Another water-related challenge for the city comes from man-made climate change. One of the greatest dangers that a warmer world presents to New York City is a massive storm surge along the coasts, whose destruction would be amplified by rising sea level. The Village Voice’s Wayne Barrett took a stab at this subject in March with a long article criticizing city hall’s refusal to rein in coastal development. Published before the full details of PlaNYC were available, the piece is an aggressive and at times overly dismissive critique of the city’s sustainability plans, but well worth the read. For no matter how successfully Bloomberg’s projects curb greenhouse gas emissions, some consequences of climate change are at this point unavoidable. “There are many reasons why the city is adaptation-averse, and, of course, they start with real estate interests,” Barrett writes. To support his point, he takes a map of the city’s biggest development projects and lays it over a 100-year floodplain map created by Federal Emergency Management Administration, showing that a lot of the work falls in the danger zone. According to Barrett, he didn’t have a scientist double-check this exercise, which makes it somewhat questionable. Nonetheless, the maps are a good example of the kind of innovative thinking that reporters should be employing to evaluate other PlaNYC initiatives.


Mayor Bloomberg and his staff have obviously devoted a tremendous amount of time and energy to producing this report. It is only reasonable to expect that editors and reporters will put as much effort into analyzing it, and explaining and monitoring the difficult political process of taking the proposal from the page to reality. As the press has pointed out, PlaNYC is “sweeping and contentious,” with many legal and financial barriers to hurdle. For that reason, it is important that the media closely track the progress of each proposal. The document’s 127 bullet-pointed initiatives are a treasure-trove for journalists. Nearly every one of them is worth a detailed story—the ideas are there, now comes the legwork.

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.