As Water Levels Rise, NYC Must Adjust

By Daniel Scarpati and Trevor Lee

Three and a half months ago, Hurricane Sandy tore up the northeastern coast of the United States. Anyone who lived in or around New York City (or knew someone who was affected by the storm) knows how devastating it was to the city and the country. Not only did it destroy neighborhoods and displace thousands of city residents, but it altered the social, economical and political standing of our fine city.

People who lived in Zone A areas like The Rockaways and Coney Island were under mandatory evacuation, however residents of Zone B and C areas were informed that they would not need to evacuate. These flood zones were based on a Federal Emergency Management Agency flood zone map that was last updated in 1983 (Source 1). This version of the map did not account for rising sea levels, which is part of the reason that Sandy was so devastating. FEMA flood zone maps are not updated on a regular basis, which is something that many people have complained about. If this map had been updated with new sea level measurements, there’s a very good chance that a lot of the damages incurred by the storm would not have happened. Compared to a compilation of data like the US Census, which is updated every decade, the FEMA flood zone map seems very out of date.

Just last week, FEMA released new flood zone maps which have changed the boundaries between various flood zones across the five boroughs. In Brooklyn and Queens, Howard Beach, Gerritsen Beach and East Williamsburg are a few examples of neighborhoods that are now included in Zone A flood areas. What this means for people and businesses who are looking to buy property in these areas is that they will be required to purchase federal flood insurance. Unfortunately, this also means that it will be much harder for residents to sell property in Zone A areas. Insurance providers use location and income as two of the main factors when determining flood insurance rates (Source 2), and this is sure to present a problem for many people in the near future.

Flood zone area comparisons between FEMA's old map and the damages incurred by Hurricane Sandy. (Source 2)

Flood zone area comparisons between FEMA’s old map and the damages incurred by Hurricane Sandy. (Source 2)


According to the Queens Chronicle, Hannah Vick (a FEMA spokeswoman) said that more “accurate and complete versions of the maps will be released later this spring.” Residents of Zone A areas, as well as prospective landowners in these areas, are concerned whether or not these ‘more accurate and complete’ maps will account for projected sea level rises of up to two to five feet. According to a 2010 report by the NYC Panel on Climate Change, the sea level can rise anywhere from two to five feet in the next 60 years and cause more extensive coastal flooding for many parts of the five boroughs (Source 4). Ever more frightening is that fact that in this projected timeframe, “New York City would average one flood as high as Hurricane Sandy every 15 years,” and that’s not accounting for potentially stronger storms, surges and tropical hurricanes. (Source 5) Since it’s clear that the sea level situation around the city will only be getting worse, action must be taken sooner rather than later. The city has been devising multiple plans of action, ranging from installing new sea walls in bayside communities like the Rockaways to constructing water-tight barriers around lower Manhattan. Hopefully there will be enough time to identify the primary problems, formulate goals, assess consequences, relate consequences to values, and choose and put to action a plan (following along the Policy Analysis Urban Planning model).



1) Queens Forum Article. Barkan, Ross.


3) Queens Chronicle Article. Rafter, Domenick.

4) NYC Panel on Climate Change – 2010 Report

5) NY Times Article. Struass, Benjamin; Kopp, Robert.

About Daniel

Daniel is a graduate of CUNY Macaulay Honors College at Brooklyn College, summa cum laude with a B.A. in Film Production and TV/Radio. He can be reached via his website, The Utopia of Daniel was his college blog and he has since transitioned to posting on other sites.