Saving Our Assets: Downfall of Climate Change Adaptation

Toronto, ON, Canada

 Saving Our Assets: Downfall of Climate Change Adaptation

by: Mabel Wong

In 2013, the city of Toronto experienced extreme fluctuations in weather, resulting in extreme heat, heavy ice storms, and severe rainstorms (City of Toronto, 2014). Whether or not global warming is occurring, the realities of dealing with climate change are. In an urban setting, economic threats exist when controlling damage to infrastructure and assisting citizens’ well-being in times of extreme weather. The need for climate change adaptation and mitigation is vital for the resilience of Toronto during future changes in weather patterns due to climate change. Tools for environmental assessment would be beneficial to managing infrastructure and ensuring that they are resilient against climate change. However, environmental assessment is weak and stricter guidelines are needed to help cities become resilient against climate change.

Toronto’s Ice Storm in 2013

2013 Flooding on a Highway After Heavy Rainstorm

It is evident that Toronto takes climate change adaptation and mitigation seriously, but actions require time and they are far from few. Toronto committed to reduce greenhouse gases as part of the Partners for Climate Protection (PCP) as early from 1990 (Gore, 2010). Major milestones produced from this network are few, but the city is still committed to adapting towards climate change.  In 2008, the city developed a report called Ahead of the Storm: Preparing Toronto for Climate Change (City of Toronto
ghgEnvironment Office, 2008). This document is impressive in indicating the pressure for adapting to climate change and it also suggests actions that will come. Follow up is still needed as no other report has been produced since. However, more resources can be found on the Toronto Region Conservation website regarding climate change actions (

Further action from Toronto should include the use of environmental assessments, as they are used for project planning and decision making. Normally, they look at a project’s impact on the environment, but the reverse is uncommon. The danger here is that cities facing climate change like Toronto, need to consider the reverse. How are their infrastructures responding to climate change? In an ideal situation, environmental impact assessments (EIA) would guide policy makers and project planners to plan appropriately against environmental effects by creating alternative plans, implementing mitigation efforts, monitoring and follow up strategies.

cleanup costs

Damages and repair costs in Toronto for 2013 (Toronto Region Conservation, 2015)

The attitudes towards EIAs are not great though. EIAs are often seen as fulfilling requirements by politicians and project planners see EIA as an approval for proceeding with a project (Conacher, 1994). Even the reports themselves are weak because climate change effects are only considered in passing or mentioned briefly in the preparation of the report (CEAA, 2012; Ministry of Environment, 2014). Studies reveal that it is difficult to enforce any policy when interests of governments, ecologists, and economists, are not the same (Shepherd & Ortolano, 1996; Conacher, 1994).

lai et al

Interconnection between environment, economy, society and human socioeconomic impacts depends on land-use planning. To ensure impact assessment or mitigation efforts, all must be considered.

Climate change adaptation is not looking good so far for Toronto. EIA use, policy implementation, and project planning could be better integrated to adapt to climate change. If interests are not lining up, I’m sure the cost of cleaning up after extreme weather and the general safety of citizens should be some factors of similar interest. No matter how weak EIAs are currently, a change in attitudes towards EIA in the face of climate change is needed if any productive actions are made in adapting to climate change.


Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. (2012). Incorporating climate change considerations in environmental assessment: General guidance for practitioners. Retrieved from:

City of Toronto Environment Office. (2008). Ahead of the Storm: Preparing Toronto for Climate Change. Retrieved from:

City of Toronto. (2014). Resilient City – Preparing for a Changing Climate. Retrieved from:

Conacher, A. (1994). The integration of land-use planning and management with environmental impact assessment: Some Australian and Canadian perspectives. Impact Assessment, 12(4), 347-372.

Gore, C. (2010). The limits and opportunities of networks: municipalities and Canadian climate change policy. Review of Policy Research, 27(1), 27-44.

Lai L, Huang X, Zhang X. (2003). Study on strategic environmental impact assessment in land-use planning. China Land Science, 17(6), 56-60.

