Why Is New York Still Building on the Waterfront?

Oct 28, 2022 · 165 comments
Nyer (NYC)
Why? Greed and stupidity.
Anonymous (NYC)
When developers have the power to override common sense building and environmental guidelines there needs to be legislation that reins the building in. Climate change ensures that the water level is rising. My tax dollars should not be used to pay water front home owners when all hell breaks loose with the next storm surge.
Charlie Armiger (Rimrock,AZ)
In the Phoenix Metro area the same denial apparent here, but to quickly diminishing water resources. Tens of thousands of new homes with next to no regard to long term/future water supply(s).
Opera Fan (Brooklyn)
Want to know what's wrong with NYC? LOOK UP. It's unchecked growth, taller and taller buildings set on too narrow streets and far too narrow sidewalks. And far too many occupants getting deliveries. How you'd like to be stuck in ambulance thanks to a delivery truck blocking the road because a guy on Amsterdam Avenue absolutely needs his need new potholders? We've taken up more street width for cyclists' "protected lanes" to the point that we now to have protect pedestrians from cyclists. When do we get our lane to protect us from bikes? I rode my bike from Bay Ridge to NYU about a hundred times a year for many years, without a motor or special lanes and it was just fine. Stop building high (tall), and start setting back a lot more from the curb. The grid system in NYC is over utilized.
B. (Brooklyn)
Last week, a bicyclist ran a red light, for which all cars had stopped, and slammed into a friend of mine who was taken to an ER and diagnosed with broken hip and internal injuries, and transferred to a hospital, and who now lies in bed in a rehab facility where, as everyone knows, no one over the age of 70 really gets rehabilitated back to where they were. They are considered elderly and made to stay in bed even when walking would be beneficial. Bicyclists virtuously claim their vehicles are in lieu of cars. In which case they should, like cars, be licensed and insured. At least then we can chalk up these idiot infractions of the laws of common courtesy as hit-and-runs. Bike lanes? I rode my bike between Brooklyn and Manhattan and throughout both boroughs for many decades and never needed them. That's because I never rode at juggernaut speed. And in those days, few pedestrians were ever maimed by bicycles.
Harvey Botzman (Rochester NY)
Obviously a severe change in zoning rules, regulations, & laws needs to be enacted, monitored, & enforced.
Andrew Porter (Brooklyn Heights)
If people think that sea level rise will stop at a certain point, they're wrong. Eventually, when everything that's ice has melted, all of NYC—except for Grimes Hill on Staten Island, bits of Washington Heights and the northern parts of the Bronx—will have slipped beneath the waves. And all that expensive NYC real estate next to the water will be in it, and worth nothing.
b fagan (chicago)
Some other articles that bring the focus on regular, non-wealthy people in the New York area, and the fact that many of the waterfront areas are no longer able to support affordable homes as the cost of flooding keeps increasing in low-lying areas. New Jersey's Blue Acres program - states need to have a program like this in place so they can use FEMA money to buy out property owners when rebuilding no longer makes sense. https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/science/in-new-jersey-a-slow-motion-evacuation-from-climate-change/ And keep in mind the article above notes the state buyout programs are also in places where the flooding problem is far uphill from the rising seas. The mention "Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota" and I'll add that Illinois has been buying out property owners along rivers near Chicago, too. And coverage of the buyouts in Staten Island after Sandy. https://gothamist.com/news/how-sandy-era-buyout-program-staten-island-communities-vacant-lots We are changing the environment we built our current society around - the re-adjustments necessary will be painful, but especially so if we continue to keep adding to the cause of the changes. Adapting will be necessary, but is foolish if we don't simultaneously work to decarbonize. And some useful reading in this other, current NY Times piece: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/30/opinion/hurricanes-climate-adaptation.html
Moso (Seattle)
In Nantucket, houses that clearly would not fare well if there were a hurricane are still being sold for over $10 million. People seem not to care that their houses may be at risk. I agree that the very rich can afford to take such risks because what is a big fortune to most of us is nothing to them.
Londoner (London)
There does seem to be a new class of people who plan to live in harm's way and deny the risks. Perhaps it's OK to take their money if conditions are met.. * Building codes followed * Undertakings that they are prepared not to receive any assistance with rebuilding * Agreement in advance that they will comply with evacuation orders in a timely manner - a bond to be forfeit if they fail to confirm that they have evacuated leaving a sign on the property that it does not need to be searched.
bo (north of New york)
This article really doesn't explain why insurance continues to be available on these structures, or how these "tax savings" make these "investments" worthwhile. A deeper dive by a more sophisticated reporter is overdue - and sustained reporting, on the implicated issues of market efficiency, or inefficiency, taxpayer subsidies, what is it, since it makes no sense without some real explanation.
M-in-Vegas (Las Vegas, NV)
@bo This is the real issue, and it's a shame the article doens't address it. Insurance companies are happy to insure these properties because they know there will be bailouts WHEN there's another catastrophe. We really need to end these subsidies, or limit them to a single event. Taxpayers bail out Houston homeowners/insurers every year, because people choose to live in a flood plain. It's time these people try bootstraps instead of handouts.
true blue (east)
@M-in-Vegas And Texas could actually lead the way in something positive . That would be a change.
UWSer (New York)
@bo I think the "tax savings" angle has nothing to do with local taxpayers bailing out destroyed properties, which is an entirely separate issue. The way I understood it -- someone who would be subject to high state income tax in a state like NY can move to a state like Florida with no state income tax, just by buying a condo. Even if the $3MM condo is destroyed, it may not matter to that person because they may have saved more than $3MM in state taxes (if not in a single year, then at least over time). That has more to do with the states having very different income tax levels than anything to do with states bailing out homeowners. Even if Florida or the federal government didn't bail out that homeowner they'd still be better off due to lower Florida taxes. So much so that they don't care if their condo is destroyed. It's the massive disparity in local tax that incentivizes moving to low-tax states (admittedly, that taxpayer could just as easily move to the safest part of Florida, not the waterfront, and get the same benefit).
Daniel (NY)
The answer is simple: because people who ignore climate change and its attendant risks want to live near the water, which they consider chic, and greedy real estate developers, who don't care about that either, want to make money whatever the cost or consequences.
Mary Sweeney (Trumansburg, NY)
Yes, people enjoy water. Which is an excellent reason to use most coastal land for wildlife preserves and public beaches with only a very limited number of structures (like rest rooms and changing facilities) that could be inexpensively rebuilt after a flood. That way the coastline would be healthier, many more people could enjoy the water, and the cost in lives and dollars would be much lower should flooding occur. If wealthy people want to own homes close to the public beaches but out of the flood zone that's up to them. But let's stop subsidizing stupidity and greed.
Writers like you spread responsibility so broadly that in the end no one is responsible. “New Yorkers” aren’t building on waterfronts, a few wealthy developers are. Nothing is lazier than “All Indians do this” “All Germans do that” “All Floridians do this” and “All New Yorkers do that.”
Mkm (Nyc)
Just build a two story parking garage and build on top of that. Systems and elevators on top of the second floor.
Anonymously Anxious (NYC)
On NJ side up and down the Hudson, they have been building non stop in the last three decades all the way right over the river! Tax payer bail out? No way!!!
