Planning — December 2012
Planners Report on Sandy’s Aftermath
The Wednesday after Hurricane Sandy hit, planner James Rausse, AICP, was back at work at his office in the Bronx. Rather than wait for a packed bus or fight snarled traffic, he made the trip from his home in Queens by bike. The trip took an hour — almost twice as long as his typical train ride — and the damage he saw consisted of fallen trees and ripped-up sidewalks. “I’m very grateful that we were able to avoid the worst of it,” he said in a phone interview on November 2.
Elsewhere along the East Coast and in his own city, people have not been so lucky. Damage in his neighborhood “is nothing compared to neighborhoods like Breezy Point, Coney Island, City Island in the Bronx, Lower Manhattan, [and Staten Island],” says Rausse, who is the director of capital programs at the Office of the Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and president of the New York Metro Chapter of APA.
Rausse has been reaching out to his fellow planners via e-mail blasts, social media, the chapter website, and by phone since the storm hit October 29. He says that he made contact with his executive committee and others in New York City early, but news from APA colleagues on Long Island was slow to trickle in. A week after the storm, a Long Island colleague still reported limited access to water, electricity, heat, phone, Internet, and information about emergency services.
Meanwhile in New Jersey, Paul Gleitz, AICP, a principal park planner with the Monmouth County Parks System, is staying with his in-laws while he waits for the power to come back on at his house in Manasquan, a full week after Sandy hit. His office is dark, too, but he’s working at one of the parks department warehouses — which is now doing duty as a temporary distribution center for supplies for storm victims.
On the ground, Gleitz sees Sandy’s havoc all over the place: “50-foot dunes gone, homes and businesses filled with sand … the ocean and Barnegat bay have met,” he says, referring to the flooding of parts of the Barnegat Peninsula on the Jersey Shore. “The physical geography of the state is different.”
What is so striking about this storm is the combination of its size, duration, and impact on human settlements, notes Gavin Smith, AICP, the executive director of the Center for the Study of Natural Hazards and Disasters at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the executive director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Coastal Hazard Center. “In some ways, it’s unprecedented in the U.S. for a coastal storm to impact this significant cluster of major metropolitan areas,” he said in a November 1 podcast with James Schwab, AICP, a senior research associate at APA and manager of the APA Hazards Planning Research Center.
Smith adds that there will be intense pressure to rebuild quickly, but asks, “Should we be rebuilding our communities, our infrastructure, our housing differently? How can we inject risk reduction into our recovery process?”
Planners must do exactly that, says Ed Thomas, president of the Natural Hazard Mitigation Association. “There is no technical basis for thinking that Sandy is a fluke that will never happen again,” he says. “We need to take this into account in our planning processes. Planners need to militantly insist that due regard for natural hazards be included in a comprehensive plan and any post-event planning process.”
What’s needed now
The New York Metro chapter’s website notes that planning-related volunteer opportunities have not yet been identified but lists links to organizations serving immediate needs. “I’ve spoken with the state and with community development organizations, but it’s still very early in terms of figuring out what to do,” Rausse says. He notes that planning needs will include ecological restoration, infrastructure repair and planning, and community visioning, and he says that he hopes communities will coordinate efforts and take a regional approach.
It’s not clear what kind of help is needed in New Jersey yet, either. “We’re still very much in an assessment phase,” said president of the New Jersey Chapter Chuck Latini, AICP, in an interview a week after Sandy hit. He notes that he has been in touch with planners at the state level as well as with colleagues in nearby states and at the APA. One thing he does realize is that “we’re going to have to call on a lot of the expertise that was gained from Katrina; we’re going to have similar issues,” he says.
Rausse invites planners to help the region in any way they can. “This is probably the biggest natural disaster that we’ve seen, if not ever, then at least in the last 100 years or so.” Any resources are appreciated, including donations to the Red Cross and to community development corporations, because he says the latter are “the ones who are going to be working with the neighborhoods and struggling municipalities in the long term.”
APA members can get involved by donating to Post-Disaster Planning Efforts via the Planning Foundation and can keep tabs on planning needs and volunteer opportunities by following APA’s Recovery News blog at http://blogs.planning.org/postdisaster.
The road to recovery will be a long one. “This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint,” Rausse says.
— Meghan Stromberg
Stromberg is Planning‘s senior editor.
Planning — December 2012
Perspectives from the Desk of APA Executive Director and CEO Paul Farmer, FAICP
Seven years after Hurricane Katrina devastated an area along the Gulf Coast that was the size of the United Kingdom, Hurricane Sandy blasted an area of the East Coast with a population equivalent to Canada’s. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), when Sandy made landfall as a “post-tropical cyclone” near Atlantic City, New Jersey, on October 29, it had sustained winds of 80 miles per hour and coastal minimum pressure of 946 millibars (mb), the lowest pressure reading ever recorded along the northeast coast. Tropical storm force winds extended 500 miles from the center.
