Resiliency Planning Post-Sandy: An Interview with Daniel Zarrilli, Part 2

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.

In part two, read Zarrilli’s thoughts on buy-out programs, flood zones, community engagement in resiliency efforts, and more.


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.

[Read more at the Gotham Gazette]


Sarah Crean is a contributor to the Gotham Gazette and an editor/writer at New York Environment Report.

Resiliency Planning Post-Sandy: An Interview with Daniel Zarrilli, Part 1

When Superstorm Sandy arrived in New York City on October 29, 2012, the city was jolted into a renewed conversation about climate change, resiliency, and long-term planning. In an interview with Gotham Gazette last year, Klaus Jacob, a geo-physicist advising the City on planning for climate change, said that climate change “truly threatens the livelihood of the city as we have it now — unless [the city] adapts.”

The chief concern is rising sea levels, Jacob said. The five boroughs are ringed by 520 miles of coastline, which are becoming steadily more vulnerable to day-to-day inundation and catastrophic storms.

Planning for the long-term consequences of a looming, but largely abstract threat is an incredible task for any local government. Sandy made climate change more real to New Yorkers, but the de Blasio administration is nonetheless forced to work mostly in hypotheticals. The new administration must make calculations for how far to plan into the future, how to allocate precious funds, and how much risk is “manageable.”

According to the New York City Panel on Climate Change, an advisory body on which Jacob and other scientists and academics sit, by the 2050s, sea level at the Battery will have risen 11 to 24 inches (middle estimate), or as much as 31 inches (high estimate) relative to 2000-04 levels. Coastal flood heights could increase by almost 3 feet – projected to range from 8 to 17 feet by mid-century, depending on the nature of the flood-inducing storm.

[Read more at the Gotham Gazette]

City Promises ‘Broad-Based Outreach’ To Communities To Prepare For Future Storms

The city has decided to reconvene two community advisory task forces that weighed in on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s multi-billion dollar plan to protect the city from future extreme weather and the effects of climate change in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, the city’s resiliency director told the Gotham Gazette/AdaptNY in an exclusive interview. The task forces will resume meeting this fall.

Daniel Zarrilli, the city’s director of resiliency, also said yesterday that there would be “broad-based outreach” to some of the city’s hardest-hit neighborhoods as part of a Department of City Planning study that will examine “how we can ultimately build more resilient communities.” The study will examine issues such as the city’s building codes and the new national flood insurance maps.

The announcements come as the city fields criticism about community involvement in its climate change planning process as detailed in an investigative report by Gotham Gazette and AdaptNY, a digital news platform.

[Read more at Gotham Gazette]