Lessons for New York: comparative urban governance and the challenge of climate change.

Author:McArdle, Andrea

Introduction I. New York City and Weather Disaster: Addressing Climate Change in a Scheme of Vertical Governance II. Engaging Climate Change Through Transnational Urban Networks A. C40 Cities: Developing Metrics and Best Practices Among Large Cities B. Rockefeller Foundation Initiatives: Promoting Multi-Sectoral Collaborations C. Resilient Cities III. Horizontal Urban Governance: Transnational Networks as a Comparative Governance Scheme IV. Addressing Possible Limitations Conclusion INTRODUCTION

Climate change and the weather disasters to which it contributes are major challenges for urban governance. The impact of Superstorm Sandy on New York City (the "City"), resulting in loss of life, substantial property damage, evacuation of critical health care facilities, flooded infrastructure, and an extended period of power outage, required an extensive response from the City. (1) Using New York City's experience with Superstorm Sandy as a launching point, this Article addresses the fundamental question of urban governance that weather disasters present. Recognizing the direct and immediate connection local government bears to coastal land, infrastructure, and the people who live and work within its borders, the role of a municipality in preparing for and responding to weather disasters is clear. However, although the effects of extreme weather typically are experienced locally, the conditions that contribute to climate change are global in scope. The enormity and complexity of weather-related disaster preparedness limit the capacity of any individual local government to cope with these phenomena.

To consider the governance challenge in the context of weather disasters, Part I of this article contextualizes the question by providing an overview of New York City's principal pre-Superstorm Sandy climate change mitigation measures under the administration of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It then examines, in Sandy's aftermath, the City's commitment to a set of initiatives to develop capacity to withstand future weather events. (2) It first considers the City's set of initiatives in relation to the governance structure in the United States that serves as the source of authority, policy guidance, and fiscal support for confronting the challenges of climate change. The structure of governance encompasses multiple levels of government in a hierarchical, vertical relation, operating at successively "higher" territorial and jurisdictional scales in relation to a city. (3) Thus, in the United States, we routinely think of a city's climate-change initiatives within the larger context of federal and state government programs and policies, as well as regional governance schemes wherever they happen to exist, that address the impact of weather-related harms.

The balance of this Article explores an alternative approach for addressing climate-change challenges that links urban governments horizontally, across national borders. (4) Specifically, Part II introduces the interurban networks, which are a set of arrangements bearing some family resemblances to other networks, both public and private, in the sense that they are information-driven and embrace collaborative approaches to problem solving. (5) They operate within a normative framework established by international protocols. (6) This Part focuses attention principally on the foundational assumptions grounding three networks of cities: the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, an organization of large cities in partnership with the World Bank, the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI)--Local Governments for Sustainability, and a number of philanthropic organizations; (7) Rockefeller Foundation-initiated resilience networks; (8) and Resilient Cities, an annual global forum initiated in 2010 by ICLEI, the World Mayors Council on Climate Change, and the City of Bonn, Germany. (9)

Part III discusses the concomitant possibilities for comparative urban governance of these transnationally connected cities. This Part draws on the literature of network governance models that proliferate information in the service of flexibility, problem solving, and development of best practices, that typically involve devolution from the national to a local scale, and entail voluntary compliance with network-generated norms. (10) It considers how these networks can offer a framework for comparative governance by serving as a continuing reference point on climate change, and a basis for generating shared norms for developing resilience to climate-change effects.

Specifically, Part III addresses ways in which interurban initiatives such as C40 Cities and Resilient Cities make cities more salient, by recognizing the crucial role that cities play both as contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, and thus global warming, and as loci of innovation, experimentation, and creativity. (11) It develops the argument that these collaborative networks exemplify an alternative approach to governance in which cities are linked together horizontally to commit to innovation, promote policy diffusion through the exchange of ideas, expertise, and resources, and adopt best practices for climate-change mitigation and adaptation strategies.

Part IV takes up potential limitations upon the discussed conception of comparative governance. The limitations include the enduring pro-growth orientation of cities, which may militate against city-led climate-related resilience strategies, referred to as "managed coastal retreat," (12) that entail scaling back waterfront development. Another consideration is that cities' climate, geography, and economy will vary, and in any given instance a city's experience may not be replicable in other contexts. (13) This Part also takes up the concern that highly influential non-state actors engaged in international development or philanthropy may eclipse the role of local governments and reinforce paternalism vis-a-vis less resourced localities. (14) To address the first concern, this Article refers to countervailing considerations of costs and incentives that could moderate the force of the urban growth imperative. Responding to the second concern, the Article notes how networks can be formed in ways that emphasize commonalities among member cities. It also addresses potential domination by powerful non-state actors with reference to the centrality of local governments' participation in these networks.

Noting the general benefits that cities can derive from a problem solving approach responsive to, but not limited by, individual cities' experience and scale, this Article concludes that cities' participation in transnational urban networks holds some promise from a comparative governance perspective. To the extent that these interurban networks can promote members' voluntary participation in, and adherence to, developing norms and practices for addressing climate-related risks, they enhance transnational problem solving on an issue that is simultaneously local and global. Further, they raise the possibility that local-level innovation of climate-related measures falling within the scope of local authority can jumpstart the stalled process of developing wider consensus on climate change that has eluded efforts of governments at the national scale.


    This Part will consider the governance implications of the pressing climate- and weather-related challenges that a major U.S. coastal city such as New York faces. The New York case study, despite its local context, is used to demonstrate how climate change, as well as the weather disasters to which it contributes, present urban governance challenges that are global in scope. Recognizing the broad scope of the problem, this Article considers the benefits of a broader framework and a comparative approach, an approach this article refers to as horizontal urban governance.

    A municipality is the first line of defense in preparing for weather disasters, given the relationship a local government bears to land use, infrastructure, and public health and safety. Drawing on the example of New York City, this Part examines the City's recent engagement with climate-change risks and its embrace of resilience strategies (15) within the context of a vertical, hierarchically organized governance scheme for addressing extreme weather events. Cities occupy a subordinate position within the hierarchical structure in relation to a state and national government; they operate within a single national frame rather than comparatively and transnationally.

    A critical geographic fact that New Yorkers themselves may lose sight of is that New York has 520 miles of waterfront. (16) Superstorm Sandy, which struck New York City on the evening of October 29, 2012, reached properties, residents, and infrastructure in the City's five boroughs beyond the Zone subject to an evacuation order, flooding many of the city's subways and tunnels. The storm's toll included forty-three deaths and the total loss of approximately 300 homes; left 800,000 New York residents and businesses without power; caused the evacuation of five hospitals and thirty residential facilities that sustained flooding damage and power failures; and placed 6800 persons forced to evacuate their homes in seventy-three city shelters. (17) The storm's impact on fuel terminals, pipelines, and fueling stations led to fuel shortages requiring rationing. (18) It produced some 700,000 tons of refuse, extensive damage to boardwalk and waterfront structures, and the loss of more than two million cubic yards of sand from city beaches. (19)

    Property damage from Sandy included 402 buildings covering 35,000 units owned by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA); more than 80,000 residents of NYCHA-owned high-rise buildings, including the elderly and infirm, were stranded without essential...

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