Ted Steinberg, Dissent Magazine:
Nevertheless, Douglas Hill, an engineer affiliated with the Stony Brook Storm Surge Research Group, remains frustrated. He argues that New York has failed to fully absorb the lessons of Hurricane Katrina—which highlighted the perils of an ad hoc approach to flooding—and the necessity for cities to focus on public safety rather than simply on preserving infrastructure. He is also dispirited by the overall focus on hundred-year protection, which is too low a figure given all the people and wealth at stake, and by city leaders’ refusal to acknowledge that hurricane barriers have worked (at least so far) in large European cities and smaller U.S. ones such as Stamford, Connecticut, and Providence, Rhode Island. He depressingly concludes that “New York City plans to be flooded.”One of the last things Bloomberg did while in office was oversee the release of a $19.5 billion plan to protect the city from storms. The plan did not recommend giant storm-surge barriers but opted instead for a pluralistic approach involving small barricades at the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek in Brooklyn, portable floodwalls for Red Hook and East Harlem, levees, and the regeneration of the old marshlands around the city to help reduce the impact of wave action. The plan amounts to an effort to surround New York with protection using a whole range of smaller projects instead of employing massive structures. If nothing else, the Bloomberg plan bucks the trend of large cities across the world employing vast engineering schemes to shut out the sea. It’s a kind of avant-garde approach to natural hazards that seems to overlook the fact that, whatever their faults, the great barriers have worked so far, while the Bloomberg game plan remains untested.