The city’s waterfront is home to vulnerability, inequality and opportunity for the next mayor to deal with, advocates tell WBAI’s Max & Murphy Show

Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography

Rockaway Beach, 2019

As important as the stories over the past week about the sexual misconduct allegations against Scott Stringer, the sometimes abusive behavior of Andrew Yang’s online “gang,” Eric Adams’s pivot to the right on policing and Dianne Morales’ relationship with her controversial former employer were, this one popped up in the news-stream on Wednesday: A new study found that, even if governments around the world succeed in reducing carbon emissions—which is far from a sure bet—10 percent of the world’s mountain glaciers will be gone by midcentury.

That will have “knock-on effects on highly populated river deltas, wildlife habitats and sea levels,” The Guardian reported. “In some particularly hard-hit areas, including central Europe, North America and low latitudes, glacier mass is expected to decline by more than half.” And these are just the mountain glaciers—the polar ice deposits are another concern altogether.

Places like Far Rockaway, Red Hook and Canarsie feel a long way from any mountain glacier. But Superstorm Sandy in 2012 made clear just how close those populous neighborhoods are to the rising sea, and how vulnerable they are to the more intense storms that climate change is likely to bring. Some city neighborhoods have been getting daily reminders of this threat, as “sunny-day flooding” inundates streets and houses not just when there’s a major coastal storm, but simply when high tide comes in.

On Wednesday’s Max & Murphy Show, we spoke with two of the advocates trying to draw candidates’ and voters’ attention to the needs of the city’s coastline—and the potential it has for industry and recreation.

“The thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that the New York harbor is one of the most important parts of our economy and it’s more and more going to be that,” said Cortney Worrall, president and CEO of the Waterfront Alliance, pointing specifically to the need to install and maintain the offshore wind infrastructure that will be a growing part of the state’s power mix. What’s more, Worral said, “As we prepare ourselves for climate change which will affect our waterfront and the coastline so much, there’s a real opportunity for job growth and economic activity as we retrofit and as we prep for climate change, especially sea-level rise.”

The Waterfront Alliance has put forward a platform of policy steps here that the next mayor should take, and has collected statements from leading mayoral candidates on their visions for the coastline. 

“We want to make sure the next mayor is the climate change mayor,” Worral said.

The de Blasio administration has taken steps to reduce the city’s carbon footprint, and has pursued resiliency measures against extreme heat and coastal storms. While its highest profile work has been in Manhattan, the city has advanced projects elsewhere (in Queens and Staten Island, for example) and pursued citywide zoning changes to facilitate resiliency moves. In this year’s budget, the administration has called for ongoing funding for the Mayor’s Office of Climate Resiliency, which City Hall says had been in jeopardy because it was paid for with federal funds due to run out soon.

“The city’s commitment to funding this office from June 2022 onwards indicates our strong and enduring commitment to addressing climate change and protecting New Yorkers from the impacts of worsening flooding and deadly extreme heat,” says Laura Feyer, a deputy press secretary for the mayor.

But nine years after Superstorm Sandy, many communities remain vulnerable to a growing threat from coastal flooding, and the city lacks a comprehensive plan for managing those risks.

“Environmental-justice and frontline communities in New York City face intersecting climate vulnerabilities, environmental health issues and social risk,” said Annel Hernandez, associate director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance. “The city really needs to start spending more attention on this because these compounding vulnerabilities are just going to get worse and they need to provide the resources for the infrastructure and for the community resilience that we need to become prepared for these climate emergencies we’re going to be dealing with.”

Hear our conversations or the full show below, and check out our Max & Murphy video briefing on climate change:

Cortney Worral on the Challenges and Opportunities on NYC’s Waterfront

Annel Hernandez on Waterfront Environmental Justice Issues

Max & Murphy Full Show of April 28, 2021