in Urban Change


Infrastructure investment in the United States is approaching a classic “line in the sand.” One side of the line, federal legislators believe big-ticket investments can only be triggered by the unspoken policy of “catastrophic resolution.” On the other side, legislators stand with, “whatever my constituents want and need” as if they had other leaders.  The former is a vague plan for entering the tunnel, the latter is the source of most of the tunnel vision in the world.


  • The pessimist sees the darkness in the tunnel.
  • The optimist sees a light at the end of it
  • The realist sees that light is a train.
  • The train conductor sees 3 fools on the tracks

Here is an example, NYC there are several 50- to 100-year-old subway tunnels. If one crumbles, it could cripple a small portion of the northeast economy for a decade and require a heroic response. In less dense areas in comparison, support for rebuilding failing highways to struggling big-box shopping malls is not the way to go but can keep voters happy, or less discontent. Politically, this is the kind of win/win ‘ do-it-anyway concept deemed the “earmark” remains acceptable in legislative quarters and they are tragic failures of policy.

In this form of federal leadership, infrastructure failures of any kind also have to get to a critical mass of some definition. It might be horrifying deaths or vast losses in general revenue due to a breakdown in goods transportation, building code enforcement, unstoppable forest fires, or floods. The central issue is the lack of a classification to designate a line in the sand condition.  This is the pornography of public policy – they only know it when they see it.

In Your Face

A grant from the National Resource Defense Foundation (NRDC) brought a video to the public in 2014 that sums up decades of advocacy by Joe Minicozzi of Urban3).  Take a moment to watch it.


There you have it, a basic set of facts about why density works. Getting leadership from local to federal to get it to work is the real problem. Without a policy toward a dense urban metropolitan framework over three-quarters of the American landscape is in peril.


A large group of urban developers from the general advocates of public well-being have solutions as environmentalists, scientists, architects, urban planners, real estate developers, and community organizers have solutions.  The first one is to eliminate the vague notion of what a city is and make the building of them a real issue.

Surging Tides and the Rising Seas

Will limiting development in a flood zone community improve resiliency? Not if it floods. Nevertheless, reducing the number of people displaced by major flooding, high tide events like Hurricane Sandy (October 2012) makes limiting growth a reasonable measure of resilience. Another measure is an improvement in estimates of “damage reduction” provisions for all the folks who refuse to leave the zone or take a buyout. Here are two examples.

East Shore Special Coastal Risk District, Staten Is. (N 170374 ZRR; C 170373 ZMR

Single-family housing districts in large low-lying coastal areas in New York City are addressing the reduced impact measure of resilience with special districts initially proposed August 9, 2107. The Staten Island special district is roughly four square miles and addresses the surge area impact of Sandy’s 2012 super hurricane The district will allow new single-family development and the elevation of existing buildings. In this sense, the rezoning by a special district is also a challenge aimed at better design concepts.

Zones are toothless if the danger is short-term. We shall see.

Hudson Yard Development plans are well known along the waterfront, but the question of growth goes in the opposite direction given the image above. The area affected by various water influx zones will change as atmospheric data sets change to predict areas of impact.

Similarly, the area now subject to the East Shore Special District can be examined using the map below. Zone 1 is most likely to flood to Zone 6 as least likely. Remaining aware of the variables associated with storm surge, sea rise, wind and rain remain the responsibility of the property owner and insurers.


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