The light of day is beginning to reveal the devastation Hurricane Sandy has thrust upon the tri-state area over the course of the past 24 hours; it is also illuminating a harsh reality that many of us have been trying to ignore. The “fabled” predictions that our area will experience increasing frequency and magnitude of natural disasters is proving true, painfully true.
New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, stated today in a press conference, somewhat lightheartedly, “We have a 100 year flood every two years.” While this may be an exaggeration, he drives an urgent point that should be taken seriously. We’ve seen major storms hit NYC and surrounding areas during each of the past two hurricane seasons. Hurricane Sandy, whose impacts are only beginning to be quantified, was only a Category 1 when it made landfall, yet was, by current reports, twice as damaging as last year’s Hurricane Irene. Hurricanes are classified into five categories on the Saffir-Simpson scale, with Category 1 being the least threatening to Category 5 being a storm that brings 157mph winds, near-certain destruction of buildings and infrastructure, and greatly increased chances for loss of life. As a point of reference, Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast as a Category 3. Can you imagine the devastation to our area if the next storm is a scaled higher than a Category 1?
While many of us have defied the idea of a severe, climatically-changing future, 20 deaths in the tri-state area (reported so far), over 80 homes destroyed by fire, rampant flooding damage, building collapses, fallen trees, and extensive property damage are tangible facts that can’t be denied. It is estimated that Hurricane Sandy will ultimately cause $50 billion in damages, but the losses will be more difficult to quantify.
As strategic designers, we have the ability to leverage our problem-solving skills and creativity to design systems, structures, products, and platforms that mitigate risk, add value, are inclusive of all stakeholders, and that balance short-term feasibility with long-term needs. And we have the duty to ensure that these solutions we provide are triple bottom line by design, generating economic viability, supporting life-centered social equity, and sustaining our shared environment. Local organizations such as the AIANY Committee for Design for Risk and Reconstruction have already begun the dialogue to address the huge task before us, to discover how we can design a New York whose built environment is resilient to increasing disasters. And this is a challenge that designers from all disciplines can turn into an opportunity, to seize the chance to affect positive change for our great city. To use a oft used pun, it’s really the perfect storm.