Theses Master's

"REWIRE": Redefining New York City's Landscape in face of climate change

Kalei, Valentine

New York City is grappling with the escalating impacts of climate change, characterized by hotter days, deadly heatwaves, erratic rainstorms, and air quality challenges from distant wildfires. While recent policy victories like the Climate Mobilization Act, congestion pricing, and funding from the Inflation Reduction Act signal progress, they address only a fraction of the crisis. Despite the momentum in green building initiatives, the focus on new construction has overshadowed the urgent need for retrofitting existing buildings and infrastructure. Therefore, a call for a transformative approach arises, spotlighting the prioritization of neighborhood rejuvenation through climate adaptation strategies. The concept of adapting existing cities to climate change rather than constructing entirely new ones represents a strategic and sustainable approach to urban development. This approach acknowledges the reality that many cities already have extensive infrastructure, established communities, and unique cultural identities. Retrofitting and enhancing existing urban spaces offer a more resource-efficient and socially conscious solution.

Employing a mixed-methods approach, this study examines key urban sectors—public spaces, housing, and transportation—and their susceptibility to climate change impacts. Exposing disparities in execution, maintenance, and community involvement, the research reveals the need for inclusive, grassroots-driven solutions. Within the domain of public spaces, attention is directed towards stormwater management, advocating for the reclamation of underutilized areas and fostering enhanced collaboration among city agencies. Housing analysis delves into the crucial task of decarbonizing multifamily affordable housing, emphasizing the necessity of community outreach, financial mechanisms, and localized interventions. Meanwhile, transportation scrutiny sheds light on the hurdles posed by extreme heat and emissions, presenting innovative solutions such as cooling technologies and smart infrastructure integration.

Ultimately, this report reveals the pivotal role of New York City in climate adaptation, notwithstanding entrenched institutional and political barriers. The city seems to lack networks for sourcing innovative ideas, ways to tackle climate gentrification, ways to balance priorities - homeless, rodent infestation, climate change - and a disconnect between narrated opportunities and on-the-ground practice. The pathway to progress is to recognize that adaptation is a multi-sectoral response, and that some of the existing initiatives are being built on existing foundations of inequities and discrimination. However, this is not to say that we sit back and do nothing. Success in adaptation efforts will inevitably coincide with failures, but proactive engagement and learning from both successes and setbacks are essential for progress.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Urban Planning
Thesis Advisors
Slater, Thomas S. J.
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
July 10, 2024