Urban Adaptation and New York City

Leaders: Jackie Klopp and Nilda Mesa
Wednesday, April 25, 1:00pm – 2:30pm

About the Readings

New York City’s Roadmap to 80X50
Executive summary, pages 5-13

In 2014, NYC committed itself to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, with an interim target to reduce GHG emissions 40% by 2030 (40 x 30). In 2015, the city released “One New York: The Plan for A Strong and Just City” (OneNYC), expanding this commitment. While the city knows how to reach the 80×50 goal, it must accelerate its efforts to do so. It requires making buildings and vehicles significantly more energy efficient, replacing many fossil fuel-based heating and hot water systems, transitioning towards a renewables-based electric grid, greening vehicles and promoting multi-modal transportation, and achieving zero waste. Reaching these objectives will require actions from all levels of government and the private sector. To develop these strategies, the city conducted an in-depth, integrated analysis, finding that an integrated approach looking across sectors is required.

One New York
Vision 3, pages 166-173

To combat the threats from climate change New York City (NYC) is employing two strategies. First, reduce GHG emissions. Second, adapt so that neighborhoods, the economy, and public services are ready to withstand the impacts of climate change. The first strategy focuses on achieving an 80% reduction in GHG emissions from 2005 levels by 2050 (80 x 50). NYC has already achieved a 19% reduction, nearly two-thirds of the way toward an intermediary goal of reducing 30% by 2030. The majority of the GHG reductions achieved were the result of improving utility operations and replacing coal and oil with natural gas for electricity generation. These specific strategies cannot be replicated, and future reductions will be more challenging.

OneNYC Progress Report
Pages 126-137

This report includes notable updates on the progress made for reducing GHG emissions from the power, transportation, and solid waste sectors. In 2016, the City doubled the size of the existing NYC Carbon Challenge for Commercial Offices and the NYC Carbon Challenge for Multifamily Buildings. It has also continued to implement the NYC Retrofit Accelerator, reaching nearly 4,000 buildings and launched Community Retrofit NYC, a complementary program for small- and mid-sized multifamily buildings areas of Brooklyn and Queens. Meanwhile, citywide solar capacity has surpassed 100 MW, keeping the city on track to meet the goal of installing 100 MW of solar power on public buildings and 250 MW on private buildings by 2025.

The Urban Sustainable Development Goal
Klopp and Petretta, 2017, Cities

Most of the population of the world will reside in cities by 2050. The recognition of cities as important entities in achieving sustainable development has been in part a result from the global campaign that culminated in the Urban Sustainable Development Goal (USDG) as part of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The USDG framework faces challenges as it comes into a world where many indicators and indicator frameworks already exist. Any set of indicators is rigid and unable to fully reflect urban complexity.  In addition, national governments were responsible for setting the USDG, which means goals and targets need to be brought down to the city scale for implementation and monitoring. For those cities that have pre-existing plans with local goals and targets, localization becomes an issue for integration. Nevertheless, the USDG is an achievement in terms of bringing global attention to the critical importance of cities for humanity and its future. While not perfect, the USDG can be useful if it promotes actions to improve urban areas, even if the results are not perfectly quantifiable.

Discussion Summary

NYC Efforts
As the director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and OneNYC, Nilda Mesa works on New York City’s (NYC) efforts to become a more sustainable city. The city is required to update its long-term sustainability plan every four years and give a report on its progress annually. In order to do this, OneNYC includes a variety of targets, goals, indicators, and metrics that incorporate both mitigation and adaptation measures together with measures on equity and growth. Over 70 city agencies are involved in implementing OneNYC and tracking and reporting progress.

There were some interesting process differences between the Bloomberg and de Blasio administrations, both of which are very committed to addressing mitigation and adaptation issues for the city. Bloomberg had a technocratic top down approach that assigned select agencies to write their portions of the plan and be accountable for it. It was an efficient start to addressing implementing key sustainability goals. The de Blasio administration took a more integrated approach – over 70 agencies collaborated through interagency working committees to identify key issues and develop interdisciplinary approaches. This allowed better coordination and budget planning to meet goals, as well as improved communication. It also encouraged innovation in policy development based on a more complete understanding of the systems that underlay the challenges.

Political Aspects of Adaptation
The latest IPCC report mentions transformative adaptation as a system-wide change that focuses on the long-term and includes issues of social injustice and power imbalances. But there is a gap in the literature in how cities deal with political dimensions of adaptation.

Resiliency is not only about infrastructure, but also about the social constructs that allow for people and communities to have the required support.

While adaptation and equity are both sustainable development goals, they at times have led to unforeseen results in the implementation phase. Green gentrification has become a major issue when dealing with adaptation. There are examples of community residents who do not want to leave an area after a disaster or are not accepting green infrastructure in their neighborhood. Making neighborhoods more resilient may raise property values, leading to displacement. Cities need a toolkit that can improve resiliency and quality of life without causing gentrification. At the same time, gentrification alone may not be a reason to prevent areas of the city from being improved. There are urban democracy issues to consider. Could there be an index for social and environmental equity that has a better spatial component? If so, would it actually be useful?

Measuring Adaptation
Measuring adaptation initiatives is another major requirement for cities. Many of the current metrics being used are based on the amount of dollars spent on infrastructure, a program, or the square footage being transformed. These are focused on the action rather than on the resiliency goal. In comparison, mitigation indicators are more straightforward. Resiliency is not only about infrastructure, but also about the social constructs that allow for people and communities to have the required support. Another concern is the vast number of indicators that can be taken into consideration for adaptation measures. Determining the right ones can be a challenge, especially when you want to measure both environmental and social aspects of the adaptation issue. Discussion around and agreement for an indicator can connect the science to the policy and civil society community as a way to move forward collaboratively in implementation. An interesting model to consider is the participatory budgeting that was developed in NYC. This allows for a more democratic process. Other cities, like Baltimore, have similar tools at a neighborhood level.

An additional question is how to get accountability from data. NYC is actively using the data it produces for decision-making. Every agency fills out a tracking document monthly, which is reviewed by senior officials at City Hall. However, there are big flaws in the system with its self-reporting and transparency. Data also needs to be comprehensible for communities and individuals to use.

Questions for Consideration

  • How do you navigate adaptation and mitigation without consequences of gentrification?
  • Are there examples from other countries where adaptation measures are compatible with equity issues?
  • What legal and policy measures should be taken to make sure adaptation and equity are applied at the city level?
  • What adaptation indicators are being used at the city level?
  • Is data being used in practice to advocate for certain changes?
  • What is difference between how we are adapting now and how humans have adapted through history?

Click here for a full summary of the discussion.