Report Urges Use of Green Infrastructure to ‘Climate Proof’ Cities


Note to Reader:

In July 2015, The Nature Conservancy released a groundbreaking case study that provides a preliminary, comprehensive evaluation of how nature-based defenses, in conjunction with gray solutions, can effectively be used to protect communities in New York City and around the globe from the impacts of climate change. To download a copy, click on Urban Coastal Resilience: Valuing Nature’s Role.

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New Analysis Shows Mixing Nature-Based and Gray Solutions Will Protect Vulnerable, Coastal Communities

It’s clear that we need to adapt our buildings and urban infrastructure to a new climate reality. The traditional approach has been to build engineered structures such as seawalls, flood channels and containment ponds. However, Urban Coastal Resilience: Valuing Nature’s Role, makes a strong case for incorporation of ‘’green infrastructure” in climate resilience measures.

The Key Finding

The report is based on a case study of the coastal community of Howard Beach, NYC, which was devastated by Hurricane Sandy in 2014. The study’s key finding is that a combination of natural (green) and engineered (grey) infrastructure is the most effective means of increasing resilience and could result in avoided losses of up to $244 million from a one-in-100-year storm. The general concept is illustrated in an infographic (scroll down).

Impact of Hurricane Sandy

“Hurricane Sandy left a wake of destruction when it struck New York in October 2012. The storm revealed just how vulnerable we are to climate change, how much is at stake, as well as how nature can play a critical role in helping to protect us,” said Bill Ulfelder, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in New York.

Bill Ulfelder_Nature Conservancy_120p“Man-made infrastructure used to be the default for most discussions about protecting at-risk communities. Now, science is showing us that natural defenses like dunes, wetlands, mussel beds, forests and oyster reefs can help to keep us safe from future disasters by absorbing floodwaters, reducing wave energy and helping defend against storm surges, with the added benefits of increasing wildlife habitat, absorbing carbon pollution that is the cause of climate change, and making our city more aesthetically pleasing and livable.”

Nature-Based and Gray Defenses Working Together

The best conceptual alternative and most cost-effective, according to the study, utilizes restored marsh habitat on the coast, hard toe mussel beds along the shoreline, floodgates and sea walls to protect against storm surge and rising sea levels and rock groins on the shoreline to help prevent erosion. The general concept of this alternative is illustrated in an infographic that shows the approximate location of each type of infrastructure as analyzed in the study.

To Learn More:

To download a copy of the report, click on Urban Coastal Resilience: Valuing Nature’s Role.

This graphic illustrates the general concept for increasing resilience.

This graphic illustrates the general concept for increasing resilience.