The following was published in the Huffington Post on January 24, 2013.
In New York City's long history, we had never seen a storm like Sandy. Water levels at the Battery in Lower Manhattan reached 14 feet; the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency had estimated there was a less than 1 percent chance of that happening. The previous record -- set in 1960 -- was 11 feet. It was a perfect storm -- a hurricane that coincided with a full moon and a high tide, and it collided with a second weather front that led it to make a left turn in about the worst possible place, devastating communities and killing 43 people. We may or may not see another storm like Sandy in our lifetimes, but we cannot leave it to our children to prepare for the possibility.
We are a coastal city -- and a harbor city. Sea levels are expected to rise up to another two and a half feet by the time a child born today reaches 40, making surges even more powerful and dangerous. And intense storms are likely to increase as the ocean's temperatures continue to rise. We cannot solve the problems associated with climate change on our own here in New York City, but we can lead the way -- and we have been -- both locally and globally. Over the past five years -- in partnership with New York City Council and Speaker Christine Quinn -- we've reduced the City's carbon footprint by 16 percent and we're well on our way to meeting our goal of a 30 percent reduction by 2030.
Through the C40 Climate Group, which is a coalition of many of the world's largest cities, we've worked with mayors around the world to share strategies and innovative ideas. Cities are not waiting for national governments to act on climate change. Whether or not any one storm is related to climate change, we have to manage for risks and we have to be able to better defend ourselves against extreme weather and natural disasters.
We don't know whether the next emergency will be a storm, a drought, a tornado, or a blizzard, but we have to be better prepared for all of them. Throughout the city's history, there have been times when New Yorkers stepped forward to re-shape the city in ways that modernized and protected it.
In fact, the city we know today exists only because the New Yorkers who came before us responded to tragedy and adversity with inspired vision and impressive resolve. For example: The Great Fire of 1835 burned much of Lower Manhattan to the ground, partly because the Fire Department did not have access to an adequate water supply. In response, the city and state dammed the Croton River in Westchester County and built an extensive aqueduct system to deliver water to the city.
It was one of the greatest engineering achievements of its time. When the Great Blizzard of 1888 paralyzed the city's elevated trains it proved to be a catalyst for creating the largest underground subway network in the country.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911 that killed 146 garment workers was one of the deadliest industrial accidents in American history. In response, city leaders led the effort to adopt new health and fire safety codes, new restrictions on child labor, and other workplace protections that became models for the Progressive Era.
And after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, we built the largest counter-terrorism operation of any city in the world and we brought Lower Manhattan back faster and stronger than anyone thought possible. After each one of those calamities, New Yorkers recognized that the city had to adapt to survive -- and thrive. In each case, New Yorkers put politics-as-usual aside and set a new course that would redefine the future of our city.
New York City has 520 miles of shoreline, and it is some of the most beautiful, dynamic shoreline in the world, with the most beautiful views. That's why people have chosen to live at the coastline for centuries. The question I have gotten most often since the storm is not about the damage Sandy caused, but about whether people can rebuild their homes in coastal communities such as the Midland Beach section of Staten Island and Breezy Point in Queens. Let me be clear: We are not going to abandon the waterfront. But we cannot just rebuild what was there and hope for the best. We have to build smarter and stronger and more sustainable.
There are no panaceas or magic bullets. No matter what we do: the tides will continue to come in, and so we have to make our city more resilient in other ways, especially when it comes to our critical infrastructure. New Yorkers have never been shy about taking on big challenges, and taking our destiny into our own hands. I have every confidence that by confronting this challenge head on we will succeed, just as we have so many times before. There is no storm, no fire, no terrorist act, that can destroy the spirit of our city, and keep us from looking forward, envisioning a better tomorrow, and bringing it to life.