Conrad (MIT)
There are two simple reasons. One, it makes money. And two, people just love water. And a third one : It is subsidized for those who can afford to do so The New York Times "Chuck Schumer Stalls Climate Overhaul of Flood Insurance Program" "rate increases would mostly apply to higher-cost homes, which under the current formula tend to underpay for insurance. Many of the people that would see a decrease live in lower-cost homes." The NY Times /2021/03/18 The Rich
Ryan Bobo (New York)
What’s the big deal? Just wear a mask and you’ll be fine. Works against floods just as well as it does against covid.
Donald Stay Tunes (Hollywood)
The Obama's 8 million purchase on the Vineyard's waterfront is all one needs to know about the threat we face from rising seas associated with climate change. Will remain sought after, exclusive, and with increasing value over the decades and likely for the generations of Obamas to come.
b fagan (chicago)
@Donald Stay Tunes - Thanks for repeating the "whataboutism" trope that tries to distract from the plain reality that people who have become wealthy can buy homes where people in lower-income groups cannot due to risk. Regarding "increasing value over the decades", please read this bit from the December 2019 coverage in The Vinyard Gazette about the sale: "The property has been on the market since 2015, when it was listed for $22.5 million. The price was dropped twice this summer, first to $16.25 million in June, then to $14.85 million in July." The article also notes: "The purchase price, recorded at 3:31 p.m. Wednesday with the Dukes County Registry of Deeds, is listed at $11.75 million." The thing about homes like that, same as the optional, second (or third or..) homes that wealthy people buy in Florida or elsewhere, is that rich people's homes are just a fraction of their overall wealth. They can buy risky places since they spend just part of their overall wealth doing so - get it? So, again, thanks for trying to distract from an increasing problem affecting coasts and river locations around the country with your reference to Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.
DK (South Delaware)
People are in total denial about the catastrophic changes climate change will cause thanks to the GOP small brained leaders and Fox News. Glad i am old now . They will suffer the constant floods like Florida did recently and want to rebuild . They need to relocate not rebuild .
Janet (Philly, PA)
Good thing they love water! They're about to get a whole lot of it!
Last week NY1 featured the Mannahatta Project. It's designer observed that areas that didn't flood in pre colonial times don't flood now. NYC zoning changes, couched in language that sounded like protection actually mapped out how to develop in vulnerable areas. Developers have little skin in the game... tack on the word affordable and subsidies rain down on develpers. Low and middle income taxpayer subsidized housing is morphing into luxury housing. No amout of barriers, sea walls, green roofs and gates will mitigate the damage done by covering every square inch of building lots and wiping out wetlands. Hey NYT your Real Estate section bears quite a bit of blame for glorifying waterfront luxury. Not to mention encouraging the gentrification of working class communities; pricing locals out. Think river towns and the East End.
Andrew (NYC)
These are solid building. A storm here is not a threat to them. Even worst case, if we get another Sandy every 20 years, the building just get new lobby’s
UWSer (New York)
It's a fair point that we should seriously consider development in waterfront locations that pose risks of destruction or threat to life. I don't think anybody disagrees with that. But this article shoots out a series of scary-sounding statistics that don't really make sense. 70% of buildings severely impaired or outright destroyed [by Sandy] were on/very near the coastline? Is that a surprise? I would have guessed 90%. (Note: doesn't say 70% of buildings on the waterfront were damaged, but the reverse.) How many buildings were actually destroyed (if any) in Manhattan or Dumbo where the bulk of high profile development is going on? not aware of a single one. 225 permits issued in flood zones since 2013 -- is that a large number, tiny fraction, have any since been recategorized as no longer flood zone (like UWS buildings adjacent to the water but 4 stories above it)? no context whatsoever. 96.5% of older buildings in the floodplain don't have lobbies, mechanicals raised above ground level -- is this about bad decisions in the past, or the way we are "still building"? goalposts seem to be shifting. value of property in threatened areas is $176 billion; 473 homes in Staten Island were torn down. Presumably those were flimsy single family homes - any predictive value for the buildings making up most of the $176 billion? Does anyone seriously think a house on stilts in Galveston is safer or more responsible than a waterfront condo anchored to the Manhattan bedrock?
Philip (Mukilteo)
They can build all they want, just don’t ask the rest of us the pay for it or to come to your rescue should you be trapped by the rising waters. Play with fire and the odds are you have a good chance of getting burned, but if you play a foolish game going up against Mother Nature, you can expect to lose. The rising ocean levels will swallow vast stretches of coastal land in the coming years, so if you want oceanfront property, you might want to move to Albany.
Trulyours (New York)
Greed is the simple answer. That includes allegedly progressive leaders who silently go along with this.
Great column. Especially the part about connecting with wealthy tax dodge dots to the ridiculous short sided realestate market. The rich will just fly off to the private safe locations while we are left behind to clean up after them. Status quo
chest guy (Tampa)
as long as the government will bail out the coast lines, it will just keep repeating itself. Everbody hates a bailout until they need it.
DJMc (NYCMetro)
There are over 60,000 wildfires in the US annually, they consume entire American neighborhoods, resulting in billions of dollars in loss over the past 10 years. Ten years after Sandy, places like Rockaway, on the Atlantic barrier beach, are doing fine annually while subways in interior Queens and houses far from the ocean in NJ flood badly when it rains. NYC became what it is because of its unique NY Bite location where the Hudson meets the Atlantic. Today 40% of the US population lives by a coast. Risk is everywhere. Flood insurance can be government backed or private, or not exist at all (FLA), and nothing will change about where people want to live out their short lives on Earth. Does anybody commenting choose to live near wildfire zones? What about rivers and lakes? Do we have any mountain/valley dwellers living along slopes with rock/mudslides/avalanche potential? How about those choosing to live in a natural desert currently running out of water? No one in their right mind would live near tornadoes, right? Look at FLA today, little flood insurance in place but our tax dollars pay anyway to help. If you want the government out of helping waterfront properties after a disaster, then the government should also let you fight your own wildfires, find your own water in a desert, leave you alone to dig yourself out of a landslide or tornado, and just let the local river or lake go its own natural way, even if that is through your home, correct?
B. (Brooklyn)
Precisely. And if you live in Vermont, avoid living near a stream. That bridge up a ways might come crashing into your back garden when the waters rise.
clarity007 (tucson, AZ)
Three. They consider the climate change warnings to be bogus in intensity and scale.
mary bardmess (camas wa)
The obvious solution is strategic withdrawal, but everyone loves to be near the water, not just rich people. All of those beautiful watery spaces could be returned to Nature and shared among everyone to visit as a vast commons with trails, pathways, camp grounds, parks, playground, wildlife sanctuaries, etc etc. (In my dreams.)
Bob Bruce Anderson (MA)
Isn't the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over - and expecting a different result? A sane approach for this city as well as Boston, Charleston, Miami and many others would be to invest in a strategic withdrawal. The rising tides will show no mercy. And I resent that even one dollar of my taxes would insure this madness.
wetherhold (manhattan)
The main reason for this building which really gives very little to the city in taxes is the corruption of the city government which allows it. The building could be stopped but it wont be as long as the money flows to the city council and the mayor. The reality when it comes will put much of Manhattan underwater.
Kevin (Queens)
Answer to the question in your title: Because Developers can walk away with a big profit after they build on those high-risk waterfronts. Take away government subsidized flood insurance and see what happens.
