February 16, 2010  |  Rising Currents
Rising Currents: Optimistic Innovation

Climate change and sea-level projections developed by the New York City Panel on Climate Change

The Rising Currents exhibition and studio work at P.S.1 demonstrated the challenges that New York City faces from climate change, as well as the opportunities we have to rethink how we interact with the built and natural environment. 

New York City already faces real and significant climate risks. We currently experience hot, humid summers and severe weather events, including heat waves, torrential downpours, snow and ice storms, and nor’easters. These weather events affect every New Yorker. As our climate changes, increasing our resilience to these events will become even more necessary.

PlaNYC, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s long-term plan to make New York a greener, more sustainable city, includes a number of initiatives to increase the city’s climate resilience. To ensure that the city’s efforts are based on state-of-the-science information, Mayor Bloomberg convened the New York City Panel on Climate Change (NPCC), with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, to advise the city on climate change and develop New York City–specific climate change projections. The NPCC found that the city is likely to face warmer temperatures, more intense rainfall, more frequent droughts, rising sea levels, and more frequent and severe extreme weather events over the next century. 

The work of the five teams at P.S.1 illustrates that climate change will require us to alter the way we behave as individuals, build and operate infrastructure, design buildings, utilize land, manage natural resources, make investments, and plan for the future. Their work emphasizes innovative strategies that enhance our built environment while embracing the natural environment—even as it changes around us. 

In developing responses to climate change, we need to ensure that we think broadly about strategies to increase our climate resilience. Today, the city is using “green” infrastructure to protect local waterways from storm-water runoff and utilizing innovative designs for parks and open spaces that reduce runoff and provide enhanced recreational activities for users. 

Design for Printers Park, which upon completion will include a water-play area that filters waste water away and irrigates the surrounding gardens and plants. Courtesy New York City Department of Parks & Recreation


Staten Island Bluebelt, an ecologically sound and cost-effective storm-water management program. The program preserves natural drainage corridors, called bluebelts, including streams, ponds, and other wetland areas, which allows them to perform their functions of conveying, storing, and filtering storm water. Credit: New York City Department of Parks & Recreation

The Rising Currents exhibition provides us with a model of how the innovative use of both structural and non-structural elements can help us withstand the impacts of climate change while making the city more sustainable. It also emphasizes the need to involve a wide variety of disciplines, experts, and stakeholders in developing resilience strategies to ensure that all possibilities are explored. I left my tour of the P.S.1 studios not only impressed with the tremendous work of the teams, but with a great deal of optimism about our ability to meet the challenges before us.