City Atlas: What We Talk About When We Talk About Climate Impacts in New York
By Johanna Goetzel, Climate and Society ’13
Extreme events often prompt questions that begin with “why?” Why now? Why me? Why here? There is no simple answer to these questions due to the chaotic nature of the climate system. However, part of the answer can be found by examining past climate trends and projections for the future. Events such as Hurricane Sandy cause huge impacts on individuals and the environment. From catastrophes such as these and the questions that follow, an opportunity for conversation is created.
One organization that is committed to facilitating that conversation is City Atlas. The organization is a partnership between the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities and the non-profit group Artist as Citizen. The mission of City Atlas is to bring together artists, scientists and those focused on sustainability to develop a comprehensive guide to events, ideas and actions that are positively impacting and forming our city’s future. The goal of organizations like City Atlas is to reach out to community members, inspire discussion and motivate actions to improve our collective future. On June 11, 2013 they were given an opportunity to do just that around the topic of rebuilding New York City, post-Sandy, when PlaNYC’s “Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency” (SIRR) released its report “A Stronger, More Resilient New York.” The report introduces actionable recommendations both for rebuilding the communities impacted by Sandy and increasing the resilience of infrastructure and buildings citywide. City Atlas will be engaging in the discussion by releasing articles on the sections contained in the report’s 438 pages and analyzing the future resiliency planning strategies that are explored in this extensive and ambitious document. My work as a Climate Research intern is to make accessible this information and guide the conversations toward action.
In addition to closely examining this report and monitoring the impacts in the political realm, I am interviewing inspiring groups including The Red Hook Initiative. Their social media mastermind, Frances Medina who was 23 at the time, led the organization’s efforts to mobilize volunteers, secure emergency supplies and advocate for attention to the Red Hook crisis. Her impressive leadership help grow their Twitter following from 350 to 3,700 and 150 to 2760 Facebook “Likes.” Ability to mobilize social media and get people inspired to help is one important technique in making the impacts of extreme events manageable rather than catastrophic. Frances shared, “Through engaging the hashtag #SandyVolunteers at the peak of the relief efforts, I was able to reach thousands of people each day willing to mobilize to serve those that were in need of immediate supplies and hot meals. Minute to minute updates proved to be key for those looking to help locally, nationally and even, worldwide. We, not only mobilized for Red Hook, though social media, we were able to stay informed and map out the needs of other communities to refer volunteers there. Exposure and mobilization, we were their on-the-ground news provider.”
City Atlas’ targeted efforts to increase participation in civic duty by expanding readership and inspiring mindful change will help shift conversation to action, making responsible choices for the city’s future. With time, the increased political gravitas delivered by this report and highlighting the inspiring on-the-ground efforts of individuals, the conversation can shift from “why did this happen to us?” to “how can we adapt and rebuild responsibly”? This new question allows us to move forward in addressing climate impacts on the political, city planning and human resilience. I am excited to work at this intersection as a City Atlas intern.