Ministry of Environment, Canada. (2014). Preparing and reviewing environmental assessments in Ontario. Retrieved from:

Shepherd, A. & Ortolano, L. (1996). Strategic environmental assessment for sustainable urban development. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 16, 321-335

Toronto Region Conservation. (2015). Local Impacts. Retrieved from:


Sustainability: What’s that supposed to mean?

The Importance of Water

Humankind is entirely dependent on water, including for energy. “Water and energy are strongly interlinked: water is required to produce, transport and use all forms of energy to some degree” (UNESCO, 2014, p.12).

Created by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Water Development Report (WWDR) ranked Canada among the richest countries in the world for water (UNESCO, 2014). However, this allows for an energy policy that further permits the production of Canadian oil-sands in Alberta, resulting in large amounts of carbon emissions and water use, a policy of which is unsustainable. See the video below for a short explanation of the Alberta oil sands production process.


According to Environment Canada (2014), sustainability is “about improving the standard of living by protecting human health, conserving the environment, using resources efficiently…It requires the integration of environmental, economic and social priorities into policies and programs and requires action at all levels – citizens, industry, and governments.” It follows that “using resources efficiently” and “action” from citizens are important parts of energy policy development. If this is what is meant by sustainability, though, I have problems understanding the relevance of its emphasis throughout Government documents.

The democratic process ceases to exist at the policy level, for example, in Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) sees SEA as a method to evaluate Canadian Energy Policies (CEAA, 2014). According to the CEAA (2014), there are no SEAs that exist at this time nor have there ever been any, regarding Canada’s energy policy. This is not sustainable, since incorporating citizen action at the policy level, according to Environment Canada’s own definition of sustainable, is virtually non-existent.

Oil-sands development has some of the most adverse effects. According to David Harvey of the University of Toronto: “Tar sands oil entails 5-60% more greenhouse gas emissions on a life-cycle basis than conventional oil” (ForestEthics, 2013, p.6).

According to the Canadian Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (GHGRP), in 2012, the Alberta oil-sands operations alone produced 50,285,958.95 tons/CO2eq. Comparatively, the entire province of Quebec produced 17,765,573 tons/CO2eq for the same year. Furthermore, in Canada, it takes about 7-10 M3 of water to produce 1 M3 of Bitumen, the raw oil-sand from Alberta that still requires further processing into crude oil, which itself requires more energy (NRCAN, 2014). This is not sustainable, since it takes about 7-10 times the amount of water to produce 1 unit (barrel, gallon, litre, etc.) of oil. This is not using resources efficiently.

Even a Life-Cycle Assessment shows treatment disparity between conventional energy (fossil fuels), nuclear and renewables (Ecolateral, 2014).

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 3.44.44 PM

Sustainability is more like “sustainability”. It is clear that Canadian energy policies do not live up to Canada’s own definition of sustainability, not only by erosion of the democratic process but also by way of one of the most inefficient uses of one of the most precious resources in the world: water, on which all of humankind depends. This is compounded by the exponentially increasing amount of carbon entering the atmosphere every day, the air you and I breath. In any sense of the definition, how does this sound sustainable and in light of these facts, how can we truly believe that our Government is handling our resources in the most sustainable fashion?

For more information on the current politics of fossil-fuel development, please visit:!ep2-carbon/clzn


Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. 2014. The Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals. Accessed on January 8th, 2014. Available from:

Environment Canada, 2014. Facility GHG emissions by province/territory.

Accessed on January 7th, 2014. Available from:

Environment Canada, 2014. Sustainable Development. Accessed on January 7th, 2014. Available from:

ForestEthics Advocacy, 2013. Who writes the rules? A Report on Oil Industry Influence, Government Laws, and the corrosion of Public Process.

Natural Resources Canada, 2014. Accessed on January 7th, 2014. Available from:

Oil Sands Information Portal, 2014. Accessed on January 7th, 2014. Available from:

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 2014. The United Nations World Water Development Report: Water and Energy. (1).

