Extreme Precipitation and Flooding

New York, New York: Living Breakwaters

City: New York
Country / US State / US Territory: New York
Type of Solution: Seawalls and Living Shorelines
Climate Impact: Seal Level Rise; Hurricanes and Storm Surge; Extreme Precipitation and Flooding
Social Value Created: Educational and Career Development Opportunities; Active Living and Recreation; Community Engagement; Social Cohesion; Arts and Culture
Cost: $60 million
Funding Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Rebuild by Design competition

Living Breakwaters is a project aimed at helping to reduce wave energy, lowering flooding risks during extreme storm events. The project was developed by SCAPE landscape Architecture for the Rebuild Design Competition, a competition held by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to improve coastal resilience in response to Hurricane Sandy.

The Living Breakwaters approach uses structures to restore and enhance marine habitats, as well as improve biodiversity. Structures include reef ridges, reef streets, crenulated crests, and bio-enhancing concrete. This habitat mimics historic oyster reefs, which helps to restore the oyster population.

Additionally, the project co-creates social value. The project will help to prevent beach erosion and protect property values. The project also will improves access to the shoreline an recreational opportunities such as boating and fishing.

Also, an on-land Water Hub will be constructed on shore for visitoring groups, recreation, and educational programs. The Harbor School and Billion Oyster Project will create educational opportunities for local schools to learn about ecological stewardship and how they can help to protect Staten Island’s coastline. Implementation of the project also provides educational opportunities for research and skill development through project monitoring.

Fig: Graphic showing the project design and connection between risk reduction, ecology, and culture (Image retrieved from http://www.rebuildbydesign.org/our-work/all-proposals/winning-projects/ny-living-breakwaters)

Fig: Graphic showing more specifics about the project’s landscape architecture design (Image retrieved from http://www.rebuildbydesign.org/our-work/all-proposals/winning-projects/ny-living-breakwaters)

Fig: Rendering of the Living Breakwaters project featuring contributions to social resilience (Image retrieved from http://www.rebuildbydesign.org/our-work/all-proposals/winning-projects/ny-living-breakwaters)


Atlas. (n.d.). Creating protective infrastructure to reduce coastal risk, enhance aquatic habitat, and foster social resilience. Retrieved from https://www.the-atlas.com/project?id=374#.

New York State. (n.d.). Learn more about the Living Breakwaters project. Retrieved from https://stormrecovery.ny.gov/learn-more-about-living-breakwaters-project.

Rebuild by Design. (n.d.). Living Breakwaters. Retrieved from http://www.rebuildbydesign.org/our-work/all-proposals/winning-projects/ny-living-breakwaters.

New York, New York: Gowanus Canal Sponge Park

City: New York
Country / US State / US Territory: New York
Type of Solution: Canal
Climate Impact: Extreme Precipitation and Flooding
Social Value Created: Water Security and Quality; Public Health and Safety; Public Space; Active Living and Recreation
Cost: $1.5 million
Funding Source: Public health; access to public space; water quality; recreation; redevelopment and brownfields

In 2010, the canal was named an EPA Superfund site, and the Sponge Park project emerged as a solution that would not only remediate the site and prevent future pollution but also improve access to a number of public spaces. Currently, the NYC area does not meet federal water quality standards for swimming, fishing, and wildlife habitats due to its inability to prevent pollution, particularly sewer overflows during heavy rain events. The water quality poses a health hazard to community members.

Gowanus Canal Sponge Park was built to manage stormwater, helping to slow, absorb, and filter polluted surface water runoff. Street runoff is captured and stored in underground tanks, which are then filtered by artificial wetlands and then released into the canal. The park is estimated to capture and treat 1 million gallons of storm water annually. This project will help to improve water quality in the surrounding waterways for recreational use and protect wildlife habitat.

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Department of Design and Construction also built 70 curbside rain gardens in South Brooklyn. These additional rain gardens can manage 133,000 gallons of stormwater runoff and will capture an estimated 6 million gallons of stormwater runoff annually. Long-term, the project aims to create 11.4 acres of revitalized canal space, 7.9 acres of public spaces and 3.5 acres of remediated wetland basins.

Fig: Gowanus Canal Sponge Park (Photo retrieved from https://www.the-atlas.com/project?id=249#)


Atlas. (n.d.). Gowanus Canal Sponge Park. Retrieved from https://www.the-atlas.com/project?id=249#.

New York, New York: CloudBurst Study, South Jamaica Houses

City: New York
Country / US State / US Territory: New York
Type of Solution: City Government Program
Climate Impact: Hurricanes and Storm Surge; Extreme Precipitation and Flooding
Social Value Created: Food security and nutrition; community cohesion, bikeability; livability; urban beautification

The Cloudburst Study was conducted by NYC through a collaborative project with Copenhagen to prevent flooding during heavy precipitation events, aka. Cloudbursts. NYC and Copenhagen are both facing rising sea levels and Cloudbursts, so the cities have partnered to develop new innovative projects to enhance stormwater management. Their solutions are aimed at creating inspiring urban areas and other co-benefits for citizens, local businesses, and the city.

