New York’s climate buyout plans must put communities first, experts say
In 2022, New York State passed the Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act. Among its many goals, the law promises to invest over a billion dollars toward statewide flood protection – including through voluntary private property buyouts.
What should a buyback program look like? This has been the subject of at least one discussion in Managed Retreat Conferencehosted by the Columbia Climate School this week. Managed retirement means moving communities away from high-risk areas, and buyouts are one of the main tools to achieve this.
Designing a fair buyback program is more complicated than it seems. There are many questions to unravel, such as: Who has access to buyouts? Who needs it most? Are there safe and affordable destinations? What happens to those left behind? And what happens to the land that is redeemed?
In a workshop led by Cornell’s Linda Shi on Tuesday, panelists and attendees shared their experiences and recommendations with David Burgy of the New York State Office of Resilient Homes and Communities, which is currently planning the strategy for state takeover under the Environmental Obligations Act.
A recurring theme was that buyouts should be people-focused, community-led, and tailored to different neighborhoods. Participants highlighted the need to listen to feedback from community members, build trust, and leverage existing community networks to facilitate conversations and increase awareness.
In another session, Malgosia Madajewicz from the Columbia Climate School Climate Systems Research Center provided an illuminating case study of the effectiveness of community engagement in motivating and enabling coastal residents to adapt to flooding.
Madajewicz and his colleagues worked on the flood-prone Rockaway Peninsula in Queens, which was devastated by Super Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Despite previous awareness efforts, Rockaway residents largely failed to take action. to protect against future flooding. Early in his study, Madajewicz found that many residents were unaware of their flood risk and believed their only options were to raise their homes or move. Most couldn’t afford to raise their house and didn’t want to move, so they backed out of the conversation altogether.
Working with 10 local community organizations, Madajewicz and his colleagues designed a flood risk awareness program in specific neighborhoods. They took photos showing how low water levels could reach familiar local landmarks and calculated the estimated costs of not adapting – which, at one address, could be more than $1.7 million. over the next 30 years – compared to the amount of money that could be saved by using a series of adaptation measures.
“They had heard a lot about the costs of raising the house, but it was those benefits that they hadn’t really understood or thought about before,” Madajewicz said.
Over the year-long study, “What was really tangible was the shift in people’s thinking about who is responsible for making accommodations,” Madajewicz said. “So there was a shift from that lack of agency…to thinking that residents really have to take responsibility for adapting. And particularly what empowered people was this idea of a range of options, where different options are appropriate for different houses.
This personal empowerment has led community organizers to discuss passing on information to others and taking collective action. They even started talking about relocation, “which wasn’t even on the table at first,” Madajewicz said. She thinks the process can be scaled up to work in other communities as well.
Paul Gallai of the Sustainable Urban Design Center leads the Resilient Coastal Communities Project, a partnership between Columbia and the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance. Gallay explained how the project works to empower communities in public planning around flood risk.
His advice, after interviewing community organizers: “Don’t bring full plans to a community and expect them to throw roses and hosannas.” Instead, he said, planners must approach communities with an opportunity for real dialogue and exchange, and some degree of accountability.
“If we do not effectively integrate the community into planning, it will likely perpetuate and worsen historic inequalities caused by stories of redlining and lack of access to effective health care, livelihoods, education and to the ability to pass on intergenerational wealth,” he said. .
Gallay pointed out that community involvement in resilience planning requires significant investments of residents’ time; as such, he called on government programs to fund community capacity and participation.
“If you don’t have community empowerment, you won’t have effective coastal resilience,” he explained.
For his part, David Burgy said his team was in the midst of a statewide listening tour and encouraged people to attend and share their thoughts and concerns about the Environmental Bond buyouts. Act.
The Environmental Bond Act isn’t the first time New Yorkers have discussed climate relocation. Hurricane Sandy in 2012 sparked interest and debate around the topic, and many homeowners across the country agreed to buyouts to avoid repeated damage from hurricanes, coastal flooding, and wildfires.
As climate change accelerates the pace and severity of many natural disasters, we can also expect it to intensify discussions about retirement management. This week’s conference hopes to shape these future conversations and implementations to ensure they are fair, informed and community-led.