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It Doesn’t Matter if Cities Are Climate Change–Proof if No One Can Afford to Live in Them

Instead of Fighting Sea Level Rise, This Town Is Embracing It


Instead of Fighting Sea Level Rise, This Town Is Embracing It. A 2012 aerial photograph of the Lido inlet and the worksites where MOSE is being constructed. The project hopes to protect the city of Venice, Italy, and the Venetian Lagoon from flooding. Could something like that work for Staten Island?

Superstorm Sandy hit the quiet beach community of Tottenville on Staten Island hard. Two of the more than 14,000 people who lived there were killed when the storm surge sent waves up to 16 feet high destroying homes. Five years later, many haven’t been rebuilt.

Disasters often spark efforts to prevent similar problems in the future. When it comes to the flooding of coastal communities during hurricanes, the approach typically has been to keep water out by either erecting sea walls or encouraging residents to move inland. In contrast, planners preparing for the next big storm in Tottenville are creating a project that, instead of keeping water out, “embraces” it. The project is called Living Breakwaters, and it’s designed to substantially reduce the size of massive and destructive waves during major storms by creating a barrier that protrudes out of the water. That barrier contains an oyster reef that will, in turn, establish an ecosystem further…


It Doesn’t Matter if Cities Are Climate Change–Proof if No One Can Afford to Live in Them

his hurricane season, people struggling to keep a roof over their heads are again dreading having their communities shaken by another political perfect storm. That’s because, from Puerto Rico to Texas to Florida and beyond, Trumpism is poised to hit public housing hard.

The Poverty Race Research and Action Council (PRRAC), a civil-rights coalition focused on urban policy, has chronicled the Trump administration’s steady degradation of environmental protections over the past year, starting with the dismantling of the basic core of Obama-era EPA regulations. More recently, President Trump announced, just weeks ahead of Hurricane Harvey, that his administration planned to upend Obama’s flood risk–mitigation standards for federal infrastructure projects. Now whatever rebuilding does take place in the wake of disasters like Harvey will likely rebuild communities unevenly, leaving poor neighborhoods and communities of color more exposed to climate catastrophe than ever before.

Trump and the head of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, seem patently uninterested in shoring up the environmental defenses of vulnerable public-housing systems. Carson and Trump both seem committed to systematically defunding and deregulating housing programs, and outsourcing public infrastructure projects to private contractors. Peter Kye, author of PRRAC’s recent policy brief on public housing and climate adaptation, explains that “areas of Houston that had not previously flooded were devastated” by Hurricane Harvey, showing that “extreme weather can affect housing in areas not traditionally seen as vulnerable.” For areas facing unprecedented levels of disaster, preparedness has to go beyond the local level, Kye says, making it “more urgent than…


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