Well, it turns out, you can’t. But this Earth Day, we took a look at what some developers and architects are doing about the increasing risk of bigger storm surges and rising sea levels. While Sandy reminded us how real the risk can be, folks we talked to said the steps to mitigate that risk are just as real.

How Do You Flood-Proof Waterfront Development in NYC?AKRF SVP Linh Do is an environmental scientist and works with city, state and federal agencies on project compliance across the region. She says flood levels in the worst storms are on track to reach 19 feet by the year 2100 (to put that in perspective: the roadway on the upper level of the FDR Drive is 28.5 feet). “We’re not the Netherlands, we’re not Venice. You can’t put up walls and dykes,” Linh says. But you can prevent damage to a building by raising critical infrastructure out of the basement, where it’s not vulnerable in a flood. For new buildings, the city Department of Planning isn’t counting any space above flood level that’s used this way as allowable BSF. An alternative Linh’s seen is totally waterproofing basements on new buildings by creating a “bathtub,” or water-tight foundation, but she says that’s often a lot more expensive.

How Do You Flood-Proof Waterfront Development in NYC?These steps aren’t always mandated, but some property owners are taking steps like these voluntarily, like Douglaston Development’s 1 North 4th Place, a new rental building in Williamsburg. It sits on a peninsula that juts into the East River, and much of the property’s in what FEMA calls a “100 year floodplain,” or an area with at least a 1% chance of flooding in a given year. Douglaston president Steven Charno says they built up the groundleading into the only entrance to the parking garage so it would be above the floodplain.

How Do You Flood-Proof Waterfront Development in NYC?That’s in addition to putting the physical plant and the lowest residential units above flood stage. About a mile away, the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s installing permeable pavement that can absorb some of the water in a storm, and moving existing physical plant infrastructure out of harm’s way. Over in LIC, TF Cornerstone’s 4545 Centre Boulevard put in flood gates and flood panels(shown above) to keep water from getting into the building’s basement.

How Do You Flood-Proof Waterfront Development in NYC?Across the Hudson, J.A. Mihalik’s Justin Mihalik, president-elect of the AIA’s NJ chapter, points out a few strategies for existing buildings. Justin’s one of the leaders in a regional recovery working group tasked with recommending best practices for storm preparedness and resiliency across the tri-state area. Justin says the City of Hoboken’s piloting a program to retrofit underground parking garages to take in water if there’s a flood and hold it until the floodwaters subside.

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