Coastal Climate Resilience: Designing for Flood Risk

Designing for Flood Risk provides key design principles to guide flood resistant construction in urban areas. Recommendations are given for regulations and individual project design to incorporate the distinct needs of higher-density urban environments in the design of new buildings in flood zones. This report has also identified several key proposed changes to New York City’s zoning that will promote practical, flood-resistant buildings that may differ from earlier, less resilient construction, but are sensitive to the existing context and heritage of neighborhoods. While this analysis focuses on New York City and its regulations, the issues and strategies identified have relevance to other dense, urban environments facing flooding impacts as well.

The report begins by providing background on the regulatory context for flood-resilient design under the National Flood Insurance Program. It then describes the urban design impacts of resiliency standards from a set of common parameters, such as building typology and expected flood elevation. Based on this analysis, the report identifies certain zoning rules that may create challenges for building and retrofitting of flood-resistant buildings in vulnerable areas.

The New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) has undertaken this study which was funded through the New York-Connecticut Sustainable Communities Consortium under a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Regional Planning Grant. DCP worked with representatives of the local design community to develop a set of urban principles to guide the design of flood resilient buildings. These principles are detailed in the report under the concepts of: Visual Connectivity, Facade Articulation, Inviting Access, and Neighborhood Character. 

According to the report, every portion of New York City’s 520 miles of shoreline is mapped within a flood zone.  There are approximately 400,000 residents, 340,000 jobs, and more than 16,000 companies within the FEMA Preliminary Work Maps’ 100-year floodplain for New York City. With projected sea level rise, the number of residents and businesses affected by the risk of coastal flooding will increase substantially.

Designing for Flood Risk strongly shaped the NYC Department of City Planning proposed Flood Resilience Text Amendment, which enables buildings to be constructed and retrofitted for flood resilience based on the latest flood maps issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), while mitigating the potential negative effects of elevated buildings on ground-floor activity and quality of the streetscape. On October 9, 2013 the City Council adopted the Flood Resilience Zoning Text Amendment.

The study's urban design principles have been incorporated within A Stronger, More Resilient New York, the report of Mayor Bloomberg’s Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR), released on June 11, 2013.




Publication Date: June 2013

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