As our climate changes and storms worsen, much of New Jersey’s infrastructure is at risk. New Jersey Future’s 2020 Redevelopment Forum’s afternoon breakout session Stronger than the Storm: Building the Infrastructure We Need for a Changing Climate examined ways in which communities can not only make transportation, energy, and water systems resilient, but also redesign them to take advantage of new technologies and changing community needs to build climate-ready and future-ready infrastructure. Session panelists included moderator Niek Veraart, Senior Vice President and National Practice Lead – Planning, for Michael Baker International, Inc.; Garlen Capita, Senior Associate/Urban Designer for WRT; Sean Moriarity, Esq., Chief Advisor for Regulatory Affairs for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection; and Andrew Salkin, Founding Principal of Resilient Cities Catalyst.
Niek Veraart opened the session with a discussion on resilience and asset management, noting that a key aspect of resilience in relation to infrastructure is the financial risk to government agencies and asset owners. Veraart explained that risks can be turned into opportunities through careful asset management and scenario planning. For example, agencies and asset owners should have an asset management plan and should build resilience into the purpose and needs parts of infrastructure plans. Veraart provided examples of smart transit projects that have integrated resilience into planning, including the Norfolk Transit Corridor Project.
Andrew Salkin spoke about the importance of lasting change with regard to urban resilience, noting that “cities are a complex web of systems” and the “web” should be considered holistically in planning. According to Salkin, places that respond better to shocks like Superstorm Sandy are also places that respond better to everyday stresses. Beyond thinking about basic infrastructure investments, Salkin said cities should be considering the overlapping social, climate, economic, health, and leadership factors. Salkin also emphasized the need to have an “overarching vision” to ensure we are making current-day investments that align with our future goals and needs.
Sean Moriarity presented a regulatory update on current resilience planning by the State of New Jersey. Calling New Jersey “ground zero for climate change,” Moriarity explained that sea levels and heat levels are rising faster in New Jersey than in most of the country and that New Jersey’s sea level rise is twice the national average. On the seventh anniversary of Superstorm Sandy last October, Governor Murphy signed Executive Order 89, creating a statewide climate change resilience strategy. This past January, the governor signed EO 100: NJ PACT, which takes a number of steps to protect the state against climate threats. Moriarity provided a summary of both orders and spoke about short and long-term action plans as two-fold: mitigating and reducing emissions; and adapting and protecting assets.
Garlen Capita presented a descriptive overview of the Gateway Master Plan in the Tampa Bay area of Florida as an example of smart redesign incorporating climate change and the future needs of the community. Capita explained that the Gateway area is experiencing sea level rise issues like New Jersey, that it is almost 90 percent built out, and it is experiencing rapid growth and transit issues. The county is relying on redevelopment to ensure that the area can maintain its competitive advantage as an economic hub and regional job center. The Gateway Master Plan includes the redevelopment of existing business campuses less vulnerable to climate change into mixed use campuses with access to transit. Capita explained how municipalities in the region are working together on funding the project, which has included a large and robust community engagement process to earn public support.
New Jersey Future is working to make New Jersey communities strong, healthy, and resilient. From working to improve New Jersey’s outdated water infrastructure, to helping coastal towns with their resilience planning, to advocating for healthy walkable communities, we know the ability of our communities to adapt to climate change and changing needs depends on the decisions we make today.
This summary was written by Kelley Heck from Heck Public Affairs.