Ellen (Williamburg)
I live in Williamsburg 2 blocks blocks behind Domino. For years, I walked an incline up to my building that I complained about each winter, while slipping on ice. That incline looked a lot different following Sandy. Although I am close to the river, we are high enough to be out of all flood zones. Surely, I though, this will give pause to the rampant development all over my neighborhood, but especially the waterfront.. nope. One deeply flooded lot is now a high rise luxury building. The latest one is going up now, on top of what Two Tress "gifted the neighborhood" - an organic farm and skate park.. for a few years. Call me crazy -- or cynical, but I could not muster enthusiasm for a project destine to be bulldozed. look - someone is making money., a lot of money. Someone else will have a nice apartment for however many more years, before they lose it all in a flood. These building, so much material and treasure invested, are destined to be in the East River. It is a failure of both planning and imagination.
AWP (New Haven, CT)
Follow the money. Who profits: developers, realtors, owners. Who loses money: everyone else buying insurance, waterfront or not.
Downtown Mama (Manhattan)
@AWP absolutely. We either pay with our taxes or increased insurance rates. Probably both. No one in city hall has the backbone to say no to these developers. It’s disgusting. The permits never should have been issued. The land should have been claimed under eminent domain and developed for resiliency.
Thomas J Pain (Coos Bay)
Sea level is rising very gradually at present (.06 inches per year 1880-2013) and aside from occasional storms like Sandy, the Great Gale of 1815, the Hurricane of 1821, and the occasional cloudburst, New York City has been relatively flood-free. The barrier islands on the south shore of Long Island are a much riskier proposition. As long as people are not confronted with a high probability of near-term disaster, many are willing to roll the dice.
Erik Frederiksen (Asheville, NC)
@Thomas J Pain The trend in sea level rise doesn't bode well for coastal areas. 1870-1924 0.8mm per year 1925-1992 1.9mm per year 1993-2012 3.1mm per year Currently around 5 mm per year https://www.euronews.com/2019/09/22/watch-live-scientists-present-new-report-on-climate-change-effects-ahead-of-un-summit When you graph the above it looks very much like the beginning of a very non-linear upward curve. graph of sea level rise through 2012 https://robertscribbler.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/hansen-sea-level-rise.png
 graph of post glacial sea level rise, http://vademecum.brandenberger.eu/grafiken/klima/post-glacial_sea_level.png , note the curve at Meltwater Pulse 1A. Ice sheet mass loss. http://www.columbia.edu/~mhs119/IceSheet/IceMass.png
Downtown Mama (Manhattan)
@Thomas J Pain did you forget about Irene and Ida? That’s 3 storms in 11 years. Seems like good odds we should be getting hit again in the next 10. I wouldn’t say that is too far off. One reason I rent in lower Manhattan. But most humans can’t plan ahead (hyperbolic discounting) and without government mandating planning and protection, humans gonna human.
B. (Brooklyn)
That's really the point, isn't it. While it's been clear to me for a couple of decades now that flowering trees are blooming in late April and not mid-May and jellyfish are coming ashore in July rather than in August, and crickets are singing earlier and winters are warmer, it's another thing to point at our shorelines. Beaches on Cape Cod have been disappearing, reappearing, receding and building back for as long as there's been a Cape Cod. Seaside cliffs in England where churches and graveyards were built many centuries ago began eroding and giving up their coffins to the surf some fewer centuries ago. Major hurricanes have been wiping out coastal cities here in the United States for over a hundred years. I guess climate activists don't know about Galveston in 1900. Or the Hurricane of 1938. That said, we should be building new-generation nuclear reactors, scrubbing our gas and oil emissions a lot better than we do, taking a cue from the Israelis and building solar towers (rather than littering our landscapes with inadequate solar panels), and expanding and hardening our electrical grid so that when electric power does become a thing, it won't fall prey to weather and foreign hackers and homegrown political lunatics.
Ralph Petrillo (NYC)
Look around building is happening everywhere even with rates at 7%. In South Bronx ten large buildings going up. On Upoer Eastside five large buildings going up. On West Sude 7 large buildings going up. Even with rates rising huge development.
David Weinkrantz (New York)
New York is still building on the waterfront because the federal government is still insuring on the waterfront. Think how many lives could have been saved and property damage avoided if the federal government didn't reward building in harm's way.
Marie (Florida)
The Federal Govenment needs to get out of the flood insurance buisiness right now and leave insurance to the private companies who will charge a premium adjusted to the risk involved. The premiums will likely be much higher than the taxpayer subsidzed FEMA rates, in which case those living in high risk areas will eitiher accept it or move elsewhere. In no way should FEMA insure a property a second or more times, thue allowing owners to keep rebuilding.
ann (Seattle)
A 10/16 NYT article titled “A Housing Crisis Has More Developers Saying Yes to Developers” said: "Tiffany Cabán, a democratic socialist councilwoman from Queens, recently voted for a project that was slated to bring more than 1,300 apartments to a vacant waterfront lot in her district. A quarter of the units will rent at below market rates." I wonder how much the river might rise in a hurricane. Could it flood the proposed apartment building? Wouldn’t it be wiser to develop the lot so that it could be used as a community park in normal weather, and be used to absorb excess water during floods?
Marie (Florida)
A comon sense solution practiced in the Netherlands, but as politicians run on job promises, and waterfront developments bring in tax dollars - lot of property tax dollars - it won't happen. The government needs to stop subsidizing these developments under the guise of 'redeveloping blighted areas'.
Andrew (NYC)
Large strong condos along the East river are not threaded by hurricanes. They aren’t blowing over. Maybe they will flood once every 20 years. So they get a new lobby.
Kitty Collins (Manhattan)
@Andrew: you’d be surprised what water damage can do while the power is out for just 36 hours in warmish weather. New construction is hardly impervious to mold.
Phillip Fries (Niagara Falls, NY)
I see no reason why U.S. taxpayers should subsidize the costs associated with U.S. citizens choosing to live in a flood prone area, coastal or otherwise. Those people are making a conscious choice to live in a flood prone area and the risk is all theirs to carry. There is no rational justification for forcing other U.S. citizens to pay the costs associated with their choice.
wts (CO)
Historical notes: after the various Clean Water Acts in the 1960s were enacted the waterfront in many cities gradually became more desirable as water quality went from fetid to cleaner, less smelly etc. Also, the move to container ships meant fewer old-style docks were needed. This in turn freed up lad for waterfront parks, trails, and new development.
Casli (Atlanta)
@wts When I arrived in NYC in the 90's the vast majority of the waterfront was still smelly, litter-strewn with drug paraphernalia, in decay, with abandoned buildings and crumbling piers. It wasn't so long ago that the many parks were developed: Brooklyn Bridge Park, Hudson River Park, Hunter's Point Park. Development on Piers. South Street Seaport and relocation of the Fulton Fish Market. In the time I was there (1995-2012), the huge expansion of greenspace and waterfront parks made living near the water desired in a way it wasn't before, but it's all happened basically in the past 25 years. Lightning Speed, really.
David Binko (Chelsea)
17% of the city's landmass flooded? I have heard that before but do not believe it.
Jim Burke (New York)
@David Binko Why do you not believe this figure? Do you have evidence to contradict it?
Rosa NY (New York)
I'm not seeing anything in this article that questions the role of the banks. These buildings are not being put up without financing. In the mid-1990s I asked the head of the largest Arizona bank why he was lending for construction of houses when there was not sufficient water supply. His answer, "I'll be gone by the time that becomes a problem." Bank regulators (the FDIC and the Federal Reserve) are required to insist banks manage risk. Where are they when banks are financing building in flood zones?
Mike (Texas)
A driver with a DUI record can only get the minimum insurance with high premiums. Someone who chooses to build at the water's edge can get full government flood insurance at rates that don't begin to reflect the self-imposed risk. The government should get out of the flood insurance business. If someone wants to build a high-risk home, they should obtain private insurance or bear the risk themselves. The government should not be encouraging this nonsense.