South Jamaica Houses redevelopment is one pilot project that has emerged from the NYC Cloudburst Study. The project will increase liveability of the area, and will result in additional shared green space for recreation, bike paths, and urban gardening. Improved public spaces will help to improve community cohesion. Additionally, the college will be better integrated into the surrounding community, also contributing to social cohesion.

Fig: Rendering of South Jamaica Houses project on a dry day (Image retrieved from https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dep/downloads/pdf/climate-resiliency/nyc-cloudburst-study.pdf)

Fig: Rendering of South Jamaica Houses project on a wet day (Image retrieved from https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dep/downloads/pdf/climate-resiliency/nyc-cloudburst-study.pdf)

Fig: Map showing the environmental benefits (blue) and social benefits (orange) that will result from the project


C40 Cities. (September 14, 2017). Cities100: New York City and Copenhagen – cities collaborating on climate resilience. Retrieved from https://www.c40.org/case_studies/cities100-new-york-city-and-copenhagen-cities-collaborating-on-climate-resilience.

New York City Department of Environmental Protection. (January, 2017). Cloudburst resiliency planning study: executive summary. Retrieved from https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dep/downloads/pdf/climate-resiliency/nyc-cloudburst-study.pdf.

New York, New York: Build it Back Program

City: New York
Country / US State / US Territory: New York
Type of Solution: City Government Program
Climate Impact: Seal Level Rise; Hurricanes and Storm Surge; Extreme Precipitation and Flooding
Social Value Created: Affordable and Safe Housing; Social Justice and Equity for Vulnerable Communities; Public Health and Safety

The Built It Back Program was started after Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012. The Program provided homeowners, landlords, and tenants in low- and middle-income neighborhoods affected by the storm with funds sustainably rebuild homes. The goal of the program is to help vulnerable communities rebuild their homes and be better prepared for future hurricanes.

Homes must be rebuilt above Base Flood Elevation level and must be certified by Enterprise Green Communities, a certification for sustainable and energy efficient buildings, to improve communities’ resilience to flooding and Sea Level Rise. In addition to assistance in reconstructing homes, the Program funded legal counseling and temporary housing for residents affected.

The Program received 20,000 applications, and 16,000 completed the initial eligibility review. As of June 2018, the program has helped 12,500 households through reimbursement checks, construction starts, and acquisitions

Fig: A house that has been rebuilt as part of the Build It Back Program, showcasing the elevated design (Photo retrieved from https://twitter.com/NYCBuilditBack)

Fig: A house on Staten Island that has been rebuilt as part of the Build It Back Program (Photo retrieved from https://twitter.com/NYCBuilditBack)


The City of New York. (2018). NYC Build It Back Stronger and Safer: Welcome to NYC Housing Recovery. Retrieved from http://www.nyc.gov/html/recovery/html/home/home.shtml.

The Adaptation Clearinghouse. (2016). New York City Build It Back Program. Retrieved from http://www.adaptationclearinghouse.org/resources/new-york-city-build-it-back-program.html.

Miami, Florida: Wagner Creek Restoration

City: Miami
Country / US State / US Territory: Florida
Type of Solution: Habitat Restoration
Climate Impact: Seal level rise; Hurricanes and Storm Surge; Extreme Precipitation and Flooding
Social Value Created: Public Education; Community Engagement; Community Wellbeing and Quality of Life; Urban Beautification
Cost: $18.4 million
Funding Source: Public Space Challenge grant

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) partnered with Greater Miami and the Beaches on a project to revitalize Wagner Creek. Over the years, Wagner Creek has been a site of illegal dumping, leaking pipe systems, and stormwater runoff from nearby auto-repair shops, making it one of the most polluted water bodies in Florida. The project will use green infrastructure improve stormwater management in response to flooding from heavy precipitation events and storm surge, as well as to remove pollutants and improve water quality.

Green infrastructure also provides shade, helping to cool the urban environment and mitigate extreme temperatures and the urban heat island effect. Additionally, the project aims to improve community well-being and contribute to urban beautification.

During the design phase of the project, TNC held a public visioning workshop that engaged stakeholders with various backgrounds. Stakeholders identified different services the project could provide and were given stickers to prioritize these services, such as larger/smaller parking lots, parks, tree plantings, and improve water quality for recreation. Then, the University of Miami Landscape Architecture department assisted with developing designs that could be implemented, incorporating climate change projections and other datasets, contributing to the advancement of education. A number of parks are planned as part of the project, and these parks will serve an estimated 100,000 people that live and work in the area.

