Do New Yorkers believe, two years after Superstorm Sandy decimated the area’s coastline, that they’re safer from future storms and devastating floods?
The answer – according to 70 residents from around the city who spoke with our reporters and filled out our online survey – seems to be a resounding “no.”
City officials we interviewed argue that preparations are underway to protect New York from future climate risk. Yet some local City Council members confirm that the public sentiment we gathered is not misguided, acknowledging that more needs to be done to let New Yorkers know about resiliency efforts.
These were the findings of a team of nearly three dozen journalists conducting an investigation that ran several weeks and focused on two of the city’s worst storm-battered communities – Brooklyn’s Red Hook and Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The collaborative reporting project was conducted by AdaptNY, with partners Gotham Gazette, a public watchdog climate news site; the independent NY Environment Report, and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
The “Are You Climate Safe?” project sent our reporters into the field earlier in October. There, we interviewed residents and business owners, and subsequently surveyed online dozens of others from these two high-risk neighborhoods and other parts of the city and metro area (see live coverage from Lower East Side and from Red Hook, plus a live reporting wrapup).
The overwhelming majority of those we contacted told us they thought they were no safer. Just a handful said they believed they were better off.
A significant number also said they were simply unsure what measures, if any, were being taken to protect their communities. That despite the fact the city appears to be working steadily through a massive and costly set of resiliency initiatives, even as it struggles to make progress in responding to disappointment over the slowness of its “Build It Back” housing recovery program.
The degree of public disengagement with city planning work on climate resiliency we uncovered echoes our previous investigative findings of a striking disconnect in communication between City Hall and some of the communities most affected by Sandy.
“I have not seen any evidence of preparation against climate risk in my community, except for the new NYC flood risk zones map,” said one retired Red Hook resident. “I don’t believe we are truly informed on what has been done,” said another.
The collaborative also spoke with city leaders, including City Council Members and high-ranking members of the de Blasio administration.
Other key findings from the investigation were:
- Many of the city’s large-scale climate resiliency projects, still in the planning phase, are essentially invisible to residents we reached.
- As a result, some prominent local officials argue that there needs to be a “clear, concise, understandable” version of the city’s resiliency plan, especially in these most vulnerable areas.
- But planning is clearly underway, such as with large-scale flood protection projects in Red Hook and the Lower East Side, both hard hit by Sandy-related flooding.
- Both communities are also about to see portions of $1.8 billion in FEMA funds for the permanent replacement of temporary boilers, installed after Sandy damage in the public housing complexes that many of their residents call home.
- Yet many residents, uncertain about broader resiliency measures being put into place by city officials, told us they are preparing personally for another catastrophic weather event. Some, especially in Red Hook, see themselves as more reliant on the efforts of fellow citizens in community groups and local community boards for protection from future climate extremes.