In our New York City's long history, we had never seen a storm like
Sandy. Water levels at the Battery in Lower Manhattan reached 14
feet; the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency had estimated
there was a less than 1 percent chance of that happening. The previous
record -- set in 1960 -- was 11 feet. It was a perfect storm -- a hurricane that
coincided with a full moon and a high tide, and it collided with a second
weather front that led it to make a left turn in about the worst possible
place, devastating communities and killing 43 people. We may or may
not see another storm like Sandy in our lifetimes, but we cannot leave it
to our children to prepare for the possibility.
We are a coastal city -- and a harbor city. Sea levels are expected to rise
up to another two and a half feet by the time a child born today reaches
40, making surges even more powerful and dangerous. And intense
storms are likely to increase as the ocean's temperatures continue to
rise. We cannot solve the problems associated with climate change on
our own here in New York City, but we can lead the way -- and we have
been -- both locally and globally.
Over the past ﬁve years -- in partnership with New York City Council and
Speaker Christine Quinn -- we've reduced the City's carbon footprint by
16 percent and we're well on our way to meeting our goal of a 30 percent
reduction by 2030.
Through the C40 Climate Group, which is a coalition of many of the
world's largest cities, we've worked with mayors around the world to
share strategies and innovative ideas. Cities are not waiting for national
governments to act on climate change. Whether or not any one storm is
related to climate change, we have to manage for risks and we have to
be able to better defend ourselves against extreme weather and natural
We don't know whether the next emergency will be a storm, a drought,
a tornado, or a blizzard, but we have to be better prepared for all of
them. Throughout the city's history, there have been times when New
Yorkers stepped forward to re-shape the city in ways that modernized
and protected it.
In fact, the city we know today exists only because the New Yorkers who
came before us responded to tragedy and adversity with inspired vision
and impressive resolve. For example: The Great Fire of 1835 burned much
of Lower Manhattan to the ground, partly because the Fire Department
did not have access to an adequate water supply. In response, the city
and state dammed the Croton River in Westchester County and built an
extensive aqueduct system to deliver water to the city.
It was one of the greatest engineering achievements of its time. When
the Great Blizzard of 1888 paralyzed the city's elevated trains it proved to
be a catalyst for creating the largest underground subway network in the
The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911 that killed 146 garment workers was
one of the deadliest industrial accidents in American history. In response,
city leaders led the effort to adopt new health and ﬁre safety codes, new
restrictions on child labor, and other workplace protections that became
models for the Progressive Era.
And after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, we built the largest counter-terrorism
operation of any city in the world and we brought Lower Manhattan back
faster and stronger than anyone thought possible. After each one of those
calamities, New Yorkers recognized that the city had to adapt to survive --
and thrive. In each case, New Yorkers put politics-as-usual aside and set a
new course that would redeﬁne the future of our city.
New York City has 520 miles of shoreline, and it is some of the most
beautiful, dynamic shoreline in the world, with the most beautiful views.
That's why people have chosen to live at the coastline for centuries.
The question I have gotten most often since the storm is not about the
damage Sandy caused, but about whether people can rebuild their
homes in coastal communities such as the Midland
Beach section of Staten Island. Let me be clear: We are not going to
abandon the waterfront. But we cannot just rebuild what was there and
hope for the best. We have to build smarter and stronger and more
There are no panaceas or magic bullets. No matter what we do: the tides
will continue to come in, and so we have to make our city more resilient
in other ways, especially when it comes to our critical infrastructure.
New Yorkers have never been shy about taking on big challenges, and
taking our destiny into our own hands. I have every conﬁdence that by
confronting this challenge head on we will succeed, just as we have
so many times before. There is no storm, no ﬁre, no terrorist act, that
can destroy the spirit of our city, and keep us from looking forward,
envisioning a better tomorrow, and bringing it to life.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and The Rockefeller Foundation on resilience, a topic being discussed at the 2013 World Economic Forum in Davos. To see all the posts in the series, click here.