Barry Short (Upper Saddle River, NJ)
@Mike. I agree that the government should not be in the business of flood insurance. There are private carriers. At the very least, it should follow standard actuarial practices when pricing policies. However, FEMA government flood insurance is far from "full." Maximum coverage for the structure of a residence is $250,000 with an additional $100,000 for contents.
Mr. Weiss (CA)
Its the same as in Florida: Condemned buildings make for building opportunities there is demand for the view The feds have an flood insurance program that people take advantage of
manfred marcus (Bolivia)
'Money and love of water'...to explain waterfront build-up? Could we really be this shortsighted...while doing nothing positive to control Climate Change? What a discordant attitude. Who is supposed to cover for the damage once the frequency and severity of natural disasters, adding 'our' fouling the Environment, increases, and the needed exodus of people for their survival? Di we think, by chance, that by 'looking the other way', it'll be O.K.?
Andrew (Brooklyn)
We have to prepare for the next storm but we can’t live in fear either.
David (Washington)
If we see the dangers of using oil and gas then you'd expect us to also prevent coastal cities from building anything near their shores and waterfronts.
Matt Warburg (Seattle)
#3 - Because developers know that if there's a natural disaster, the government will bail them out. Privatize the profits.....socialize the losses.....
Philip (New Rochelle, NY)
All I see around Westchester County is large gas guzzling SUVs. Let’s be honest with ourselves people don’t really care about climate change or they would not drive their oversized vehicles.
James (Norwalk, CT)
@Philip Just like all the concerned NY Times readers who live in 'green' 7,000 to 12,000 square foot McMansions in Monmouth and Bergen Counties (NJ), Westchester County (NY), and Fairfield County (CT). They are really saving the environment by using those blue recycle bins every week. Now load up the eco-friendly Excursion to get to club soccer! (Don't forget to plug in the Tesla too!)
fogmachine (San Francisco)
In the aftermath of Ian it appears as the Three Little Pigs had relocated - homes made of straw and wood were destroyed while those from brick survived. Maybe third graders should be part of the building code process.
Lyn Smith (Beautiful Vermont)
Born and raised on Long Island, worked my whole career in New York City. I will really miss it when it’s under water. I wonder what our world would be like today if Al Gore had become president. The Supreme Court has ruined this country in so many different ways, it’s criminal!
Cat (New York)
@Lyn Smith It would be dazzling! Lit up by countless lightbulbs, just like Al Gore's pool house.
Bill @ Bettis laboratory (West Mifflin PA)
@Lyn, You forgot to throw President Trump into your mix of woes, and woebegone.
Anonymously Anxious (NYC)
Just on’t let them have flood insurance. People only responds to money.
Marie (Florida)
Let them have their flood insurance, but at the full cost of a premium, not a token insurance subsidized by the taxpayer,
In many urban areas the water front stoped being a place of commerce ... just look at old pictures of NYC. They were docks with rigging and horses ... not the best place to live. People like the water --- it's that simple.
RLS (Los Angeles/Paris/Puerto Vallarta/French West Indies)
Just this month my three luxury condos on the beach in Mexico were twice brushed by Cat 4 hurricanes. I knew the risks when I bought, and I’m not selling. Life is full of risks, and one of them worth taking is to live on the water. And in the unlikely event they get destroyed, I’m moving on my boat. You either live on the water or you don’t really live, do you?
DemocratonSI (Staten Island, NY)
Why are building permits even being issued in flood zones, as the article clearly states?
James (Norwalk, CT)
@DemocratonSI Money. Those houses pay a fortune in real estate taxes for school districts. In coastal Connecticut towns, many single-family 3,000 square foot homes pay over $40,000 in real estate tax per year each.
Downtown Mama (Manhattan)
@DemocratonSI look at 250 water street in lower Manhattan. Besides not having proper air rights or a building code to support the oversized building they are proposing in a historic district, it’s in a flood zone that was underwater during Sandy. But the developer paid so much to lobbyists, they were ranked in the top 5 of the STATE last year. For one lot. Lobbying equivalent to state education and hospital programs. The money gives them access to all the city employees including city hall. Until NYers pay attention to local elections and vote differently, real estate runs this town.
Dennis (Boston)
Once it’s built you can sell it off, take the money and it becomes somebody else’s problem
Pgathome (Tobacco,nj)
they are still building on the waterfront because they are not paying the price for building in a dangerous area. if they had to pay for full insurance they would not be building in a dangerous area.
Dave DiRoma (Baldwinsville)
I lived on Long Island during Sandy and that experience cured me of any desire to live near a large body of water. Although we were fortunate to not have suffered any damage, the images of the destruction at Breezy Point and Point Lookout remain with me to this day. A neighbor who was a Nassau County police officer spent 10 days riding around Oceanside and other areas of Nassau and Queens in a National Guard all terrain vehicle. His descriptions of the destruction in those areas was chilling. It’s an individuals choice to live in danger zones but it shouldn’t be the responsibility of the taxpayers to bail them out when common sense says “don’t live there”.
Morris (NY, NY)
When homeowners can't get insurance so they will not be able to get mortgages the building of homes in the floodplain will stop. Just look at all the homes that have been raised so that they could get insurance. A few homes on stilts floated away during Sandy. The insurance companies will learn what's safe.
Erik Frederiksen (Asheville, NC)
When considering coastal development we might look at the ice left on the planet’s ice sheets. Greenland 7.3 meters of sea level rise equivalent of ice West Antarctica (WAIS) 3.3 meters East Antarctica (EAIS) 53 meters Amount we’ve already likely committed to melting, at least 6m. Amount we could melt, all of it. Time scale of major shift 50-150 years. 1968 the glaciologist John Mercer warns that the WAIS is a problem, as in it could go away within a century due to "industrial pollution of the atmosphere”. 1981 James Hansen says pretty much the same thing. 2014 two independent teams of scientists report the WAIS has likely already begun an irreversible retreat. 2016 a new ice sheet model doubles previous consensus estimates of sea level rise. 2018 more reports arrive of observations of retreat of East Antarctic glaciers. The most important line on the planet, the shoreline, is moving inland, globally averaged about 300 feet per foot of sea level rise (that's why one foot of sea level rise on the US east coast caused Hurricane Sandy to flood an additional 25 square miles). It's worse in places like S Florida and Bangladesh. And I think we have 2-4 meters of sea level rise coming within 100 years.
James (Norwalk, CT)
@Erik Frederiksen It really doesn't matter to someone who is 30 years old and gets a $10 million yearly bonus. Plunk that one year's bonus on a waterfront place in Spring Lake, NJ or Rowayton, CT and just have a good time while it lasts. Much of the waterfront in the metro-NY area is just market moony, which is a little bit like Monopoly money in terms of the effort required to make it. If someone loses, another player just comes along to buy it eventually. This is not a new game since the 1800s in many of these waterfront towns.
Uncommon Sense (Brooklyn NY)
The only way these waterfront dwellers will learn is to die in situ when the next Sandy hits or to make it extremely prohibitive, perhaps even illegal, for them to re-build. Then we can use these waterfront properties to build storm protection and/or resiliency measures that will be best for the many as opposed to the enjoyment of the few.
Dave (NYC)
Flood zone living is a non starter for me. Tax revenues for the city and indulging the whims of the wealthy are driving flood zone living and reinforced by the parts of the brain that seek immediate gratification. The realities of future devastation to property and life can't compete. Make no mistake that the cost of underwriting flood zone is spread to the rest of us. How about building parks in these flood zones that are repairable and benefit all.