The result? A record-setting storm surge and many historic high water levels from New York to Pennsylvania. Flooding and fires followed the storm surge, with more than 100 deaths, lost power, and over $50 billion in property and infrastructure damage.
Complex problems are caused by complex systems. While hazards were a major focus for APA research and education for years, we increased our efforts post–Katrina, and now Sandy has caused everyone to again look at underlying causes and myriad responses.
Over the past decade we have talked about global warming and then climate change only to encounter resistance to the very terms. Now “climate disruption” is the phrase coming into vogue. Can we at least agree to look at effects, even if causes remain politically toxic?
Let’s begin with the popular concept of resilience. Resilience from what? Natural phenomena? Disruptive technologies? Global trade? Market obsolescence? Resilience in a general sense means elasticity or buoyancy and comes from the Latin resilire, to spring back or rebound.
If we are talking about resilience for our communities, toward what aims? Protection of life and property? Surely Katrina and Sandy have taught us that these must top the list. Protection of ecosystem services? Right away, we have set up conflict, competition, and perhaps mutually reinforcing dynamics as well. Remember these complex systems.
What are our mechanisms for developing resilient communities? Democratic frameworks don’t guarantee wise decisions, but it’s the best system we have. Our democratic framework includes the private sector and several levels of the public sector, including the federal government. Does anyone believe New Jersey and its local communities could have responded adequately to Hurricane Sandy without federal help? As planners, we know that the response must be a carefully crafted blend of resources.
What is our time frame for addressing issues of resilience? As planners we try to take the long view. Let me suggest that we need collective wisdom and the right motives. We get our values from sources such as our culture, principles of equity, and, for many, religion. APA’s articles of Incorporation and AICP’s Code of Ethics provide guidance as well.
In 2011, Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel spoke to 5,000 planners at our National Planning Conference in Boston. Sandel, who teaches a popular course on justice, asked a simple question, “How do we know how to do what is right?” This simple question and others like it are often difficult to answer.
Planning always operates in the moral sphere — the sphere of Sandel’s course on justice — and that is certainly true when we are dealing with the issues of resilience, hazard mitigation, adaptation, and disaster planning. We deal with life and property. We deal with winners and losers.
What are planners to do? Yes, we must use our education, our experience, and our values, but we must also get more education. Science and engineering can give us hard skills that we might not have acquired through planning education alone. This is not a panacea, and scientists and engineers have made their share of mistakes. Look at levees and dams around the world.
Let’s return to some simple lessons for planners. Planners in almost every community should lead or be involved in four initiatives. First, you should audit your community for the major safety issues. One of the best places to start is APA’s Safe Growth Audit. Written by David Godschalk, the Safe Growth Audit that was included in PAS 560, Hazard Mitigation: Integrating Best Practices into Planning, also appeared as an article for Zoning Practice, which is online as a free download of the Hazards Planning Research Center, at www.planning.org/zoningpractice/open/pdf/oct09.pdf
Next, you should become more informed about hazards. APA has a wealth of training resources in this area, so I encourage members to ask their chapters to host our “Planning Flood-Resilient Communities” workshop. APA Florida chapter is currently arranging to do this, and it’s been done in Chicago (APA Illinois), Nashville (APA Tennessee), and Kansas City, Missouri (jointly by APA Kansas/APA Missouri). APA Georgia is now considering it. Here’s the current link: www.planning.org/pts/oneday/. You can also attend the Resilient Communities track at the National Planning Conference in Chicago in April.
Third, you should become a more forceful advocate for good practices. APA joined the Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM) in criticizing the National Levee Safety Commission when the commission chose not to examine local land-use controls in its final report. Communities often decide that it is safe to build behind a levee instead of creating a buffer or safety zone, given the potential for levee failure. That is a serious policy failure. Instead we should learn from the Dutch, who understand that levees need buffer zones. Photos from California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin delta area, for example, show the continuation of these questionable policies. Find weaknesses in your own community and set about addressing the problems.
Last, join the conversation. APA’s Recovery News blog, http://blogs.planning.org/postdisaster, the APA Mitigation and Disaster Recovery Interest Group, and other opportunities abound.
