Theses Master's

Finding Flooded Deserts: An Exploration of Proactive Prioritization of Flood Vulnerability for More Equitable Preservation in New York City

Danforth, Gray

Climate change, once considered a distant eventuality, is now known to be a rapidly approaching certaintyóand New Yorkers are bearing firsthand witness. Floods, which account for ninety percent of all natural disasters in the United States, place an especially high burden on socially and economically vulnerable communities across New York City. Current preservation literature and policies that address floods are limited to discussions of coastal communities and already recognized heritage, despite the disastrous impacts of flash flooding on inland communities within the past decade and a growing acceptance in the field of the inequitable and exclusionary distribution of designated heritage in American cities.

Additionally, there is a stark gap in municipal policy or guidelines that address how preservation, which scholars recognize as tool for social cohesion and climate resilience, can redress equity issues in areas underserved by the local preservation enterprise, which the author terms 'preservation deserts.' In the exploration of the field's existing toolkit, this thesis argues that over-reliance on designation as a tool has granted preference to age and aesthetic values and greatly limited preservationís potential for community resilience and restorative justice and pushes towards a methodology for prioritization of neighborhoods and communities where heritage could address restorative climate and social justice.

The ultimate goal of this research is to push towards a social justice and values-based approach to preservation, by enabling preservationists to effectively work in tandem with communities to identify spaces important to them in a co-productive process not afforded by current process in New York City. This thesis is situated as a precursor to this goal, offering a methodology to help preservationists identify the communities and places where this work should take priority, which have been underserved by New York City preservationists, agencies, and policymakers, and whose social-spatial connections and cultural identities are at the greatest risk of erasure from worsening floods due to climate change.

Using geospatial analysis of locally designated heritage, flood models, insurance policies, historic hydrography, and social and economic vulnerabilities in New York City, the author illustrated areas where patterns of exclusion and inequity echo within the shape of local preservation designations and climate vulnerability. The author concludes with a list of areas identified through the methodology for preservationists to engage with and highlights the opportunity for the preservation enterprise to change the way it works in how it centers communities and rethink the process of designation as the primary tool in which municipal agencies engage with communities to identify what is important to them.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Avrami, Erica C.
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
May 29, 2024