Fig: Wagner Creek (Photo retrieved from https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/florida/explore/florida-wagner-creek-restoration.xml)

Fig: Residents prioritizing services during vision workshop (Photo retrieved from https://communitynewspapers.com/brickell/the-nature-conservancy-launches-effort-to-revitalize-the-banks-of-wagner-creek/)


Heffernan, J. (November 25, 2017). The Nature Conservancy launches effort to revitalize the banks of Wagner Creek. Miami’s Community Newspapers. Retrieved from https://communitynewspapers.com/brickell/the-nature-conservancy-launches-effort-to-revitalize-the-banks-of-wagner-creek/.

The Nature Conservancy. (November 8, 2017). The Nature Conservancy to revitalize Wagner Creek. Retrieved from https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/florida/newsroom/florida-revitalizing-miamis-wagner-creek.xml.

The Nature Conservancy. (n.d.). The greening of Wagner Creek. Retrieved from https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/florida/explore/florida-wagner-creek-restoration.xml.

*Note: This case was documented from an interview with a city practitioner.

Valdivia, Chile: Parque Urbano Catrico

City: Valdivia
Country / US State / US Territory: Chile
Type of Solution:
Climate Impact: Extreme Precipitation and Flooding
Social Value Created: Public Spaces; Public Education and Awareness; Social Justice and Equity; Public Health and Safety

In Valdivia, wetland areas have been an issue for residents. Many low-income communities are located adjacent to wetland areas, which are generally sites for illicit activities and dumping. Additionally, many residents do not have accessible areas of greenspace.

Valdivia is undertaking projects to convert these wetland areas into parks that are more accessible and are better illuminated, which help to protect a valuable stormwater management asset. Converting these areas mitigates illicit activities and illegal dumping in these vulnerable communities.

One example of a park developed in a wetland area is Parque Urbano Catrico. The park is surrounded by low-income communities, and these communities are the first to have problems during extreme events. Thus, these communities are the first people engaged in the process. In the Parque Urban Catrico project, many residents are requesting grey infrastructure. However, the architects designing the process are working on educating residents on the benefits of green infrastructure, helping to improve public education and awareness.

Seattle, Washington: Redevelopment Project

City: Seattle
Country / US State / US Territory: Washington
Type of Solution: Vacant Properties and Lots
Climate Impact: Extreme Precipitation and Flooding
Social Value Created: recreation; public gathering space; social cohesion; connectivity; employment; benefits vulnerable communities

The City of Seattle recently redeveloped undertook a nine-acre redevelopment project to repurpose an underutilized parking lot and the surrounding area. The Thornton Creek restoration is one component of the restoration project. Thornton Creek was previously been forced below the surface as the urban area developed.

The restoration project aimed to restore the creek to manage stormwater runoff from 680 acres. Impervious surfaces were also reduced by 78%, improving ground water infiltration and thereby reducing runoff. Native species were used for 85% of the project’s landscaping, reducing water consumption for landscaping and reducing maintenance needs. The project design also improves stormwater filtration to remove pollutants from stormwater runoff, removing 40-80% of total suspended solids from 91% of runoff in the 680 acre drainage basin.

Thornton Place is a combined residential and commercial space created in the redevelopment. The project added 530 units of mixed-income housing and 50,000 square feet of retail space, including 143 units of assisted-living housing for seniors. Thornton Place also includes a 14-screen cinema and a plaza area for public gatherings. Additionally, pedestrian links were created to link adjacent commercial and residential neighborhoods, improving walkability. Transit access was also improve by the design, increasing mobility and diversity of transportation.

Benfield, K. (June 6, 2011). How to turn a parking lot into an ideal green community. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/06/how-to-turn-a-parking-lot-into-an-ideal-green-community/239973/.

Benfield, K. (June 7, 2011). A seattle redevelopment that is greener than green. Grist Magazine. Retrieved from https://grist.org/urbanism/2011-06-06-seattle-urbanism-transit-state-of-the-art-green-mixed-planning/.

San Juan, Puerto Rico: Resilience Hubs

City: San Juan
Country / US State / US Territory: Puerto Rico
Type of Solution: N/A
Climate Impact: Extreme Precipitation and Flooding
Social Value Created: Connectivity; Public Space

Resilience Hubs have begun to emerge in Puerto Rico. After Hurricane Maria, community members had to rely on themselves for recovery. Conventional methods of disaster management are not as effective in a community with limited access and connectivity to other countries.

Thus, the focus in Puerto Rico is to improve community connectivity and social resilience in order to empower community members to lead their own recovery. Resilience Hubs provide community members with supplies, communications, and public space to gather and reconnect with other community members after a disaster. This approach to disaster management allows these community members to take responsibility for their own protection and build capacity for both times of crisis and for normal development.

