Designing a Storm-Proof NYC

Monday, November 12, 2012

(Courtesy Architecture Research Office and dlandstudio)

F.H "Bud" Griffis, professor of Construction Engineering and Management in the Department of Civil Engineering at the NYU Polytechnic University and Stephen Cassell, principal of Architecture Research Office LLC, and one of the WNYC cityscape architect collaborators, discuss design and engineering ideas to help mitigate storm surge damage.



Stephen Cassell and Fletcher Griffis

Comments [19]


BK from Hoboken - it hasn't stopped ppl in Florida from living in those types of areas which are much more vulnerable... or ppl in Calfornia who not only have to deal with potential earthquakes.. but he same heavy waves those surfers love is eating away rapidly at the coastline.

Nov. 13 2012 08:28 AM

why is the focus only lower manhattan???? how many ppl live on the shore besides lower manhattan?? terrible. so build a sea wall for $20 billion to cause more damage in other places??? that's not to mention the ecological repercussions in the harbor... the more sensible and fair thing is change the building codes on land.

Nov. 13 2012 08:26 AM

Larry from Nyack: granted, I was thinking exclusively about lower Manhattan, since the East and Hudson Rivers seemed determined to meet in the middle and were pouring into the subway tunnels and WTC area according to official reports. I haven't been able to find precise information about the area (sq. mi.) represented by lower Manhattan, but your calculations would seem to strengthen the case that I was making, namely: it would be imprudent to "plug" the subways, which would indeed cause more flooding in the City.

My last line was facetious--I do not propose building more tunnels, I simply suggest we should terribly cautious about what we plan to do with them--but I agree with you: we have to stop pouring greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. They are not only altering the climate beyond recognition, tropospheric ozone is toxic to vegetation and animal life and other toxins in our air and water are wreaking havoc with our health. There simply is no good reason to keep polluting the planet, especially since alternative sources of energy are already available.

Contra geTaylor, the fantasy is that _any_ technological "adaptation" would take care of future problems. The feedback loops of so many unpredictable aspects of climate change make it impossible for us to accurately predict just how much sea levels will rise by what year. (Indeed, recent events have all been outpacing the models' predictions.) Why we are so much more comfortable talking about geoengineering, capping tunnels, building walls, etc., and not about reducing reliance on fossil fuels is hard to understand, but I fear it is simply another bit of evidence that human beings like to stick with the familiar. We know about building things; it seems beyond many people's ken to imagine a world less devoted to rapacious consumption of the planet.

Nov. 12 2012 10:47 PM

" . . . No, we have to migrate folks and businesses away from the low areas until we've reversed the warming of the air and the oceans."

Larry from Nyack:

While I applaud your insight of turning the narrative of the "fable-of-the-tunnels" into a measurable, quantitative analysis that demonstrates its fantasy nature, your final conclusion seems unclear or unnecessary and extreme. Who is to pay for the "migration" of "folks and businesses"?
Is that a "forced migration" (beyond the decision to cease public financing of private risks) and will its requirements go beyond penny-ante property owners in Staten Island and Long Island's barrier islands (do we require the property interests in lower Manhattan to migrate?)

There are probably other inquiries that need to be made.

Nov. 12 2012 03:16 PM
Larry from Nyack

To VBrandt, about flooding tunnels. I did some quick calculations.
First, engineers tend to measure large water volumes in "Acre-ft", that is 1 acre covered by 1 ft of water or about 0.33 million gallons; 1 square mile is 640 acres, so 1 ft of water over a square mile is about 208 million gallons!
So if you consider the about 15 square miles of the Lower Hudson and Upper Bay and the East river rising just 1/2 foot above some barrier, that's about 1,500 millions of gallons that will flood beyond the barrier, something that 37 tunnels or storage caverns would hold. That was for just 1/2 foot, not the 5 feet or more that flooded downtown and the barrier beaches.

No, we have to migrate folks and businesses away from the low areas until we've reversed the warming of the air and the oceans.

Nov. 12 2012 01:28 PM
Larry from Nyack

The National Geographic Video I mentioned is "Six Degrees Could Change The World" and there are 4 YouTube 15-minute segments [in sequence] that you can watch. It includes some suggestions for us all.

Nov. 12 2012 11:38 AM
VBrandt from Manhattan

Several minutes into the segment Bud and Stephen discussed plugging the subway tunnels so that they wouldn't flood. I have heard similar talk since Sandy came and went, but it doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone that the fact that Manhattan is surrounded by 20 miles of tunnels is precisely why we didn't get worse flooding: the tunnels served as a diversion for the seawater. I.e., 40 million gallons of water per tunnel is 40 millions gallons of water that DIDN'T flood Manhattan.