As noted, APA has taken its responsibility very seriously, and we urge every planner to do so as well. Several years ago, we created the National Centers for Planning, including a Hazards Planning Research Center. This effort continues contract work that began with FEMA in 2002. It currently includes the one-day training workshop on hazard mitigation planning for practicing planners, which has been offered at various locations, including the National Planning Conference. and has been hosted by APA chapters, regional planning agencies, and others. FEMA and APA envision major revisions and updates to this workshop in coming years. as a Phase II follow-up to the current research project on “Integrating Hazard Mitigation into Local Planning.”
Jim Schwab, AICP, the center’s manager, presented a training workshop at the annual Association of State Floodplain Managers national conference in May 2012. APA’s 2012 National Planning Conference highlighted the Hazards Planning Research Center’s current FEMA-funded project with a session using the same title: Planning for Post-Disaster Recovery. The center will also present a two-session series on the forthcoming PAS Report during the 2013 conference in Chicago.APA also will produce a PAS Report on best practices in local use of geospatial technology for coastal planning.
Since Katrina, we have worked closely with our Dutch colleagues in a partnership that involves the Dutch Embassy, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and David Waggonner of Waggonner & Ball Architects in New Orleans. These partners and others have collaborated on three Delta Urbanism Symposia. “Coastal Cities, Hazards, and Climate Change Symposium” was the topic of third symposium, co-sponsored by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, held in conjunction with the 2012 National Planning Conference. Speakers from Pacific Rim countries as well as the Netherlands and Italy convened in Los Angeles to explore the latest planning, engineering, and environmental work on this important topic.
At Sen. Landrieu’s invitation, APA representatives have participated in study tours with the U.S. EPA and a congressional delegation to the Netherlands. Related to this effort, APA Planners Press published Delta Urbanism: The Netherlands and Delta Urbanism: New Orleans in 2010 to explore common challenges and new paradigms.
APA is also an active member of NOAA’s Digital Coast Partnership, a group of organizations contributing content and focus to the Digital Coast. The Digital Coast website provides coastal and marine geospatial tools, data, training, and information for planners and allied professionals. APA undertook the Digital Coast needs assessment survey in its first year of participation. The report outlines the coastal and marine geospatial tools, data, training, and information needs of APA members involved in planning coastal communities along marine coasts, tidal estuaries, and the Great Lakes.
APA has produced many other resources, and I urge you to go online for a longer version of my perspectives with links to additional resources.
For planning educators, I would like to pose some questions. What do you teach and, particularly, what do you require students to master? What is the focus of your research and that of your PhD candidates? Are there relatively predicable threats from climate change that can be addressed through local or regional actions, and how do those differ from place to place? I was fortunate enough to learn about hazards and disaster from Professor Barclay Jones at Cornell and assumed, for a while, that planning education everywhere offered such coursework. It should.
What do planners need when working with the federal government? First we need to recognize that FEMA is again a professional, responsive, and effective partner. But there are other federal responsibilities. Infrastructure investment tops the list. After Katrina, there were calls for major Army Corps projects to be protected from political interference, and one sensible proposal was to have major projects subject to a BRAC-like process. Using this process, an independent panel prepares the project list and Congress cannot change it; all it can do is approve it or disapprove it. The proposal was sound after Katrina and remains sound after Sandy. Congress should create such a process.
Also, it is time to discuss the mortgage interest deduction for second homes in high hazard areas. Why should we pay people to build second homes in harm’s way? Congress should remove this counter-productive tax expenditure and use the money to capitalize a fund for post-disaster housing needs.
Currently, we seem to hope that we can dodge natural disasters each year. We can’t, and Sandy is only our latest reminder.
Image: A massive fire, on the heels of wind and water, destroyed this home in the Belle Harbor neighborhood of Queens. Photo Radhika Chalasani/Redux.
Additional APA Resources
Recent and relevant issues of Zoning Practice (subscribers only) include: “Buildout Analysis: A Valuable Planning and Hazard Mitigation Tool” (March 2006); “Integrating Stormwater Regulation and Urban Design” (November 2006); and “Using Zoning to Reduce Flood Damages” (March 2008).
APA has a variety of books and reports available at APAPlanningBooks.com:
- Landslide Hazards and Planning (PAS Report No. 533/534, September 2005)
- Planning for Post-Disaster Recovery and Reconstruction (PAS Report No. 483/484, December 1998)
- Planning for the Unexpected (PAS Report No. 531, February 2005)
- Planning for Wildfires (PAS Report No. 529/530, February 2005)
Planning Advisory Service (PAS) Products (PAS Subscribers Only):
- “Making Hazards a Planning Priority” (PAS Memo, July/August 2009)
- “Planners on the Gulf Coast: First Person Accounts of Enduring Hurricanes Katrina and Rita” (PAS Memo, November/December 2005)