Coastal Climate Resilience: Urban Waterfront Adaptive Strategies

This guide was developed by New York City’s Department of City Planning to identify and evaluate potential strategies for increasing the resilience of waterfront communities to coastal flooding and sea level rise. This guide can be a useful tool for any coastal community facing these climate impacts and is not written for NYC specifically. Rather the report provides information applicable to many different types of projects that seek to enhance coastal climate resilience at various scales - from a site-specific development project to a neighborhood, city, or regional study - in any coastal location.

The major goals of this project are:

1. To identify the range of adaptive strategies that can increase the resilience of urban coastal areas to coastal hazards associated with sea level rise;

2. To understand the type and magnitude of costs and benefits associated with each strategy;

3. To establish a framework by which communities can evaluate the effectiveness and appropriateness of different approaches for particular coastal areas. 

After an overview of coastal hazards as they relate to waterfront planning and design, the report details different coastal area types, and the exposure of each to different kinds of coastal hazards.

An “Inventory of Adaptive Strategies” is included in Part 3, intended to give a broad overview of the types of coastal resiliency strategies available, and an understanding of the major issues associated with each. Part 4, the “Framework for Evaluation” outlines the process of evaluating alternative adaptive approaches, and offers detailed steps that are intended to provide a flexible, replicable process for selecting adaptive strategies for implementation across various physical and time scales. This does not cover the entire planning process, but rather it describes the portion of this process needed to identify and evaluate strategies for coastal climate resilience. 

The ‘Inventory of Adaptive Strategies’ provides strategies as well as guidance to determine which strategies are most likely to be suited to different sites and conditions. Each potential strategy is analyzed for the hazards it addresses, applicability, associated costs, and the potential for co-benefits, as well as additional considerations including design, technological, regulatory, or implementation factors are discussed.  

‘Site strategies’ for the individual property level are described for both new construction and for retrofitting existing buildings - such as dry flood-proofing and elevating structures.

Larger scale adaptation measures, or “reach” strategies are identified for upland, shoreline, and in-water planning. These coastal strategies include, for example, the development of waterfront parks, strategic retreat, seawalls, levees, groins, artificial reefs and wetland construction.

This study played a key role in Mayor Bloomberg’s Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR), launched in December 2012 following Hurricane Sandy to address the city’s long-term rebuilding and resiliency. During its development, this study informed the SIRR’s coastal protection analysis, and this report complements the final SIRR report, ‘A Stronger, More Resilient New York,’ released June 2013.

This project was funded through a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant to the New York-Connecticut Sustainable Communities Consortium.

Publication Date: June 2013

Related Organizations:

  • New York City Department of City Planning

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  • Best practice

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