Sacrificing the Environment: Effects of the Canadian Environment Assessment Act 2012 on The Enbridge Pipeline 9B Reversal

By Wills Tobin,

Formerly, Enbridge pipeline 9B sent oil from Montreal, Quebec to Sarnia, Ontario. An approval on March 6, 2014 has allowed Enbridge Pipelines to reverse oil direction and capacity towards Montreal, QC. The National Energy Board’s approval is a fundamental example of the extent to which EIA processes in Canada have eroded because of the Bill C-38 adoption in June 2012. More insight on this:

In bill C-38, The Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA 2012) changed drastically. The Energy Policy Institute of Canada (EPIC) facilitated changes in the act through lobbying representatives and members of Government (Forest Ethics, 2013). The EPIC mandate is to “…provide the foundations…for energy and environmental policy”(Forest Ethics, 2013, p. 1). As the conservative Government argued that the CEAA 2012 amendment was simply to streamline and reduce duplication, the effects of legislation have been negatively influential on the line 9B project (EPIC, 2012).

Scoping Line 9B

Due to the CEAA 2012, in the Line 9B reversal, The NEB (National Energy Board) stated that it would not consider environmental or socio-economic effects not directly associated with the reversal of the pipeline (Forest Ethics, 2013; David Suzuki Foundation, 2012; Gage, 2012). This has had a negative effect on the scope of the project. Scoping is critical because its purpose is to identify scientific and public core values so indirect and cumulative impacts are not over-looked, especially when it comes to major oil and gas infrastructure, which should always require comprehensive studies (Noble, 2010).

Monitoring Line 9B

According to Forest Ethics (2013), “once a decision is made for a given project, the NEB will not revoke permits, even if subsequent analyses show adverse environmental effects (p. 7).” The NEB also stated that monitoring should only have to be done at the beginning of the EIA process and not require continued follow-ups (NEB, 2013). The pipeline is 38 years old and it is worrisome that it may rupture if its carrying capacity is increased. There is a fear about pre- and post-, consistent monitoring, as knowledge of bitumen effects on the environment is limited and therefore less capable of being mitigated (CTV News, 2014). See video for more details:

Public Participation Line 9B

Most importantly, public participation now only includes people “directly effected”. (David Suzuki Foundation 2012; Gage 2012; Forest Ethics, 2013) As a result, compared to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project (11,111 public participants), Enbridge line 9B only had 172 participants (Forest Ethics, 2013). This legislation has meant the loss of democracy in Canadian EIA. This is most important because participant input as to what is important in EIA has formerly always been taken into consideration. Keep in mind that what constitutes an impact or effect is frequently defined by social value. This diminution of public participation also defeats the purpose of important cornerstones in the development of EIA in Canada, like the signing of the Rio Declaration in 1992, the UN global environmental assessment agreement (UNEP, 1992). The effects of the CEAA 2012 have had repercussions that need to be noticed and hopefully acted upon very soon.


Canadian Environmental Law Association. (2014). Retrieved from:’s-greenhouse-gas-reduction-program-–-carbon-tax.

CBC News. (2014). Enbridge Line 9 pipeline reversal approved by energy board. Retrieved from:

CTV News. (2014). Leonardo DiCaprio visits Alberta oilsands to research documentary. Retrieved from://

David Suzuki Foundation. (2012). Bill C-38: What you need to know. Retrieved from:

Energy Policy Institute of Canada. (2012). A Canadian Energy Strategy Framework: A guide to building Canada’s future as a global energy leader. Retrieved from:

Environment Canada. (2014). Retrieved from:

ForestEthics Advocacy. (2013). Who writes the rules? A Report on Oil Industry Influence, Government Laws, and the corrosion of Public Process.

Gage, A. (2012). Who is silenced under Canada’s new environmental assessment law? West Coast Environmental Law. Retrieved from:’s-new-environmental-assessment-act

Green World Rising. (2014). Retrieved from:!ep2-carbon/clzn

Line 9: It’s coming for you. Retrieved from:

National Energy Board. (2013). Hearing Order OH-002-2013. 2000/90464/90552/92263/790736/890819/918701/918444/A3%2D1_%2D_Hearing_Order_OH%2D002%2D2013_%2D_A3F4W7.pdf?


