiliency and Adaptation section outlines five cross-cutting goals: 

Goal 1: Expand awareness of climate risks and waterfront adaptation actions.

Goal 2: Apply research and an understanding of systemic climate vulnerabilities to inform public policies and investments in coastal areas.

Goal 3: Support the housing needs of waterfront residents by creating new homes in appropriate locations and providing resources to manage the impacts of flooding.

Goal 4: Implement coastal flood protection to manage the impacts of coastal storm surges and high tide flooding.  

Goal 5: Promote climate-resilient designs and infrastructure systems able to withstand the impact of coastal storms, increased precipitation, extreme heat, and sea-level rise. 

The rest of this entry summarizes some of the key takeaways associated with each goal, including Goal 3, which is discussed last.  

In Goal 1 of the Plan, the city presents its informational campaign to broaden awareness of climate risks and the ways New Yorkers can adapt to the impacts of climate change. The Plan seeks to expand climate change awareness by converting climate change data into action. In the plan, the city proposes sustained conversations among waterfront communities as a means of raising awareness and motivating action. With more access to information, such as flood insurance, flood preparedness, and building retrofits, waterfront residents are better equipped to handle the personal impacts of climate change. 

The Plan also suggests that an understanding of systemic climate vulnerabilities should be used to guide land-use policies and infrastructure investments in coastal areas. Recognizing that there is no single adaptation approach that can simultaneously address all climate vulnerabilities facing New York City, the city recommends a range of strategies that can be applied at different scales in New York’s dense urban neighborhoods. The Plan’s comprehensive approach includes infrastructure resiliency retrofits, climate-resilient building codes, and zoning updates. 

Further in Goal 2, the city proposes a climate adaptation tool called the Coastal Land Use Framework. This framework will outline a way to approach future development and public investments in housing and infrastructure with an understanding of flood risks. The city can use the Coastal Land Use Framework to guide local land-use decisions and tailor climate solutions to different neighborhoods. By supporting growth and resiliency in appropriate areas and restructuring growth in high-risk areas, zoning can help shape long-term development patterns to correspond with climate change predictions. For example, to protect residents against rising sea levels and flood risks, the city already limits residential development in zoning areas designated as Special Coastal Risk Districts (SCRD).

In Goal 4, the Plan identifies opportunities for coastal flood protection to manage the impacts of coastal storm surges and high tide flooding. The Plan highlights the importance of completing the post-Hurricane Sandy coastal protection plan, which has entered into a construction phase. With floodwalls, levees, and floodgates, the coastal flood protection program will protect against storm surge New York City’s 520 miles of coastline. The Plan emphasizes the importance of incorporating natural and nature-based features into coastal flood protection, highlighting the capabilities of dunes, jetties, and wetlands to minimize upland wave impacts. 

Finally in Goal 5, the city aims to expand resilient design practices to enhance waterfront buildings and infrastructure. To identify strategies that mitigate climate risks, the Plan emphasizes the importance of collaboration between the city and private sector. To promote resilient designs, the city can expand technical and design resources available to property owners in high-heat and high-flood-risk areas. The Plan also discusses how the city could update local regulations in anticipation of future flood risks identified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the New York City Panel on Climate Change. To help manage future flood risks due to increased precipitation, the city could incorporate future rainfall projections into drainage planning. This aspect of the Plan is particularly important for the prevention of combined sewer overflow (CSO) issues. 

In Goal 3, the city outlines its plan to preserve and create new housing in appropriate locations for New Yorkers of all income levels and help waterfront residents manage the impacts of flooding on their homes. Through the Plan, the city highlights the importance of transitioning from post-storm buyout programs to equitable housing mobility and land adaptation initiatives. Some buyout programs have been shown to perpetuate patterns of housing inequality by offering lower property valuations to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and low-income households. Redesigned buyout programs that produce equitable results can help residents achieve their long-term needs. 

Ideally, New Yorkers should not have to wait for a disaster to receive government support to escape flood-vulnerable areas. As such, the city proposes proactive climate adaptation programs. The Plan explains the difficulty of ensuring housing stability in neighborhoods facing increasing exposure to chronic high tide flooding. For example, the loss of ground floor space as residents move to higher floors to escape flood risks poses significant financial risks to many building types that may lose revenue as a result. As such, the Plan reframes housing stability as supporting people’s agency to meet their own housing needs. Given the discriminatory legacy of environmental policy and real estate practices, such as urban renewal, the city lays out strategies in the Plan that safeguard BIPOC and low-to-moderate income (LMI) populations by prioritizing their preferred housing pathways.

Anti-displacement measures, such as housing mobility and flood retrofit programs, can support residents with long-term housing decisions. Housing mobility represents the ability of residents to find and obtain a home that improves their living or neighborhood conditions. In pursuit of its equity pledge, the city prioritizes supporting housing mobility and flood retrofitting services for LMI households. To do so, the city proposes establishing programs to inform renters and property owners and foster community engagement and neighborhood planning. Currently, there is some support for housing mobility through federally funded programs, but as outlined in the Plan, the city should advocate for increasing the range of resources available for housing mobility. Coupled with meaningful resident engagement, these programs would give residents the flexibility to remain in the neighborhood or move to a different neighborhood in the future. 

In the Plan, the city also presents land adaptation and conservation as means to transition flood-vulnerable structures to resilient and sustainable land uses. As residents take advantage of housing mobility services to move out of flood-vulnerable houses, private and public land management entities must take ownership and maintain flood-prone properties. In the Plan, the city proposes adopting creative solutions, such as land trusts and land banks to foster land adaptation. 

Publication Date: December 19, 2021

Related Organizations:

  • New York City Department of City Planning

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