Case #2272.0

Climate Resilience in New York City: The Battle over East River Park

Publication Date: November 28, 2023
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What makes climate change different as a policy challenge? Why is it so hard to solve? And how can we balance the need for the right technical solutions with the importance of having the process be as democratic and participatory as possible?

The story of East River Park in New York City powerfully illustrates those dilemmas. When the flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy revealed the vulnerability of the park and the surrounding neighborhood to climate change, a federally funded project was set in motion to protect that area and the rest of Lower Manhattan. One of its requirements was for meaningful community engagement. But, after four years of meetings with the community, the City of New York suddenly went silent and then revealed that a new design choice would be pursued. Many in the community felt betrayed and took action. That loss of trust in the government and its transparency would end up plaguing the project for years.

Teaching Objectives:
This multimedia case allows students to engage with the tradeoffs inherent in many public service projects by immersing them in the details of this story and the decisions and motivations of many of the key players interviewed on video.

Specifically, students will:

• Explore the differences and similarities between climate change and other policy challenges.
• Examine the tension between democracy and technocracy (how to allow for meaningful community input while solving complicated and urgent climate change problems, often technical in nature).
• Understand the challenges of implementing equitable participatory processes.
• Consider ways to balance the needs of multiple constituencies that might disagree about policy options.
• Analyze the role of government accountability and transparency in public service projects and the impact of the loss of trust on both the process and the outcome.




Other Details

Teaching Plan:
Available with Educator Access
Patricia Garcia-Rios
Video Producer/Multimedia Developer:
Patricia Garcia-Rios
Faculty Lead:
Justin de Benedictis-Kessner
Pages (incl. exhibits):
United States