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BigIdea: A Prepared and Resilient NYC


sandy destruction

This is the fourth post in NYCEDC's BigIdea series, which highlights efforts by participants in the NYC BigApps competition to solve some of New York City's biggest issues.

NYC BigApps is a civic innovation competition that empowers the sharpest minds in tech, design, and business to solve NYC's toughest challenges. By calling attention to community organizations and leaders who are working daily to improve the city, the program asksHow can we use technology to make a better New York City? What does New York City's future look like?

The BigIdea

Develop an application that allows New Yorkers to visualize climate change projections and plan for their impacts.  

sandy destruction

New York City is familiar with the implications of a powerful storm. When Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012, the superstorm caused an unprecedented $19 billion in physical damage, revealing significant vulnerabilities in New York City’s buildings and infrastructure networks. 

The City has since taken steps to boost resiliency through PlaNYC's "Stronger, More Resilient New York" (SIRR) report, which includes recommendations for rebuilding the communities impacted by Sandy. Additionally, this past January NYCEDC launched RISE : NYC, a $30 million global competition to identify and deploy innovative new technologies to improve the resiliency of buildings and infrastructure. 

Now, NYCEDC is partnering with RISE : NYC and ClimateCentral to empower everyday New Yorkers to prepare for future risks. The team is seeking technology solutions that will paint a clearer picture of the risks we face in the wake of climate change. The proposed app will also give clear action plans to help mitigate those risks, all in the name of the BigApps mission of helping New Yorkers better live, work, play, and learn in the city we love.

The BigIdea Explained

Interview with David Gilford and Luke Clause from NYCEDC

David Gilford HeadshotDavid Gilford (left) is a VP and Director at our Center for Economic Transformation. He and Luke Clause, a Senior Project Manager on NYCEDC's Clean Technology and Energy desk, explain why their big idea is crucial to the future of NYC.

What is NYCEDC's BigIdea?

David: Our BigIdea is to build a more resilient New York City economy by turning raw data into tools that help our businesses, individuals, and neighborhoods understand and prepare for the risks of extreme weather and climate change. 

Why is solving this problem important for NYC's future?

sandy destructionLuke: We realize that climate change and extreme weather events are now an unfortunate fact of life. Recent years have brought record-breaking summer and winter weather, and two of the region’s strongest hurricanes, Irene and Sandy, back-to-back.

Hurricane Sandy caused unprecedented physical and economic damage to our city, in part because few New Yorkers fully understood how the storm would impact them and what actions they should have taken to prepare. Many of our critical networks, like public transportation and the electric grid, are vulnerable to these extreme events, primarily because they’ve never happened before. New Yorkers need to be prepared for the impact of extreme weather in the future, whether hurricanes, floods, blizzards, or heat waves. 

David: Thousands of pages of data have been released from dozens of agencies, ranging from flood maps to sea level rise predictions. However, New Yorkers are busy people and interpreting this into something useful and actionable remains a challenge. We believe that software has huge potential to create simple, easy-to-use tools to help us understand risks and develop plans to prepare for extreme weather. 

How has this issue personally affected you?

David: As a resident of lower Manhattan, I saw first-hand the economic toll of storms like Hurricane Sandy, especially to small businesses. Over 23,000 businesses were in the flooded area, employing 245,000 people. From local restaurants serving food by candlelight to volunteers setting up cell phone charging stations, I saw how New Yorkers respond to challenges with determination and creativity. That same resilient spirit, combined with better tools, can make sure that businesses at risk have the information they need. This helps our city’s and economy’s resiliency—allowing us to bounce back stronger than before.

Luke: While Sandy is still fresh in many minds, hurricanes and floods are not the only threat we face. Having recently experienced record snow storms and heat waves, extreme weather will only continue to impact New Yorkers in one way or another, which is why we need tools that will allow us to better understand these threats. Many New Yorkers will tell you that we experienced an abnormally intense allergy season this spring, which has been directly attributed to this past record cold winter. What other unexpected problems will we face in the future, and how do we prepare for them? This is what our Big Issue aims to address.

Luke Clause

 NYCEDC's Luke Clause gives a tour of the Smart Grid project at Brooklyn Army Terminal.

What have been some of NYCEDC's major accomplishments towards solving this problem?

David: The good news is that lots of entrepreneurs and other smart people are working on solutions to the threats we face. By supporting startups and piloting technologies such as energy storage, NYCEDC is helping to further this innovation.

For example, we’re leading RISE : NYC, a competition to find innovative technologies that strengthen small businesses’ building systems, energy, and telecom infrastructure. However, new solutions are only useful if people choose to use them. These are complex issues, from floodproofing electrical equipment to ensuring the reliability of internet service, so we need help educating people and business owners alike about their individual risks and how to minimize them.

What are some of the main challenges?

Luke: Complexity is a major challenge. There is a huge amount of climate data out there, but it’s not very easy to understand. More and more groups, including our federal government, see the need for innovative applications that can translate this data into useful information everyday people will understand.

Organizations such as our BigIdea partner Climate Central have created great maps at the national level. The key challenge we outline here is to build a tool that can give location-specific information throughout New York’s many neighborhoods. As we saw during Sandy, different parts of the city face different kinds of risks; it can’t be a one-size-fits-all solution.


This Surging Seas local map from Climate Central allows you to explore sea level and coastal flood risk by entering your location 

How will NYC look different if your big idea is launched?

David: In a more prepared and resilient New York City, the lights in our businesses and homes will come back on faster, and our neighborhood businesses’ doors will reopen more quickly, allowing us to get back to work. While there are no easy answers, the solution to our Big Idea can help make sure we ask the right questions. Knowing in advance what risks you face helps you make better decisions and ultimately recover from disruptions faster, helping ensure a prosperous future in the face of a changing climate. 

For More Information

Check out David's call to action video on the Prepared and Resilient NYC BigApps page, and submit an idea to the challenge.

We want to hear from you! What information would help you better prepare for extreme weather? 

Leave a comment below, or let us know on Twitter (reply to @nycedc with #BigApps).

NYC BigApps, BigIdea



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