I realize it's a pain to pump out the tunnels, but it seems a lot safer than having to contend with flood destruction above ground. Perhaps we should think about digging more tunnels instead of building walls!

Nov. 12 2012 11:33 AM
maximo from bronx,ny

What is the status of the 2nd ave Subway after the storm?

Nov. 12 2012 11:26 AM
Larry from Nyack

I grew up in Rockaway Park, and we were flooded by hurricanes [3?] in the 1940's, 1950's and 1960's.
Just like New Orleans below sea level, Rockaway and other shoreline points are nice places but people shouldn't live there.
The flood plain of a river belongs to the river, not to some developer, and we've learned that lesson thousands of times. The shoreline belongs to the ocean.
See the National Geographic video "Six Degrees" which projects just what happend to NYC this storm as a regular occurance by end of this century.

Nov. 12 2012 11:25 AM
Deborah from NYC

Wetlands- yes!
Managed retreat- yes!

We will always have coastline, we can't have a fixed view that we must have ONLY THIS patch of coastal land.

We must NOT imagine we can control a Cat 5 hurricane, just see what happenned in the Japanese tsunami. And what about earthquakes? It's pure HUBRIS!

Also, we should NOT burn billions of tons of fossil fuels to build this faulty seawall. Any REAL solution will employ green energy. Otherwise we only address the symptoms, not the problem.

Nov. 12 2012 11:23 AM
Nick from UWS

A ten-year "environmental impact study" by before we can construct storm protection. Meanwhile, we have 5 more lethal storms. Human beings are in the stranglehold of idiots and lawyers, and are 100% the source of their own problems. We deserve what we get. Common sense is absolutely dead.

Nov. 12 2012 11:22 AM

I got an IDEA!!

How 'bout NOT siting a major power substation for the most POPULOUS area in the entire United States on the banks of the storm surge-prone, tidal strait East River!!!!

So stupid!!!

Nov. 12 2012 11:20 AM
BK from Hoboken

As a Hoboken resident, this makes me start to think about the long term viability of our city. It doesn't affect me right now, bit one resident commented on a local blog whether the gleam has been tarnished.
I could say the same thing about the NJ shore. The gleam is off. My wife and I had a goal of buying a beach house in 5 years. We were considering Mantoloking or Bay Head. Certainly this event makes that long term purchase up in the air. My hope is that EVERYONE starts to think long term like this.

Nov. 12 2012 11:20 AM
mbrooklyn from greenpoint

How would you suggest a homeowner protect against combined sewer basement flood? we've just put econoplugs in the drains after our basement got wiped out... is that smart/effective/dangerous?

Nov. 12 2012 11:17 AM

On average, Con Ed customers paid 25.59 cents for a kilowatt hour of electricity in 2011. That’s a bit more than twice the national average price of 11.72 cents per kilowatt hour. The highest residential rates of any major utility in the 48 contiguous states. The only people who pay more live in Alaska, Hawaii, Fishers and Block Islands.


And, we STILL have an obsolete electric grid that is a hundred years old that fails with the slightest stress - winter, summer or storm.

Where the hell does the $$$ go???

Nov. 12 2012 11:15 AM
Dan from Sunset Park

I was helping in the Rockaways yesterday. There's a brand new development being built in Arverne. I was dumbfounded to see that it's being built at ground level! Building codes need to require homes so close to the water need to be elevated.

Nov. 12 2012 11:12 AM
Karen from NYC

Check out the climate change maps,and you'll see that, in 100 years, most of southern Manhattan, most of Long Island, and large parts of the NJ coast, will be under water. Recall the old Mannahatta -- old Manhattan -- had a coastline much different from our present day island. Much of what we have build on in southern Manhattan is landfill. That was when sea levels were much lower than today. Do the math (or the geography) and you will know that we are in trouble.

We are not going to protect against surges and rising sea levels unless we build a 100 foot wall from the Cape to the Caribbean. We need to start planning for a new age. Or we can wait until it all washes away, and then figure out what to do.

One thing that I hope that the convergence of Sandy and the Presidential election achieved was a wake up call re climate change. My family loves the beach but, when my husband and I purchased a small piece of property for our retirement, we chose the mountains.

Nov. 12 2012 11:11 AM
Jon Pope from Ridge

The day after odd/even days where implemented out here in the middle of Long Island, gas went from $4.20 a gallon to $3.75 a gallon and all the lines disappeared.....

Nov. 12 2012 11:10 AM

A MODERN superconducting electric grid!!

Nov. 12 2012 10:50 AM

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