Hurricane Sandy caused unprecedented flooding in Lower Manhattan and coastal New Jersey, as a larger-than-expected tidal surge washed over the area. In the aftermath, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) said that we will need to address the challenges of climate change and rising sea levels, in part, by building levees and structural storm protection systems. The city’s future might depend upon structural defense systems to keep the Atlantic Ocean from inundating low-lying New York City.
The temptation to build levees, storm walls, and sea gates and to deploy other technological solutions to the problem will be very tempting. It seems obvious that in the face of flood risks, structural barriers and sophisticated pumping systems are key to a city’s safety. However, the history of such technologies suggests they are not without peril and have the potential to increase risk and vulnerability.