San Juan, Puerto Rico: Canyo Martin Pena and Enlace

City: San Juan
Country / US State / US Territory: Puerto Rico
Type of Solution: Community Group
Climate Impact: Extreme Precipitation and Flooding
Social Value Created: Public Education and Awareness; Safe and Affordable Housing; Public Health and Safety

Canyo Martin Pena and Enlace is an informational project established by the community to help mobilize community members to address mismanaged land. The community has experience flooding problems and water quality issues.

Dredging the canal would help to address flooding, community health issues, and improve water quality. Additionally, the community faces issues around land rights and the area is facing climate gentrification. Canyo Martina Pena and Enlace are also working to address these issues around housing, equity, and land titles as they work to address climate impacts.

San Francisco, California: Baylands Restoration

City: San Francisco
Country / US State / US Territory: California
Type of Solution: Habitat Restoration
Climate Impact: Seal Level Rise; Hurricanes and Storm Surge; Extreme Precipitation and Flooding
Social Value Created: Community Engagement; Employment Opportunities; Water Security and Quality; Property Values; Active Living and Recreation; Urban Beautification

San Francisco has set a goal to restore 100,000 acres of the bay’s tidal marshes. A 2015 study projects that most of the existing marshes will be damaged or destroyed by 2100. The City has identified restoration of marshes as a strategy for managing sea level rise, as it provides the community with other socially value co-benefits unlike other sea level rise solutions.

Through restoration initiatives and innovative strategies, marshes can be restored and enhanced to prepare for sea level rise and coastal flooding. Additionally, the marshes help to filter pollutants out of runoff to improve water quality, and they provide habitat for many at-risk species and species critical to the economy, such as Dungeness crab and salmon. Further, restoration projects help to control coastal erosion of water front properties.

Sonoma Land Trust acquired 1,000 acres of tidal marshes in the Sears Point Wetland along the northern shore of San Francisco Bay. For the project, 285 feet of an existing levee was breached to restore previous marsh land, creating a “habitat” levee using marsh mounds, or raise “islands”. 500 marsh mounds were constructed, each of which are 6 feet tall and 50-75 feet wide, using reclaimed sediment. These mounds support marsh accretion and provide cover for nesting birds from the rising tides and waves during storms. The “habitat” levee both protects the adjacent a nearby highway and railroad and provides additional wildlife habitat.

The project also includes the development of a 2.5 mile section of the Bay Trail, a recreational trail running through the marshes. This addition will provide users with views of Mt. Tamalpais, Mt. Diablo, and the San Francisco skyline, as well as include new benches, interpretive signs, and parking.

South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project is another project underway, seeking to restore 15,100 acres of former commercial salt ponds to functional tidal marshes. The Project is will manage coastal flooding, as well as improve wildlife habitat and increase public recreational access. A 400 foot berm will be constructed to help control flooding. 16 islands, each 15,000 square feet, will also be constructed. Levees will also be lowered and breeched to restore 130 acres of tidal pools.

In addition to flooding control measures, public recreational trails will be realigned and resurfaced to improve public access, and two overlooks and four interpretive panels will be installed.

Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). South Bay Salt Pond Tidal Marsh Restoration at Pond A17 Project. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/sfbay-delta/south-bay-salt-pond-tidal-marsh-restoration-pond-a17-project.

Small-Lorenz, S. L., Stein, B. A., Schrass, K., Holstein, D. N., & Mehta, A. V. (2016). Natural defenses in action: harnessing nature to protect our communities. National Wildlife Foundation, Washington, D.C. Retrieved from https://www.nwf.org/~/media/PDFs/Global-Warming/Reports/NWF_Natural-Defenses-in-Action_Report.pdf.

Sonoma Land Trust. (June 6, 2014). Sonoma Land Trust and Ducks Unlimited kick off construction of Sears Point 960-Acre Wetland Restoration Project on San Pablo Bay. Retrieved from https://www.sonomalandtrust.org/news_room/press_releases/1406-sears-point.html.

Sonoma Land Trust. (n.d.). Seas Point Wetland Restoration Project groundbreaking FAQs. Retrieved from https://sonomalandtrust.org/news-room/jenner-information-kit/faq/.

South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project. (n.d.). Project description. Retrieved from http://www.southbayrestoration.org/Project_Description.html.

Wood, J., Pitkin, M., Meisler, J., DiPietro, D., Graffis, A., & Fris, R. (January 17, 2018). Saving tidal marshes in the San Francisco Bay. U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit. Retrieved from https://toolkit.climate.gov/case-studies/saving-tidal-marshes-san-francisco-bay.