Connecting Delta Cities


New York business trip after Sandy, blog entry by Arnoud Molenaar.


In October 2012 Superstorm Sandy made landfall in New York and New Jersey, causing widespread damage. The New York Mayor's Office has to deliver a climate adaptation strategy by the end of May to prevent similar disasters in the future. At the request of the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York and the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, I attended a mini-symposium, held on 4 and 5 March, which was to aid in drafting this strategy.  In Rotterdam, we have already been working for a few years on a climate adaptation programme, called Rotterdam Climate Proof. The knowledge and experience we have gained thus far may serve as inspiration for New York and create business opportunities for companies in the Rotterdam region.

On Monday, 4 March, I began the day by meeting with Mandy Ikert, C40's contact for climate adaptation. We went over the programme for Connecting Delta Cities Week, set to take place this June in Rotterdam. Afterward, we went to the Mayor's Office for Sustainable and Long Term Planning (MOSLTP) and spoke with Leah Cohen, my counterpart from New York City. She is responsible for the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR). SIRR is set to be the strategic plan developed by New York City in response to Superstorm Sandy. Leah is looking forward to presenting this plan at the CDC Week in Rotterdam. I told her that, due to so much interest being expressed in the plan, we should organise a meeting that is open to the public (in addition to a private CDC meeting).  

I met with the Dutch delegation at the consulate for an afternoon coordination meeting. Dale Moris of the embassy and Arjan Braamskamp of the consulate briefed us about the events to follow. Henk Ovink, as Acting Director General of Spatial Planning and Water Affairs on behalf of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment, was the meeting initiator and led the meetings. Mr Ovink reported on the meeting between Dutch Minister Melanie Schultz van Haegen and Mr Shaun Donovan, HUD Secretary. As a result of the meeting, they signed the Memorandum of Understanding, on behalf of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment and HUD, respectively. The MoU is aimed at cooperation in the field of planning /defining visions, rules/procedures and flood management. To be more specific, the MoU concerns the exchange and further development of knowledge and expertise New York and New Jersey require to recover after Superstorm Sandy and to avoid such a disaster in the future. The round table discussion of March 5 was to form a first step toward attaining this goal.

The briefing was followed by a networking event to meet the American stakeholders; Minister Schultz attended this event. Both the minister and Consul General Rob de Vos gave everyone a warm word of welcome.  

The morning of Tuesday, 5 March, was dedicated entirely to the round table discussion. Mr Stewart Sarkozy-Banoczy, director for the Office for International and Philanthropic Innovation at HUD, chaired the round table. Sarkozy-Banoczy and Minister Schultz both spoke on the importance of cooperation. Next, two American experts gave a report on Sandy. Sandy, in terms of geographical scope, was twice as large as Katrina. Though substantially less powerful. A terrible confluence of circumstances, as so often happens in disasters, caused the massive storm surge onto the beaches and shorelines of New Jersey and New York. Sandy struck Manhattan exactly at high tide - and spring tide at that. An hour earlier or later, the water levels and the risk of flooding would have been significantly lower. 

A lively discussion arose from the many questions posed by the Americans. There were many questions about structures, governance and funding. 

The discussion in the second round centred on five subjects that were presented with short explanations or presentations. Mr Ovink chaired the discussion and indicated the session goal of forming agreements on a cooperation programme and the associated planning. The subjects were 1. Knowledge Development and Research; 2. Design and Spatial Planning; 3. City-to-City Cooperation/Integrated Approach; 4. Governance and Room for the River and 5. The experiences of the business community, including on New Orleans. 

I was responsible for the third subject. I briefly shared some of my experiences from Rotterdam, and also spoke about the collaboration with New York City already in place. The government-to-government relationship (G2G) at the city level is highly appreciated. Much attention was paid to adaptive waterfront development, to the instruments (assessments, gaming, social cost benefit analyses) and to integrated planning with all stakeholders. It would be beneficial if we could also deploy the Knowledge-to-Knowledge approach, in so doing involving, among others, Delft University of Technology, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam University and Deltares.

Following the round table discussion we took a bus to Newark to view the extent of the damage caused by Sandy. Many houses, but also an industrial port area, were badly damaged. I realised that in order to make the right flood management assessments, we also need to consider environmental damage as a factor. 

Arnoud Molenaar, Rotterdam Climate Proof Programme Manager

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