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Riverkeeper EcoSalon focuses on NYC resiliency in the face of extreme weather


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Preparing for climate change is a worldwide challenge – and very much a local one.

One year after Hurricane Sandy left its wake of destruction in New York City, Riverkeeper gathered a panel of professionals who are engaged in the challenge of building a more resilient city. Our fifth EcoSalon event, “Greening Post-Sandy New York,” brought the perspectives of architects, planners and environmentalists, and shared a sense of hope that New York can serve as a model for smart, sustainable development.

The panel spoke in a room at the Hearst Tower, a LEED-platinum green building overlooking the city and its waterways. Ambassador John Negroponte moderated the discussion that included Riverkeeper Paul Gallay; Steven Cohen, executive director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute; architect Kim Yao and Susan Leeds of the New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation.

Climate change requires a commitment to renewable energy, Cohen said. And more immediately, it requires cities to protect against intense storms and sea level rise. New York, with more than 500 miles of shoreline, must adapt its zoning, make buildings resistant to flood, and foster “green” infrastructure to absorb more water.

“Nearly every major city in the world is built near water, and so the idea that we can head for the hills and retreat from the waterfront is ridiculous,” he said. “We have to figure out a way to make our coasts stronger, and absorb the shocks of these events and then come back quickly.”

Yao described infrastructure designs that could soften the blow of a storm surge and absorb more water through vegetation, wetlands and breakwater barrier islands. Places like Lower Manhattan offer an opportunity to invest in development while simultaneously protecting the city.

Development is already changing based on local laws that require energy audits, and innovative public-private financing options to give building owners the capital they need to make investments in sustainable building improvements, said Leeds, chief executive officer of the NYCEEC.

Key to the transformation is energy efficiency ? the true “bridge fuel” to sustainable energy, Gallay said.

“Unfortunately Sandy is far from the worst storm we’ll see,” he said. “This is really testing the mettle of New York City…. We have a tremendous amount of talent in this city and this region, we have a tremendous amount of will and resolve. If we apply it in this case, I think we’re going to end up on the good side of the next storm…. I’m very glad we’re working on it together.

Sponsors for the event included Greenwood Energy, Hearst Corporation, The Durst Organization, Ironshore, NYCEEC, Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, Dr. Howard Rubin, Joe Boren, Tangent Energy Solutions, Inc., and Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure at Harvard University.

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