Stuck on a mountain (New England)
Markets (that is, individual decisions by thousands of people in this case) are smarter than climate scientists, politicians and pundits. When thousands of people risking their own money to buy this waterfront property, it tells us the climate change apoplexy is just that. The world isn't coming to an end. New York won't flood and be destroyed, according to these investors. I believe them.
Kim M. (Alaska)
@Stuck on a mountain investors aren’t climate scientists. They aren’t saying NYC won’t flood. They are simply saying “I’ll take that flood risk because this property still has economic value to me.”
Erik Frederiksen (Asheville, NC)
@Stuck on a mountain The trend in sea level rise doesn't bode well for coastal areas. 1870-1924 0.8mm per year 1925-1992 1.9mm per year 1993-2012 3.1mm per year Currently around 5 mm per year https://www.euronews.com/2019/09/22/watch-live-scientists-present-new-report-on-climate-change-effects-ahead-of-un-summit When you graph the above it looks very much like the beginning of a very non-linear upward curve. graph of sea level rise through 2012 https://robertscribbler.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/hansen-sea-level-rise.png
 graph of post glacial sea level rise, http://vademecum.brandenberger.eu/grafiken/klima/post-glacial_sea_level.png , note the curve at Meltwater Pulse 1A. Ice sheet mass loss: http://www.columbia.edu/~mhs119/IceSheet/IceMass.png
b fagan (chicago)
@Stuck on a mountain - sure, markets are stable geniuses - the cigarette market proved that smoking wasn't unhealthy, too. All the deaths and long, painful illness were imaginary, despite mountains of scientific evidence. But you said something useful: "risking their money". For that market you idolize to be as smart as human researchers who make measurements, publish, and are subject to peer review - the market must feature proper transparency of data, right? New York State -technically- requires disclosure of whether a home is in a flood plain, and whether there's been any flood damage from standing water on the property. But the only penalty if caught failing to provide accurate information as required, is the seller has to knock $500 off the price of the property. Zillow says avg NYC home is $781,622 today. So that "penalty" is about 1/1563 of the price. Penalty? Rounding error.. Markets where reality is deliberately hidden - where evidence is hidden from buyers - are not markets - it's a casino and the buyers are "risking their own money" with the odds stacked against them. One last bit - the wealthy home buyers can walk on a property - as this article notes, they might not even live in it, but use it as a tax dodge. Yet regular people, who only own one home, have been finding all around our coast that aid is slow in coming, and let's just say selling a damaged home in a flood zone is not going to result in enough to buy a new place uphill.
David M. (Huntington, West Virginia)
Waterside is just better. If it’s a river, lake or ocean, cities with water have the views from which to work. I grew up along the Ohio River, which, like the Hudson, affords beautiful drives. I’ve lived in Seattle and San Francisco with their amazing bays, and Austin and Philly with their own beautiful rivers, where one can watch scullers or even commercial boats. One great non-water city is the ironically named Salt Lake City. Yes, I know what you’re thinking if you’ve never been there but the city does not sit by the lake but southeast of it. And for good reason as brine flies and the smell of sodium wouldn’t make for a great urban experience. Nonetheless, the city makes great use of its hills and view of the Wasatch Mountains, and the lake is a drive away for a visit. I’ve also lived in Charlotte, the largest American city with no waterside at all and it’s not for nothing that the Interstates inadvertently act as some sort of poor imitation. The city faces neither rivers, lakes nor even mountains and you always feel that you’re looking for an identifier. Climate change might claim our waterfronts but we should enjoy them until then. If that’s all there is a to a fire—er, flood, then let’s keep dancing!
F III (Richardson Tx)
@David M. No federal aid for any flooding! If real estate investors knew the government was not going to intervene and absorb the brunt of the damage they would not even think about it. The governors who don’t want the federal government in their state’s business should insure costal property owners they are covering the costs of a water related disaster normally borne by all taxpayers. I am sure the state governments and insurance companies together can handle disaster relief, getting people housed and stabilized and the clean up.
Tom (Baltimore, MD)
What is NYC supposed to do, not develop the waterfront? Also, isn't it quite clear that it is more than possible to defend it? Has anyone noted what the "underwater" Netherlands has done for centuries? NYC desperately needs housing of all types and in all places in the city, and that includes the waterfront.
Mary Sweeney (Trumansburg, NY)
"What is NYC supposed to do, not develop the waterfront?" Yes. (One strategy used in recent years in the Netherlands is called "Room for the River" and involves moving dikes back from the water to allow more room for rivers to expand when floods occur. This approach necessitated the demolition of buildings that would have been on the wrong side of the new dikes. You cannot just build higher and higher dikes as at some point collapse along with sudden catastrophic flooding becomes an issue.)
Steve (DC)
The “tax savings” at the end of the article doesn’t make sense. Moving to Florida means no income tax, and yes, could save a high earner a ton. Buying a waterfront condo in NYC for $6m, which must be empty 181 days a year, doesn’t save a dime in taxes.
South Of Albany (Not Indianapolis)
Condos in NYC are offered with a tax-abatement for 30 years. It’s a known tax scam but the state incentive may have sunset.
Mary (NYC)
You don’t save on taxes if your office is in NY, you still pay NY taxes even if you never leave Florida but work in NY
MOS (Pine Valley)
Developers and builders have zero consideration for tenants in existing building with water views. In San Francisco there has been a slow, uh, tide, of buildings that obscure the water views. Places that once promised water views are now too short and near the water, but not close enough. New construction along the bay killed those views. From our building's roof, you used to be able to see the bay and fireworks at the stadium, no more, not since a huge wall-like Four Seasons went up. Most bay views are gone, unless you live very high up or at the very edge of the bay.
Stan Continople (brooklyn)
@MOS During my walks past Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I watched as a large development arose near the waterfront. The first several towers that went up had magnificent river views but were set back a few hundred yards from the water, then once all the suckers had bought in, a massive structure went up obscuring them completely.
doug (tomkins cove, ny)
What doesn’t help is that wealthy person who buys the $8 million dollar apartment then decamps to Florida keeping a toe hold in the city pays proportionally much lower property taxes than many outer borough residents.
William Case (United States)
During the last ice age, ice sheets covered most of New York, including Manhattan and Long Island. Sea level was 350 feet lower than today, and the coastal plain jutted out 50 to 100 miles further than the present-day shoreline. Even if we slow the rate of global warming, the ice will continued to melt and sea levelsl will continue to rise until all the ice is melted, unless a new ice age intervenes The Lenape warned Dutch settlers they were fools to build permanent structures at the waters edge. The sensible strategy is to retreat before the rising tides.
Erik Frederiksen (Asheville, NC)
@William Case An ice age is a period when there are large ice sheets on the planet. We have had large ice sheets on the planet for millions of years. During this ice age we have a 100,000 year cycle of glaciations when the ice sheets grow, and interglacials like the current one when they shrink. Here’s a graph of the last 400,000 years of global temperature, CO2 and sea level showing four of those cycles. http://www.ces.fau.edu/nasa/images/impacts/slr-co2-temp-400000yrs.jpg According to the elliptical variations in the Earth’s orbit (a set of cycles with overall cycle times of hundreds of thousands of years) the Earth should be in a slow cooling pattern. According to the other two Milankovitch Cycles (Axial Tilt and Precession, with cycle times of 41,000 and 22,000 years) the Earth should also be slowly cooling because we were heading into the next glaciation, and until about a hundred years ago this was the prevailing pattern. For the six thousand years leading up to the Industrial Revolution the pattern was slow cooling at an average rate of about 0.2 degrees C per millennium. There were ups and downs due to changes in ocean currents and solar output, but at most those changes were around 0.1 degree C per century and after five or six hundred years the average global temps returned to the cooling trend. In order to melt all the ice on the planet we would have to raise atmospheric CO2 to around 800ppm and hold it there or above for millennia.
