The political ecology of climate adaptation planning in New York City
Gonsalves, Nicholas Peter
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Although several scholars have examined the role of cities in greenhouse gas mitigation, local governments have only recently embarked on the establishment of climate adaptation plans. Starting with its 2007 sustainability plan, PlaNYC, New York City created a leading urban climate change adaptation program, whose initiatives include improving stormwater drainage, raising wastewater systems, and developing stricter flood zoning regulations. Using theories of urban political ecology, science studies, and government with science, this thesis engages the socio-environmental narratives, forms of expertise, and governing strategies that characterized climate adaptation planning in New York City. By interviewing city government workers, scientific experts, and assessing official city documents and transcripts related to developing and implementing climate adaptation plans, this thesis finds the following. First, New York City relies on a bounded group of techno-scientific experts to develop a risk-management framework for prioritizing adaptation strategies that are cost-effective, make the city infrastructure most “resilient” to climate change, and emphasize addressing infrastructural threats to flooding. Second, to render this process visible, the city has undertaken a strategy to map, quantify, and communicate climate risks to its citizens. The process has stressed adapting New York City as an “ecological” system over a “social” system to climate change, meaning efforts have strived to improve “natural” processes (such as stormwater infiltration and increasing the wetland buffer), while people have been left to identify and prepare for their own climate risks.