Mar 28, 2022
Why Cities Should Invest In Urban Agriculture As Part Of Their Severe Storm Preparedness
Weather in 2021 was a particularly loud wake up call to the climate crisis we are in.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), total damages from this year’s Atlantic hurricane season alone cost over $67 billion, making it among the most expensive hurricane seasons yet.
One of the most destructive: Hurricane Ida.
Hitting the Louisiana coast in August 2021, and following three storms (Elsa, Fred, and Henri) that crisscrossed through the Northeast, Ida became the costliest disaster this year, ranking among the top-five most costly hurricanes on record for the U.S. since 1980.
Unfortunately, for the Northeast region, a Yale-led study suggests that the 21st century will see an expansion of hurricanes and typhoons into mid-latitude regions, including major cities like New York and Boston.
Stormwater runoff is one of the biggest challenges of hurricane season. In a natural environment, the majority of rainwater infiltrates soil and replenishes the groundwater aquifers. Urban areas don’t work the same way. With impervious surfaces, there is minimal permeable groundcover. With coastal cities and island nations, where stormwater has nowhere else to go, the result is flooding.
We may not have the power to prevent such disasters, but we can certainly build up our resilience to them. Two strategies that can help: urban agriculture and green spaces.
New York’s Financial District and Seaport Climate Resilience Master Plan hopes to green waterfronts to ensure that Lower Manhattan withstands “increasingly intense coastal storms, while knitting a new flood defense system into the fabric of the city.” “The upper level will protect against coastal storms, with buried floodwalls that double as elevated open spaces,” and “the waterfront esplanade, designed to safely flood during a coastal storm, brings people close to the water.” This combination of grey and green infrastructure is projected to save the city $1 billion per year in damages from 2050 onwards.
A similar push to build climate resiliency in an urban area threatened by extreme weather patterns can be found in downtown Atlanta. The newly built Rodney Cook Sr. Park has been specifically designed to flood. Capable of absorbing up to 10 million gallons of stormwater, it include an expansive pond, which can overflow into a surrounding wetland meadow. The park also doubles as a community hub, offering playgrounds and sports grounds along the waterfront.
Urban farms are similarly offering a novel approach to stormwater management with their dispersion and infiltration benefits. The Gil Hodges Carroll Street Community Garden is one that was designed with stormwater management in mind. The site includes bioswales planted along the sidewalk to collect rainfall, and rain gardens that help improve the local water quality by preventing the sewer from overloading with polluted water.
According to the Brooklyn Grange team, their farms similarly tackle stormwater runoff with their “green roof systems laid down before the soil.” Their Flagship Farm uses “drainage plates with small cups to hold excess water from heavy rainstorms (the soil and plants wick this stored water up in dry conditions).” Such projects additionally improve air quality, reduce the urban heat island effect, build community, support biodiversity, improve soil quality, and more.
However, in the most serious of storms, these conventional soil-based farms are also likely to be devastated. This is when controlled environment agriculture (CEA) can play a particularly crucial role. Here are four farms and suppliers enabling hurricane-resilient agriculture for local populations:
These urban farming projects embody the holistic definition of climate resiliency as laid out by researchers in a 2019 RUAF report. It defines climate resiliency as a triple-pronged undertaking, involving the mitigation of factors contributing to climate change, adaptation to its effects, and development of social infrastructures which might be damaged by it.
In conjunction with private sector solutions, government funding and policy change is proving effective in furthering urban agricultural projects to improve climate resiliency.
The PACE program (Property Assessed Clean Energy) provides funding for improvements in resiliency and energy efficiency on private properties. In 2020, PACE funding for a $1 million project was agreed upon in Detroit, to build a green roof on private property. The green infrastructure is intended to improve stormwater management, provide habitats for wildlife, and reduce the urban heat island effect.
In addition, initiatives like the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact recognize the value of urban agriculture in providing “inclusive, resilient, safe and diverse” food systems for communities all over the world, and see them playing a vital role in “mitigating impacts of climate change”. Over 200 cities have signed onto this pact, which allows them to work together, share best practices, and collectively monitor progress.
The effects of climate change are indisputably being felt all over the world, and immediate action is needed in order to build resilience against them.
With the agricultural sector being both a victim of and a contributor to climate change, the multifaceted solution of climate resiliency must incorporate the safe, reliable, and sustainable access to food as a core issue in combating the climate crisis. Developments in green urban spaces and urban agriculture are one effective method to do so.
Ultimately, with extreme weather patterns being aggravated by climate change, it is a matter of pressing urgency to continue to research and fund such solutions, in order to ensure the safety of the world’s most vulnerable communities.