Monday, October 31, 2011

New Jersey Snowstorm: Planning Implications

by Marley Bice, MCRP '12

The apocalyptic snowstorm that dumped around three inches of slushy snow on the Northeast region over Halloween weekend got me thinking about implications for planning, our cities, our environment. Looking out my window at 10 am on Saturday (besides feeling like I was on the set of "The Day After Tomorrow") I found myself feeling so bad for the poor trees. Deciduous trees are not adapted to withstand wet, clingy, heavy snow on their leaves. The combined excessive weight has caused thousands of downed trees across the region and may be largely to blame for millions of households being out of power more than two days later.

The Guardian reported earlier that New York City is bracing itself for the loss of at least 1000 old-growth, majestic, vital, historically-significant (OK now I'm just getting sappy) trees in Central Park alone. This storm has single-handedlly changed the landscape of one of my favorite places in one of my favorite cities. The shading, stormwater management, and carbon capture benefit of those trees will be lost forever. Will New Jersey and New York City look different from space after this storm? What percentage of the tree cover is gone? These are depressing questions to think about.

Another depressing fact is that many small municipalities (and some big municipalities) do not have the budget to handle the snow removal costs and requirements as our winter season continues to encroach on fall and spring. However, this may be a major consideration in town operating budgets as the reality of global climate change continues to unearth itself. Where will that money come from? How many people will miss work because they can't get to the office because the streets and public transit are shut down because of snow? How much more salt and sand used for ice control will end up in our aquatic ecosystems? It's time to start thinking hard...

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