James (Norwalk, CT)
@Erik Frederiksen Finally, someone brings up the real science. I cringe every time I hear someone on the "climate change circuit" talk about our "unique" warming when there have been so many cooling/warming periods in the past. Just 20,000 years ago, there was one-mile thick ice in my front yard. Guess what? There were no automobiles and factories when that ice started melting like crazy. I would just love to be around when the next cooling phase hits and humans (if they are around) have to start planning for the opposite effects. Look at all the underwater settlements worldwide to realize this has all happened before.
Erik Frederiksen (Asheville, NC)
@James The graph linked to below of the last 400,000 years of global temperature, CO2 and sea level painstakingly derived by scientists from ice cores doesn’t look like it was created randomly, but rather by a clock mechanism. Fifty years before we knew how to create such a graph the work of a scientist named Milankovitch indicated that when we got our act together we would see Earth’s orbital cycles, which operate on time scales of tens to hundreds of thousands of years, in the record. But what Milankovitch didn’t expect is that when there was more sunlight at high Northern latitudes, processes like ice melt caused oceans to warm and release CO2 which made even the Southern hemisphere warm, although it was getting less sunlight. The only way to explain this is with C02, so a story that didn’t start out to be about CO2 became one. CO2, methane, and ice sheets were feedbacks that amplified global temperature change causing these ancient climate oscillations to be huge, even though the climate change was initiated by a very weak forcing. The physics doesn’t change now that we are rapidly increasing atmospheric CO2, in fact ice is melting all over the planet and methane is beginning to escape the permafrost. http://www.ces.fau.edu/nasa/images/impacts/slr-co2-temp-400000yrs.jpg
Interior (Not Coastal)
Interesting overview. Glad to see the reference to the self righteous contempt of New Yorkers for southerners devastated by hurricane, flooding and other climate change impacts. As long time visitors to NYC, we see NYC infrastructure vulnerability along with southern coastal vulnerability.
grace thorsen (syosset, ny)
@Interior nterior @Interior you are kidding, right? You don't remember two weeks ago when President Biden and the federal agencies that democratic new yorkers consistently vote for came immediately to help Floridians with the devastation of Ian. Floridians, DeSantis, won't fund any government agencies, yet are quick to ask f r and accept the money and help when they need it..Where is compassion: It lives in in New York, not in Florida.
grace thorsen (syosset, ny)
@Interior you are kidding, right? You don't remember two weeks ago when President Biden and the federal agencies that democratic new yorkers consistently vote for came immediately to help Floridians with the devastation of Ian. Floridians, DeSantis, won't fund any government agencies, yet are quick to ask fo r and accept the money and help when they need it..Where is compassion: It lives in in New York, not in Florida.
grace thorsen (syosset, ny)
@Interior @Interior you are kidding, right? You don't remember two weeks ago when President Biden and the federal agencies that democratic new yorkers consistently vote for came immediately to help Floridians with the devastation of Ian. Floridians, DeSantis, won't fund any government agencies, yet are quick to ask f r and accept the money and help when they need it..Where is compassion: It lives in in New York, not in Florida.
Ron (outwest)
The 3rd and 4th line in this article point directly at purchasing a boat that way people can have the best of both worlds. Our nation should not be building at the water line over and over because we all know that sea level is rising even the existing structures at the water line are slowly becoming inundated. Yet our tax dollars every hurricane season are paying for rebuilding decade after decade. Maybe this idea of boat purchases is the only economic way for people to get both the water and the sellers of boats to make money.
Cheryl R Leigh (Los Angeles)
"Why Is New York Still Building on the Waterfront? There are two simple reasons. One, it makes money. And two, people just love water." To those who are still naive on the subject of climate change, here is what Neil Degrasse Tyson has to say on its impact of NYC and all coastal cities: https://youtube.com/shorts/F8wQj9YK1Ss?feature=share
Gus Donwy (Gowanus)
The irony of quoting Brad Lander at face value when he personally championed and led to passage of hyper redevelopment on the Gowanus, an area also underwater during Sandy.
South Of Albany (Not Indianapolis)
I wouldn’t exactly say Gowanus was underwater. You would need to amend the lexicon; undertoxicsludge. It could be useful to describe many situations besides condos being built in superfund sites.
N. Smith (New York City)
Good question. One would think after HurricaneSandy -- and more recently Ian, people would wake up to the fact that living on the waterfront sure ain't what it used to be. But then again. As long as folks continue to ignore the effects of climate change, it's no surprised they're tone deaf to all the warnings.
j3 (NY)
I reguarly check Zillow. Houses sitting on the water are stilling for sale in the multi-millions, the houses are selling—albeit recently at price reductions. Then check out these real estate TV shows lamenting that their dream house isn’t located at the water’s edge. I know people who love the beach, have had their houses damaged by storms and rebuilt right in the same space. Check more closely and the cost is not coming from their bank account. No worries- insurance will pay. My insurance has tripled….I’m paying for their tans. Where’s equity and fairness?
grace thorsen (syosset, ny)
does NYC 'waterfront' really count - the entire island and the five boroughs have a totally built -up waterfront - building there is a horse out of the barn many moons ago..For the next era, every single existing waterfront property should be noticed with required abandonment. That will start recovery rolling..
Dot (New York)
You don't have to have a home or similar right on the waterfront to have experienced real fright at the rising waters. As an apartment resident, I well recall street lights out, traffic cops assigned, most neighborhood stores closed, flashlights needed in building hallways....and stories of nurses carrying babies down stairs to safety from a neighborhood hospital near the river! We wonder: WHEN will this city get serious about setting up borders around ALL potential areas?! Before the next near-disaster....or after?
Me again (Vermont)
@Dot Do you have any idea how high these walls would have to be? Sandy was a storm, not a hurricane. Imagine how deep the water would have been if it were a category 3, 4 or 5 hurricane. Then, imagine the hundreds of billions of dollars needed to build them. Then consider the decades to complete them. Will we outlaw hurricanes until then? Finally, as global warming continues, the walls will be inadequate when they are finished. Wake up!!
miie (new york)
yes build a wall and push the water into the equally vulnerable and rich suburbs
Erik Frederiksen (Asheville, NC)
From NASA’s former lead climate scientist James Hansen in 2016: “There’s no argument about the fact that we will lose the coastal areas, now occupied by most of the large cities of the world. It’s only a question of how soon. That message, I don’t think, has been clearly brought to the policymakers and the public. … That loss of coastal cities would be a dangerous outcome. It’s hard to imagine that the world will be governable if this happened relatively rapidly. What we conclude is that the timescale for ice-sheet disintegration is probably a lot shorter than has been assumed in the intergovernmental discussions.” https://amp.theguardian.com/environment/2016/apr/12/climate-scientist-james-hansen-i-dont-think-im-an-alarmist
Matt (NYC)
Already there's talk that it can be difficult to insure one's home on or near the Long Island City waterfront. Insurers apparently are paying some attention these days.
