Last week, Gotham Gazette sat down with Daniel Zarrilli, recently appointed director of the city’s newly created Office of Recovery and Resiliency, to get a sense of the City’s approach to resiliency and climate change.
Zarrilli is now one of the three top officials in city government responsible for crafting and overseeing the de Blasio administration’s Sandy recovery and climate resiliency planning efforts (along with Bill Goldstein, Senior Advisor to the Mayor for Recovery, Resiliency, and Infrastructure; and Amy Peterson, director of the Housing Recovery Office).
Zarrilli, a licensed engineer, is no stranger to the daunting challenge of preparing New York City for climate change: he was interim director of the Mayor’s Office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability at the end of the Bloomberg administration.
Gotham Gazette sought to understand, first, how the new administration plans to utilize the extensive resiliency planning already put in motion by de Blasio’s predecessor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg; and, second, how the de Blasio administration views the future of the city’s coastal communities as sea levels rise.
A third focus of the conversation is how the administration plans to work with local communities on the front line of climate change. Only time will tell, but the de Blasio team’s purported commitment to community engagement might be what ultimately sets apart its approach to climate change.
In part one of the interview, Zarrilli discusses the City’s general approach and where plans stand in terms of those inherited from the previous administration, the logistics of his office and the administration’s other offices doing similar work, and the challenges involved in forecasting out 30, 50, and more years into the future.
Buy-outs and Flood Zones
Gotham Gazette: The City’s just-released “One City, Rebuilding Together” report briefly mentions homeowners on Staten Island who may participate in a State buy-out program.
Daniel Zarrilli: We’ve been cooperating with the State’s buy-out program. The City doesn’t have a buy-out program where we return land to nature. What we do have is an acquisition program where we can help people, through the Build it Back housing program, acquire their homes, and then ultimately we can rebuild, whether it’s an elevated or otherwise more resilient home on that piece of property. So that’s what we’ve been doing.
The state’s been advancing three different buy-out areas in Staten Island, and we’ve been cooperating with them on how that’s going to work.
GG: Would you consider expanding buy-out or acquisition as time goes on?
DZ: That question remains to be answered in the future. You could look at this across the city – there’s 160,000 or so people who live in the Rockaways. We’re not going to buy out the Rockaways. Our analysis shows that with coastal protection investments, with building investments, and with infrastructure investments, we can actually reduce that risk to what we think is a manageable level into the time horizon that we’ve laid out as our planning horizon.
Sarah Crean is a contributor to the Gotham Gazette and an editor/writer at New York Environment Report.