Transition is Inevitable, Justice is Not: Waterfront Governance for Equitable Climate Action

Student | Kaila Wilson
Faculty | Juan Camilo Osorio, John Shapiro
School of Architecture, Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment

This study evaluates the community engagement and governance structure of New York City’s waterfront and highlights the leadership of environmental justice advocates who used scientific research and collective action to spotlight the critical issues that their communities face. It concludes by offering process-oriented solutions and tools designed to move power into the hands of communities, provide decision-making space for frontline communities, and begin to hold the City accountable for building a more equitable, resilient, and healthy New York City waterfront.

Today, NYC is paying for valuing short-term gain over long-term sustainability. Low-income communities and communities of color are now on the front lines of the climate crisis, while the City has yet to genuinely move away from the expectation of limitless growth and greed.
NYC’s Comprehensive Waterfront Plan: Vision 2020 community engagement process proactively brought together many stakeholder groups, but certain priorities and concerns were weighted more heavily than others. Those who suffer most from these types of decisions are not those who have the decision-making power in the first place.
Today, nearly one out of ten New Yorkers live in the “2100s 1% annual chance floodplain with sea level rise”, also known as the 100-year flood zone. By 2050, more than 100,000 buildings are expected to be within the 100-year floodplain in New York City.
Low-lying neighborhoods with underserved and under-resourced populations also face higher risks during and following storms. More than 40 percent of those at risk of major flooding face substantial social or economic barriers to recovery.
The Waterfront Revitalization Program (WRP) establishes The City’s policies for waterfront development and use, and provides the framework for evaluating the consistency of coastal zone actions with those policies. The Comprehensive Waterfront Plan establishes the City’s goals and visions for the waterfront, and informs the WRP policies and connected zoning code.
The original 1982 WRP was revised in 1999 and then again in 2013, in order to build on the direct outcomes of the City’s first Comprehensive Waterfront Plan released in 1992 ( 1992 CWP ) and then again in 2011 (Vision 2020). Community engagement for the WRP follows the Uniform Land Use Review Process for community input.