Climate change is an issue of time. As the greenhouse effect begins increasingly changing weather patterns and intensifying storms, adapting our society to defend against such daunting risks becomes increasingly important.
The most pressing adaptation being an investment in poorly maintained protective infrastructure, which has recently been assessed as “D grade quality” by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Coastal infrastructure is the most relevant concern for cities like New York, as water surges from intensified storms have the potential to displace communities, damage property, and prevent transportation.
As a lifelong New Yorker, I have been witness to proof of the necessity for renewed investment in critical coastal infrastructure as the city has been extremely susceptible to destruction from hurricanes. In just one year, storm surges and flooding from hurricanes like Harvey, Maria and Irma in 2017 cost an average of $90 billion in damages each.
When Hurricane Sandy hit New York, as a 12-year-old, I volunteered with the fire department to help the thousands of displaced families receive food and shelter, and witnessed the devastating repercussions of poorly resilient infrastructure.
Atlantic hurricanes are becoming increasingly prevalent and destructive due to climate change, and New York is seriously at risk as it ranks No. 1 for “coastal properties vulnerable to hurricanes,” according to the Office of Coastal Management.
Although increased fortifications against potential future flooding are beneficial for most areas of New York City, they haven’t received the necessary publicity and support because of a lack of tangible improvements to the quality of life compared to other investments.
But what if there were a project that could simultaneously protect against future storm surges and be an immediate improvement to community welfare?
In fact, the Hudson River greenway link is just that, providing an opportunity for Bronx communities such as Riverdale to incorporate public spaces into coastal infrastructure.
When the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced plans to construct a more effective protective barrier and drainage system for the highly susceptible Metro-North railway track, local community boards suggested that the waterfront real estate be used in a way that not only protected their transportation, but also benefited Bronx residents.
The greenway would establish a pathway and bike lanes for recreation along the river linking the area to other existing greenways, and providing a rare connection to the river in an area where most people are cut off. This proposed greenway along the Hudson River has been assessed as feasible by the MTA, and it currently just needs to acquire necessary funding.
The proposed Hudson River greenway link is a unique opportunity to improve the lives of current residents of Riverdale while also protecting the opportunities of the next generation. New York’s currently negligent coastal resilience is largely due to a lack of accountability among past policymakers who failed to prepare for the future, instead seeking more direct improvements to their constituencies’ quality of life to help their own agendas of electability.
Promoting plans which incorporate public spaces into coastal infrastructure is a way that New Yorkers concretely fulfill obligations to inter-generational justice by investing in both the present and future of the community.
Unlike many current policymakers who have greater incentives for the present, as a young student, climate change will be the greatest issue for my generation, and I must look toward the future. Our communities are only beginning to witness the negative impacts of climate change, and a shift in values toward accountability for the future is increasingly necessary.
While the changes to our world are uncomfortable and frightening, our corresponding adaptations don’t have to be, and the Bronx greenway link is an important example of a positive impact that increasing the resilience of coastal infrastructure can have on our lives, and the possibility of its creation is dependent on the public.
The people of Riverdale and the Bronx have incredible opportunity to not only better their communities by raising donations and lobbying for the greenway, but also to serve as a benchmark for a new progressive approach to American infrastructure that can help protect the thousands of similarly vulnerable communities across the nation.
The author studies government and the environment at Georgetown University.