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DDC Talks Lecture Series Examines City’s Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines

September 19, 2018

DDC: Ian Michaels

(Long Island City, NY – September 19, 2018) New York City is in the crosshairs of climate change, and faces massive disruptions because of its vulnerability to coastal storms, temperature increase, sea level rise and major precipitation events, says Jainey Bavishi, Director of the New York City Mayor's Office of Recovery and Resiliency (ORR). Ms. Bavishi and Peter Adams, an ORR Senior Policy Advisor, were featured today in the latest installment of the NYC Department of Design and Construction’s “DDC Talks” lecture series, “Resilient Design in a Changing Climate,” held at LaGuardia Community College adjacent to DDC’s offices in Long Island City.

As of 2012, the City had already seen an temperature rise of over 1.5 degrees F compared to the 1901-1960 average. The heaviest rainfall events in the northeast U.S. released 71 percent more moisture in 2012 as compared to 1958. The NYC Panel on Climate Change projects that by 2050 average annual temperature in the City will increase by 4.1 to 5.7 percent; annual precipitation will rise by four to 11 percent; sea levels along the City’s 520 miles of coastline could rise by as much as 2.5 feet; and the number of days each year when the temperature hits 90 degrees could triple.

Jainey Bavishi, Director of the Mayor's Office of
Recovery and Resiliency

These risks were highlighted in October 2012 when Sandy struck the region, killing 44 people. Fifty-one square miles (17 percent of NYC) flooded, 88,700 buildings were inundated and over two million people lost power. Economic damages were estimated at $19 billion.

“Like many coastal metropolises, New York City is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change,” said Jainey Bavishi. “Fortunately we’re also uniquely situated to address it pro-actively, thanks to the NYC Panel on Climate Change, a body that came together by law in 2008 to study New York’s situation and has published climate change projections out to the year 2100. Every locality uses national and global climate projections, but no other American city has an expert group like this which evaluates that particular city’s vulnerabilities.”

With the input of the NYC Panel on Climate Change, in April 2018 the Office of Recovery and Resiliency published its Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines, a document that Peter Adams described as an attempt to establish a “consistent approach for using climate change data across the City’s capital plan.” In short, it’s a way to inject consistent climate change data into the design process of the various Mayoral agencies that build capital projects in the City, including DDC, DOT, DEP, Parks & Recreation and others.

From there it’s a matter of identifying where design changes can be made efficiently in order to make capital projects more resilient and able to withstand the effects of heat, precipitation and sea level rise.

“The broader vision is that resiliency should be thought about at every step of the design process going forward,” said Adams. “But really we need to evaluate where change is most needed, and where it can be done in a reasonable way that justifies the cost. We deal with a lot of legacy systems in New York City, and we can’t rebuild the whole thing.”


DDC Associate Commissioner Eric Boorstyn

Eric Boorstyn, DDC’s Associate Commissioner in Public Buildings for Architecture and Engineering, said the Guidelines give each capital agency a consistent reference tool they can all go to, centralizing the latest and most current thinking on the potential impacts of sea level rise and other effects of climate change.

“DDC worked with ORR on many of the case studies that are in the Guidelines, to see what the effect of hypothetical mitigation on various prior projects may have been,” said Boorstyn. “The agencies DDC works with vary so much. Some clients are very familiar with the Guidelines and some less so. But now that they’ve been published it’s easier to talk to the agencies we build for about resiliency concerns.”

“There are a lot risks we’re learning more and more about,” said Bavishi. “Certainly there are risks we’ve identified that we didn’t know about at all six years ago pre-Sandy. Groundwater table rise is an emerging risk we’ve become aware of, and it’s connected to sea level rise and it’s another area of exploration for us.”

The Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines go hand-in-hand with other efforts by City government to manage the effects of climate change, including Mayor de Blasio’s 80x50 initiative, which seeks to reduce the City’s greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. Various climate change management strategies are also laid out in OneNYC, which defines a blueprint for the City’s future across four key visions of growth, equity, sustainability and resiliency.

“These are currently resiliency guidelines, not code or law,” said Adams. “We’re doing a lot of testing on existing City projects to see how might the design have been different if the designers had followed the Guidelines. It’s important that we see how whether the Guidelines conflict with existing building or safety codes. Down the road in several years, we may see parts of the Guidelines become code and become mandatory in City construction.”

“Project by project, we’re educating outside teams and DDC staff that the Guidelines exist, the Guidelines are useful and that we can gauge the applicability of them to individual projects on a case-by-case basis,” said DDC Associate Commissioner Boorstyn. “When we kick off a new job, teams look at the Guidelines to consider how they may affect the project and make recommendations on what to do, if anything, to implement them.

“The Guidelines will grow as we get better information,” said Boorstyn. “Certain parts of the Guidelines will individually evolve into local laws or codes. Part of it will be supplanted by better or more specific scientific information. If there’s another significant storm or weather event, there will be experiences and new data gathered from that. The next storm becomes a test for existing projects, so as we learn more the Guidelines will always continue to develop.”

The Guidelines were developed by City government, though Bavishi or ORR encourages their use by private developers.

“Getting private developers to adopt the Guidelines is a bigger hurdle to cross than disseminating them to City agencies,” said Bavishi. “Some developers are already referring to them, having recognized that climate change is in the City’s future they see the value of them. For others it may require making the Guidelines part of code, part of City law.”


About the NYC Department of Design and Construction
The Department of Design and Construction is the City’s primary capital construction project manager. In supporting Mayor de Blasio’s long-term vision of growth, sustainability, resiliency, equity and healthy living, DDC provides communities with new or renovated public buildings such as such as firehouses, libraries, police precincts, and new or upgraded roads, sewers and water mains in all five boroughs. To manage this $14 billion portfolio, DDC partners with other City agencies, architects and consultants, whose experience bring efficient, innovative and environmentally-conscious design and construction strategies to City projects. For more information, please visit