Dyson College of Arts and Sciences

Summit on Resilience II: The Next Storm

Dyson College of Arts and Sciences - Year in Review 2011-2012

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15 d ys o n C o l l eg e o f a r ts a n d s C i e n C e s The Right to the Resilient City E. Melanie DuPuis Environmental Studies and Science When natural disasters hit, lower income people are often hit twice: first by losing what little they have—often underinsured or not at all—and second by rebuilding plans that leave them out, that "renew" affected areas with upper- income developments that the original residents can not afford. In other words, as several scholars who have studied natural disasters have found, these events often exacerbate existing inequalities. This kind of rebuilding also, often, exacerbates vulnerability rather than creating a more resilient city. Hurricane Katrina is an example of this phenomenon. How did New Orleans build itself into a place so vulnerable to a major storm? Sociologist Nik Janos answered that question by looking at how New Orleans rebuilt after its previous major hurricane, Betsy. Looking at both hurricanes tells us whether the actions between the two storms made New Orleans more or less resilient. The answer, of course, is that the rebuilding after Betsy only made New Orleans more vulnerable. The levies that failed in Betsy were rebuilt, along with more large-scale development projects that built new neighborhoods in vulnerable areas. Janos describes one planning event that happened right after Betsy: "as they met to plan an idyllic housing development, the area was covered with four feet of water, and had become part of the Gulf of Mexico." 1 In Crisis Cities, Kevin Gotham and Miriam Greenberg compare New Orleans and New York rebuilding efforts after crises. They describe this process as "an uneven landscape of risk and resiliency" in which, "the worst and most long-term effects of disasters are suffered by populations least equipped to protect themselves—poor and working class communities—while public-private partnerships ensure the resiliency and growth of wealthy, well-connected neighborhoods." 2 Pace's Summit on Resilience II focused specifically on the role of public-private partnerships, asking: "As memories of Superstorm Sandy fade, what lessons have measurably shaped public-private partnerships in ways that bolster urban resilience?" If public-private partnerships do tend to favor redevelopment of high-end over affordable housing, then what strategies could be developed, within realistic financial needs, to make these partnerships more fair and equitable? Of course, Lower Manhattan is not the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. It is already a place occupied by some very wealthy people. However, there is still a great diversity of incomes in Lower Manhattan. In particular, in some Lower East Side neighborhoods 30% of resident households have incomes of less than $19,000 per year. This neighborhood also contains the largest amount of public housing in New York City. And other neighborhoods in this part of the city have remained middle class. 3 Lower Manhattan also has a variety of neighborhoods with their own character and range of cultures, like Chinatown. It's possible, therefore, to talk about these neighborhoods not only in terms of their vulnerability to disaster but also about their vulnerability to resilience: the likelihood that the rebuilding of an area hit by a disaster will leave a person more vulnerable than before the rebuilding. Some have argued that this type of vulnerability has to do with discrimination and a willingness to "get rid of " certain residents in order to

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