Zooming in on New York's climate challenges

New York is inspired by the scale of Copenhagen’s blue-green infrastructure. The city’s department of environmental protection has selected Ramboll to analyse whether similar solutions can also pay off in the biggest city in the US.


Christian Nyerup Nielsen

Director, Climate Adaptation & Landscape
T: +45 5161 6277

Henrik Stener Pedersen

T: +45 51618124

By Michael Rothenborg, May 2016

Hundreds of thousands of people fly into JFK airport annually. Only a fraction of them will spare a thought for
the canals and waterways visible in nearby Jamaica Bay. However, a team from Ramboll Water is zooming in on the canals and waterways as part of a climate adaptation project for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP). 

Heavy cloudbursts can cause rainwater to become polluted and sewage water from the neighbourhoods around Jamaica Bay to overflow. Ramboll has been hired to conduct a best practice study to determine the most cost-effective ways to reduce flooding while improving water quality.

“What attracted us to Ramboll were the company’s cost-benefit analysis skills. The environmental, social and economic sustainability of this project is fundamental to its success,” explains Alan Cohn, Climate Program Director at NYCDEP.

Blue-green on a larger scale

NYCDEP has been studying the climate adaptation work Ramboll and other consultants have done for the City of Copenhagen, especially blue-green infrastructure projects where rainwater is retained and used on the surface for water areas in parks and other places instead of being allowed to overload the sewage system.

Alan Cohn believes that New York can use some of the same tools. He emphasises that the city released a green infrastructure plan in 2010, already manifested, for example, in many parks and streets around the city.

“But we would like to understand whether what we are starting to do now can be adapted for cloudburst management in the future. And the City of Copenhagen and Ramboll have experience in rethinking and using blue-green infrastructure for the larger storms we expect with climate change,” explains Alan Cohn.

New York City’s main objective is to prevent pollution in the canals and waterways where several
marinas and other recreational areas are located – and ultimately in some of the city’s beaches.

A pilot area for the whole city

With more than 400,000 residents, a portion of the New York City borough of Queens that drains to Jamaica Bay was chosen as the pilot area, because it has more flooding and sewer backups complaints on record than any other area of the city, and certain neighbourhoods are flooded repeatedly.

Ramboll’s study is meant to demonstrate how NYCDEP’s current and future work in Queens and other parts of the city will pay off, and whether other cost-effective projects can be considered in the long term.

“The combination of blue-green and traditional grey infrastructure will serve as a model for other flood-prone neighbourhoods of the city,” says Alan Cohn.

He stresses that cost-effectiveness means not only the amount of savings in terms of avoided property damage but also the extent to which the new green areas will improve residents’ health and quality of life.

Jonathan A. Leonardsen, Consultant at Ramboll Management Consulting and a liveable city expert agrees:

“If a climate adaptation project takes into account the recreational value, and thus the likely increase in, say, real estate prices, a bigger coalition can be formed,” says Jonathan Leonardsen.

Christian Nyerup Nielsen, Global Service Line Leader for Climate Adaptation and Flood-Risk Management at Ramboll adds:

”We are combining our technical and socioeconomic competencies to support one of the world’s most amazing cities in its important efforts with climate adaptation and blue-green infrastructure.”

More information

Next steps towards a resilient future

How can climate adaptation be the backbone of a city’s development? When cities develop smart cities initiatives – are they actually smart for the citizens? These and many more questions were discussed at this year’s annual conference Copenhagen Climate Solutions. Read more here.

Next steps towards a resilient future

Executive summary

In order to assess the potential of addressing intense rainfall through integrated planning using mainly blue-green infrastructure, Ramboll has conducted a Cloudburst Resiliency Planning Study on behalf of NYC Department of Environment Protection. Learn how this approach can improve the urban life in the city of all cities in the study’s executive summary.

Cloudburst Resiliency Planning Study

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