South Of Albany (Not Indianapolis)
that’s the real question. The government has got to stop bailing out banks, insurers and owners of properties that have to be continually rebuilt. I don’t want my taxes to subsidize their negligence
Gary (NYC)
@South Of Albany I agree with you, if you want the risk, then pay for the cost, now if only, the President would apply that logic to student loans.
South Of Albany (Not Indianapolis)
Healthcare and Education are necessities of an advanced society. Waterfront views are not.
jeepCK (NJ)
Much of NY is rather low lying and is a threat to flooding. They are proposing to spend tens of billions to fight back nature. It will be a losing battle. NYC is located on an island and is extremely expensive and difficult to shuttle people and supplies in and out, yet it's the place everyone wants to be.
NYC Taxpayer (East Shore, S.I.)
The Oakwood Beach, (Staten Island) NY State buyout was a one-time situation not likely to be repeated on SI or anywhere else. Oakwood Beach consisted of mostly summer bungalows converted to year-round homes, either legally or not. Nearly all the homes pre-dated the 1961 zoning laws and a few even pre-dated the 1916 zoning laws. Oakwood Beach flooded after every very heavy rain, every nor'easter and every hurricane since at least the early 1900s. After Sandy it made sense for NYS to buy (nearly) everyone out. Confusingly the Oakwood Beach neighborhood is still zoned R3X for 1 or 2 family homes. IIRC once the buyouts were complete the plan was to rezone everything east of Mill Road as Park land where of course no structures could be built. I don't know what happened to that proposal.
Stan Continople (brooklyn)
Part of Bloomberg's giveaway to his billionaire buddies was the rezoning of the Brooklyn waterfront. Thanks to him and his henchman Daniel Doctoroff, what was once factories and warehouses that could have been upgraded to furnish decent jobs to thousands without college degrees, is now an unbroken stretch of luxury towers extending from the Brooklyn Bridge to Astoria. If you recall, de Blasio, at he behest of a developer front organization, then tried to get a streetcar line to serve these privileged tenants, who had voluntarily stranded themselves away from public transportation. Particularly egregious, in light of climate change, is Greenpoint Landing, a massive development straddling the toxic Newtown Creek, and jutting right out into the East River. To overcome objections, approval for this monstrosity was accomplished literally in the dead of night. Anyone who lives in Greenpoint knows that as you approach the river, the wind velocity increases exponentially. This can be welcome enough in the dog days of summer, but in the winter you're a flash-frozen Green Giant vegetable. Between the winds and the water, these buildings, and their hapless residents, will become sitting ducks for whatever Mother Nature has in store. The developer Brookfield meanwhile, will have long since taken the money and run.
South Of Albany (Not Indianapolis)
As long as few are actually harmed, it may not be a bad thing for this developers’ playground to be washed away entirely. All of it.
ML (New York)
Aside from shouting OMIGOD!, what conclusions are we to draw from this article? It conflates different statistics that generate heat but little light. --Yes, high rise construction is continuing along the waterfront, but with new safeguards and codes. Are these safeguards realistic and adequate? The article doesn't say, just tsk-tsks the construction itself. It also notes existing homes are grandfathered from the new codes. Not exactly news, is it? --I would be more interested in knowing what the 73% of the $15 billion (about $10 billion) actually bought us. The article doesn't say... --Are reconstructed homes in places like Breezy Point being rebuilt smarter? If so, are they being insured? The article doesn't say, but implies rebuilding itself is wrong. --As for comments here that people should be forced to self-insure..it's been happening to a greater or lesser degree since Sandy. The costs of flood insurance along the Long Island shore is eye-watering, if at all obtainable. The required federal program covers very little, and the built-in premium escalators mean that in a few years, the cost of insurance can equal a mortgage. --We have friends who inherited a low-rise, modest condo from a deceased parent on a barrier island in Florida. No one can get flood insurance, period. So self-insurance is a reality in much of Florida. None of this means we should gloat at the losses and tragedies. The climate HAS changed. How are we doing in mitigating its effects?
Seattle (Seattle)
In the opening pages of Moby-Dick, shortly after the famous opening line, Ishmael describes the healing power of the sea, using the crowds of Manhattanites who gather at the southern edges of the island just to look at the water. Its pull could not be denied then, and I suppose that still holds true.
Boarat Of NYC (NYC)
The simple solution to this construction is to charge flood insurance without subsidies. If these residents were charged the real cost of flood insurance then many of these residences would have never been built. There should be a five year phase in of insurance cost related to the risk of living in a flood zone. The poorer folks living upland should not have subsidize the rich folks living by the water.
John L (Manhattan)
People always have trouble reconciling abstractions (the knowledge that another Sandy is inevitable), with fact of the risk when their cultural imperatives, living near the sea, come into conflict. We construct rationales as to why it isn't really a big deal, until it is. The only thing likely to have much impact is the withdrawal of city/town services from buildings in these high risk zones.
Perry J.G. (Toronto, Ontario Canada)
One would think that building anything of value, let alone a place to live, on a floodplain would not be considered wise. Yet, this article proves making money and achieving significant tax savings override any such prudence. There is also the billions in real estate taxes and development fees that the city annually collects. Short-term thinking at play here. As is a determined desire to forget. Hurricane Sandy was in 2012, so people can easily call it a past event. One off, too. Denialism of the possibility of any similar catastrophic weather events and the will to forget can make living in a floodplain a normal everyday decision. Perhaps it can be said that some like the sense of adventure that extreme weather can bring.
Abraham quisling (Norwegia)
I fear that large, extremely expensive, taxpayer-funded “climate resilience” infrastructure projects will be carried out to protect rich people water front homes.
C. (Harlem)
Exactly my fear that only the wealthiest will be protected and invested in. If the resiliency is not comprehensive, areas that receive the coastal protection will shunt the brunt of floods and storm surges to areas that are not protected making the effect of climate change even worse to low income areas. I thought of this when reading about the proposal to raise Battery Park Esplanade and Robert Wagner Jr Park up 20 feet. If they do that, the water still has to go somewhere- maybe Jersey City or the East Side where the shoreline is not raised or otherwise protected? There are a lot of solutions but where is the political will? We can use green roofs, bioswales, flood ponds permeable pavers and restored wetlands and other green infrastructure to limit the damage of rising seas and more water. Will we do it before the next catastrophe? Or Try watching Neo Yokio for an alternate view on what a future flooded city might be like….
Howard Rubinstein (Brooklyn, NY)
Many of those vulnerable to flooding are in public housing — did you actually read the article?
DLM (Albany, NY)
I would like to think that market forces will prevail where common sense leaves off, and that insurance companies will drive the retreat from waterfronts by driving up the cost of a policy into the stratosphere. But someone will always be able to pay, so I now think that we need to legislate this. And I realize that will never happen. What elected official is going to tell people where they can and cannot live? I know one thing: As the owner of a home that is not in a flood zone, I am very tired of paying for people who keep putting lives at risk to be rescued from fires and floods in known fire/flood zones.
evenLove (NYC)
@DLM Yeah, it’s hard to bring basic ecological sanity into our “free market” which was not designed with ecology as a basis of all health and wealth. No “ecological rights” in the Bill of Rights or sustainability value in the constitution. These are seeming pretty fundamental about now.
Matt (Ohio)
The fact that New Orleans still exists is testament enough that desirable locations will always be developed. Is this confusion all based on a belief that New Yorkers are somehow smarter or wiser than our neighbors in the South?
