Preparing for the Future Using Lessons From Hurricane Sandy

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Preparing for the Future Using Lessons From Hurricane Sandy
Electrical switchgear, which would normally be in the basement, has been installed on a much higher mezzanine level in a new building at 540 West 26th Street, to guard against flood risk / © Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Ground floor is not quite the term for it.

At a new gallery, classroom and office building under construction in the West Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, the main floor is more than four feet above the ground.

This is no mere design conceit. Elevated floors are an imperative in flood-prone areas like the site of the new building on West 26th Street, only 400 yards from the Hudson River.

West Chelsea was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. So was Lower Manhattan, where Savanna, the real estate investment concern behind the 26th Street building, owned two office towers that were knocked out by flooding.

“We learned a lot firsthand during Superstorm Sandy,” said Peter Rosenthal, a principal at Savanna and its director of development.

Building a ground floor that is not on the ground is one way to defend against an ominous future.

Communities across the country are confronting the mounting evidence of climate change and developing means of fortifying buildings and infrastructure against rising sea levels and ever-more-intense storms, even as the Trump administration reverses policies premised on climate change.

“We’re not spending money on that anymore,” Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, told reporters in Washington recently. “We consider that to be a waste of your money.”

People who live, work or build in flood plains like West Chelsea and elsewhere say they cannot be so dismissive. They are spending money.

“We are choosing to meet this challenge head-on, investing to make our neighborhoods more resilient and doing our part to reduce the pollution that drives climate change,” Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York said in a statement after President Trump signed an executive order to nullify President Barack Obama’s climate change efforts. […]