Cities Solve, Cities Deliver | How cities are transforming water challenges into resilience building opportunities in North America

Written by Resilient Cities Network
Thursday, 16 March 2023

The Cities Solve, Cities Deliver campaign is showcasing inspirational game-changing water resilience initiatives in cities in the lead-up, during, and after the UN 2023 Water Conference. Our water resilience journey travels through Europe and the Middle East, Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, and North America. 

Scroll down to read more about the initiatives cities in North America are working on to transform their water threats into opportunities for building a more resilient future for the city and its communities.

New Orleans

New Orleans is one of the most vulnerable coastal cities in the United States. The city’s low elevation (in places as much as 6 feet below sea level), the risk of intense hurricanes and increasingly frequent and intense storm events as well as the combined threats of sea level rise, land subsidence, street flooding and extreme heat are among the many factors that necessitate a resilient water management strategy to combat the effects of climate change.

For decades, New Orleans’ approach to stormwater management relied solely on pumping rainfall out of the city’s streets, but after Hurricane Katrina, it became clear the city needed a change of mindset that allowed residents to live WITH water rather than attempting to hide it in the city’s subsurface drainage system.

To transform these challenges into opportunities with benefits for water quality and quantity, air quality, the economy, and its communities, New Orleans created and is implementing a stormwater management initiative that combines the implementation of gray and green infrastructure.

This system incorporates stormwater storage into green spaces, streets, and in private homes and yards that collect rainwater in a variety of storage facilities such as bioswales, detention ponds, underground storage tanks, and rain gardens. These elements are designed to retain rainfall until the peak of a storm has passed.

In addition to environmental benefits, this strategic approach creates recreational & social spaces that connect NOLA’s community – which encourages community exchange and stewardship that can spur neighborhood revitalization.

Above all, this transformative approach is a resilient and sustainable model that can and will serve the residents of New Orleans for many years.

Montreal

Montreal is being challenged by the intensifying effects of climate change, including rising temperatures, heat waves, and heavy rainfall that has caused record-breaking floods in recent years.

In an effort to find opportunities within these challenges, Montreal turned to fellow R-Cities member city Rotterdam for inspiration and advice in creating resilient public spaces that also serve the communities.

Place des Fleurs-de-Macadam is the first in a dozen of flood-prone multifunctional squares or water squares designed to capture rainwater in its center and in the islands of vegetation surrounding the site. This specific resilient public space can accommodate up to 30 cm of water which is drained into the ground in less than 48 hours. (https://youtu.be/IFpzKNCSQMg). Others will accommodate up to 60 cm of water.

At the same time, Place des Fleurs-de-Macadam has become an emblematic space in the neighborhood where communities can cool down during extreme heatwaves, gather together, and learn more about how they can be part of building resilience solutions to take climate action, and together meet Montreal’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2050.

Norfolk

Norfolk, Virginia has one of the largest populations at risk for sea level rise in the United States. To protect communities, the City’s Office of Resilience and interdepartmental partners are working to mitigate this risk and transform their challenges into opportunities for the city by undertaking three major projects.

Flood Alerts and Waze Application

One of these projects is Floodmapp’s Real-Time Flood Alerts and Waze App Integration which is the first in the world real-time flood alert integration into a widely-used navigation app (Waze) that alerts drivers of flooded streets along their route and actually re-routes drivers around flooded streets.

This collaboration between the city, RISE Resilience Innovations, Waze, and FloodMapp dynamically models various flood factors to implement an operational real-time flood intelligence capability. The live flooded road data is then supplied to the City, then sent to the Waze app for public consumption.

Nearly 5,000 users have been alerted and re-routed in recent pluvial flooding events.

The next steps for this project include integration into the computer-aided dispatch system to alert first responders of safe routes ahead of and during pluvial flood events.

Norfolk Coastal Risk Management Project (CSRM)

Consisting of constructing an 8.5-mile-long floodwall and levee protection system, three tidal surge barriers, multiple stormwater pump stations, and the structural elevation of over 800 private properties across the City; the Norfolk Coastal Risk Management Project (CSRM) is designed to protect Norfolk’s most vulnerable populations from the effects of intensifying flooding.

The project includes 5 phases to be implemented over a 10-year period. In the initial phase, the city will install physical as well as natural and nature-based solutions that will protect highly vulnerable communities, such as those living in assisted housing. Construction is scheduled to begin in mid-2024.

Ohio Creek Watershed Project

Due to its high risk of coastal flooding, the City of Norfolk has developed several projects aimed at protecting coastal neighborhoods against the threat of sea-level rise and storm surges. Through HUD’s National Disaster Resiliency Competition (NDRC) the city was able to fund the largest resilience project in the state of Virginia’s history, which works to address climate risk as well as environmental justice.

The City of Norfolk’s Ohio Creek Watershed Project is a crucial protective element for the Chesterfield Heights and Grandy Village neighborhoods, guarding these historic and historically under-resourced neighborhoods against coastal flooding and working to improve their connectivity to the rest of the city.

The project consists of coastal levees, floodwalls, tide gates and pump stations, in addition to natural and nature-based protective elements that all work to enhance flood resilience for Norfolk residents. Many street verges in the neighborhood have been converted into retention areas for stormwater, and many of the two neighborhoods streets have been converted into permeable pavement that has been designed to match the original historic streetscape.

In addition to introducing green and blue elements to the community, the Ohio Watershed Project introduces useable open space, working to improve social cohesion between the neighborhoods by incorporating multi-purpose community amenities, such as retention areas that can double as soccer fields during non-flood periods.

This is a transformative and holistic approach to flood risk and living with water, focused on improving social justice and healthy living as well as ecological integrity through innovative and adaptable design.

Norfolk, Virginia has one of the largest populations at risk for sea level rise in the United States. To protect communities, the City’s Office of Resilience and interdepartmental partners are working to mitigate this risk and transform their challenges into opportunities for the city by undertaking three major projects.

Learn more about Norfolk’s water resilience journey and stay tuned to learn more about the other projects the city is implementing.

Cities Solve, Cities Deliver

Join us in showcasing how cities contribute to water resilience globally and inspire other cities around the world. Share a water resilience initiative your city is currently developing or implementing to turn water from a threat into an opportunity.

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