Nancy (midwest)
@Matt It's certainly the case that the population of New Orleans remains well below its pre-Katrina level. At least some people learned.
Matt (Ohio)
@Nancy : I'm talking about rich people and developers- the people who can choose where to live and where to build. People who can't afford to rebuild don't really have the privilege of choice.
James (Norwalk, CT)
@Matt Everyone loves Venice, and it is flooded all the time!
evenLove (NYC)
Realistically, if the developers and larger interests can make money, they will continue to do what they are doing and lobby to be able to do so until they can’t make money. Then they’ll abandon the idea or the area, leaving whatever mess they can get out of, and try to make money another way. Right now, ecology is framed as some kind of obstacle to material wealth rather than its very foundation. We can either incentivize an ecological mindset into our “free markets” or we can try to mitigate the worst of the consequences of our lack of ecological sanity or we can just wait and deal with it later like a crumbling manufacturing base leaving Midwest cities in tatters and it’s rivers on fire.
joe (St Louis)
It is time that the government got out of the business of using taxpayer money to subsidize bad decisions. If we insisted that people who make bad decisions take all of the risks, we might have far fewer people living in floodplains or fire prone areas. Perhaps we could extend this concept to education and other areas, allowing the free market to function. And maybe we could go even further, requiring people who want insurance to insure themselves against risk and if you don't, tough luck.
evenLove (NYC)
@joe This sounds good Joe. However, these “free markets” led to our rivers being so polluted they’d catch on fire and one could eat the fish. Yes, require accountability. But the “free market” is not the mechanism. We need an ecological mindset in the very heart of our innovative economy. After all, if I cut down all the trees or pollute the rivers, everybody suffers. We can’t just mitigate. We have to, simply, get smarter than the industrialists who designed our current system.
Edith Yates (Oakland)
A lot of people don’t know they live in floodplains. Look at Houston. Developers built in a floodplain.
magicisnotreal (earth)
The problem is the idea of a mythical system in which people are taking chances with their own lives and money when the fact is they are taking chances with other people's lives and money.
Harry Haff (Prescott. AZ)
Yes, waterfront does make money. What I think, though, is that people should be able to build on waterfront but be required to self insure. There is not any reason why waterfront development should benefit from the government or insurers with special rates and all manner of public assistance. The benefits of waterfront are many, but with rising sea levels the risks are outweighing the benefits.
Jackie (Naperville)
@Harry Haff They should also be required to build their own infrastructure. No reason we should all pay to build and rebuild and rebuild roads, water supply, etc.
Mary Greene (Florida)
Ultimate short-term thinking.
Londoner (London)
@Harry Haff. They should also be contractually obliged evacuate.
Skip Parker (Greenwich, CT)
In sea-level communities, rebuilding will continue until insurers and the government terminate reimbursement policies for flood-devastated properties. As for manufactured coastal storm barriers, Mother Nature scoffs at puny attempts to defy her…
Kindness (AlwaysWins)
The challenge stated in this article (but hidden) is that new developments are being built to withstand coastal flooding and hurricanes. If they have garages on the bottom, flow through vents and the utilities up high, they are built for that environment. The problem is the existing buildings. There is no plan for retrofitting ANY of the property on ANY of our waterfronts in the US. What are you going to do with high rises and homes that were built on the water decades ago? Tear them all down? Some might call that gentrification. What is the responsibility of the government to homeowners and can you apply that equitably to everyone in the US?
South Of Albany (Not Indianapolis)
it’s a free market country. Prices will go down on existing properties if they can’t be insured at previous low rates. And then some people like to gamble - staying as long as they can until disaster.
Anonymously Anxious (NYC)
@kindness. Hurricane proof? That’s real estate speak. Sure.
linh (ny)
it should be: live at the coast at your own risk. we've enough knowledge now that my insurance rates shouldn't go up because you like sand in your shoes.
Erik Frederiksen (Asheville, NC)
@linh Many places had acceptable risks when people moved there: the world's coasts which are starting to flood more, areas near flood plains which are seeing thousand year floods now every few years, the American West (and other places) which is drying up and burning up, the low latitudes which are getting too hot, etc, etc, etc. I had to leave my home in California last year and start all over again at 63 because of climate change impacts. And I was lucky to be able to do so. It's expensive to move 2,500 miles. I didn’t want a lung disease from breathing toxic wildfire smoke and I didn’t fancy dying in melting plastic while stuck in traffic trying to flee one of these new mega fires. I was also concerned about the cost of our home insurance going up 50 percent or more per year and our well perhaps running dry. And I wanted to get away while I could still sell my house there. And I’m not alone, many here have left the American West for similar reasons. What do you propose besides just complaining about your insurance costs?
South Of Albany (Not Indianapolis)
1. the government should not subsidize anyone through insurance. 2. Ban all new construction and development. If a storm destroys your home you’re not allowed to rebuild. 3. Give all of these land owners of little means the option to have their property bought by the government. 4. Land is returned to public property.
Publius (Princeton)
And they don’t. Insurance rates are based on where your property actually is.
Marshall Stevenson (The Bronx)
This article makes no distinction between small vulnerable houses on the beach in Staten Island and huge high rises in Manhattan. One of the forgotten takeaways from Sandy is how little damage places like Battery Park City actually sustained when all was said and done. With the proper tweaks Manhattan high rise developments on the waterfront will weather the storm well enough. And if everyone lived in high rises in existing high density places we’d be using far less energy and clearing far less land than we do now.
Stan Continople (brooklyn)
@Marshall Stevenson Most of the angst about lower Manhattan comes from Wall Street and the owners of that hideous stretch of dehumanizing, corporate monstrosities that line Water Street, like 55 Water. Ironically, billions of tax payer dollars will be spent to protect these structures, which are already dinosaurs. Remote work has rendered these warehouses for unhappy people impractical and unsustainable.
Anonymously Anxious (NYC)
@Marshall Stevenson. Not true about Battery Park. Which real estate company’s you work for?
Erik Frederiksen (Asheville, NC)
The NASA glaciologist Eric Rignot has stated that we’ve already destabilized around 6 meters of sea level rise equivalent of ice from the marine sectors of Greenland and West Antarctica’s ice sheets and the much larger East Antarctic Ice Sheet is waking up and it has 19 meters worth of marine based ice. One problem with sea level rise is the closer sea levels approach the top of a coastal defense the greater the risk of a storm surge breaching the defense and the damage occurs as in New Orleans. As a result many of our large coastal cities won’t go slowly with sea level rise, but quickly in catastrophic storms. “Today, we’re struggling with 3 millimeters [0.1 inch] per year [of sea level rise],” says Robert DeConto at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, co-author of one of the more sobering new studies. “We’re talking about centimeters per year. That’s really tough. At that point your engineering can’t keep up; you’re down to demolition and rebuilding.” It’s time we started planning a managed retreat from vulnerable coastal areas rather than wasting billions on coastal defenses under the mistaken impression we can hold back the ocean. http://e360.yale.edu/feature/abrupt_sea_level_rise_realistic_greenland_antarctica/2990
Tom (Baltimore, MD)
@Erik Frederiksen Really? What do you think they're planning for in the Netherlands? Retreat? They've had the "mistaken notion" that they can hold back the oceans for centuires, and have done quite well at it. It's really a question of innovation and ingenuity.
Erik Frederiksen (Asheville, NC)
@Tom The Netherlands has not had to deal with the rates of sea level rise that are coming. They too will be forced to retreat. Well before we’re done burning fossil fuels we’ll have tens of meters of sea level rise committed to.
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