The Works

New York City Council Passes Five Climate Resiliency Bills

Five down, 28 to go where storm-resistant code is concerned.

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This past June, a task force convened by the Urban Green Council, the New York City chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council (best known for its LEED environmental building rankings), issued a series of 33 concrete proposals for the city to enact in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

Many of their recommendations were meaty proposals that would have represented a sea change in building codes — one would have made it easier to upgrade grandfathered-in structures that are not up to code, for instance, and another would have encouraged landlords to relocate building mechanicals, often located in basements, above the flood level — and have not yet been enacted.

But yesterday the City Council did pass five pieces of legislation that turn the task force’s suggestions into law. They now await Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s likely signature.

The first one is sure to please residents of West 57th Street who were ousted from their apartments due to the crane debacle at One57. The crane boom at the ultra-luxury high-rise came unhinged during the storm and was hanging precariously before the city had it removed. The legislation directs the city to, among other things, complete “an analysis of the effects of wind on buildings that are under construction, including the effects of wind on buildings with incomplete façade assemblies, temporary installations used in construction, and construction materials that are stored on construction sites.”

The city council also passed a law asking for a study of permeable road and sidewalk materials, and another directing the city to write a manual on “flood construction and protection standards,“ presumably detailing regulations that are already on the books.

Two more concrete pieces of legislation were enacted, and both deal with plumbing. One amends the city plumbing code to require at least one automatic toilet and sink in each home or apartment be functional if power is lost (“for a period of at least two weeks, either through manual operation or built-in battery back-up”). Another mandates the installation of backwater valves to prevent the backflow of sewage.

All of the laws seem perfectly reasonable, albeit a bit timid. They don’t directly address the thorniest building code issues that would really make a difference in the case of another severe storm. Many of the Urban Green Council’s meatier recommendations have languished after being introduced — for example, relocating and protecting building systems, and removing regulatory barriers to elevating buildings.

The Works is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

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Stephen J. Smith is a reporter based in New York. He has written about transportation, infrastructure and real estate for a variety of publications including New York Yimby, where he is currently an editor, Next City, City Lab and the New York Observer.

Tags: new york cityinfrastructureresilient citiesthe worksmichael bloomberghurricane sandycity councils

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