Natural Resources Canada. (2014). Retrieved from:

Oil Sands Information Portal, (2014). Retrieved from:

Opposing Enbridge’s Line 9. (2014). Retrieved from:

Stewart, K. (2014). Approval of Enbridge Line 9 good for oil companies, not communities: Greenpeace. Toronto. Retrieved from:

UNEP. (1992). Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Retrieved From:

Post-Disaster Impact Assessment: A Toolbox for Saving Lives in a Changing World

Natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and floods affect millions of people every year. Climate change will likely add to the natural disasters which already occur around the world. The global climate is warming, causing increases in tropical storms; desert areas are becoming drier, contributing to increases in droughts and food shortages; and land-glaciers are melting, leading to an increase in avalanches and landslides [1][4]. In addition to these climate-driven disasters, the Earth is continuously undergoing geologic changes which result in volcanic eruptions, landslides and earthquakes. With growing populations near hazard-prone areas, post-disaster impact assessment is going to be an important toolbox for rebuilding in safer areas and saving lives. 

Original Data from the EM-DAT International Disaster Database, Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, University of Louvain (

Figure 1: A steady increase in climate-related natural disasters is apparent from the blue bar plot in this graph (Source [3])

 On March 11, 2011, Eastern Japan was hit by a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and subsequent 40.5 meter-high tsunami which killed over 19,000 people and destroyed 835 000 homes [5][6]. Japan is a developed county known for having countermeasures and evacuation plans for tsunami disasters [5]. They utilize both hard (i.e. breakwaters and sea walls) and soft (i.e. awareness and education) mitigation measures to ensure the minimize loss of life [5].


Figure 2: Shows Japan and many other countries’ vulnerability due to the “Ring of Fire”, an extremely active zone of crustal plate boundaries (Source:

Impact assessment for damages was used to determine the performance of buildings materials and to record which locations were most vulnerable to flooding and sea level rise. Post-disaster on-the-ground fieldwork can be coupled with GIS tools to assess damages and to plan for the future. GIS technologies were used after the 2011 tsunami to show how well the hard mitigation measures performed. Types of GIS data that can be used are: elevation maps to map vulnerable areas and to locate shelters away from flood-prone land, land use to map vulnerability of structures and towns, and road networks to map access routes to affected areas [2]. For example, vulnerability assessment was done by mapping housing damage in vulnerable inundation areas and assessing “fragility curves” for different types of construction materials [5]. Disaster Science and Engineering experts Suppasri et al. (2013) were able to visually inform Japanese authorities of the best construction materials to be used in future development projects.

Examples of different damage levels for the same tsunami inundation depth. Figure from [4], page 1005

Figure 3: Examples of different damage levels for the same tsunami inundation depth (Source [5], p.1005)

Mapping disaster damage coupled with on-the-ground studies such as photographs and written accounts are essential for informing policy for future improvements to counter-disaster management strategies.  As shown above, this can also be said for types of construction materials used for building homes to increase resilience against tsunamis. Furthermore, GIS applications could be used to map historical inundation areas to plan new prevention plans, choose evacuation areas, and to visually inform residents of their location’s vulnerability to natural disasters such as tsunamis [5]. Scenario analysis mapping is an essential tool to be used to inform policy in choosing relocation areas away from vulnerable coastlines, as well as away from other potential natural disaster areas (e.g. landslides and floods).

On a warming planet where natural hazards have the potential to augment, and where societies will continue to be subject to various geologic hazards, post-disaster impact assessors will be needed to contribute to reconstruction efforts and to inform future disaster-planning in vulnerable areas.

Works Cited

[1] Bury, J.T. et al. (2011). Glacier recession and human vulnerability in the Yanamarey watershed of the Cordillera Blanca, Peru. Climatic Change , 105, 179-206.

[2] Latif, S., Islam, R., Khan, M. I., & Ahmed, S. I. (2011). OpenStreetMap for the Disaster Management in Bangladesh. IEEE Conference on Open Systems, (pp. 429-433). Langkawi, Malaysia.

[3] Leaning, J., & Guha-Sapir, D. (2013). Natural Disasters, Armed Conflict, and Public Health. New England Journal of Medicine, 369(19), 1836-1842.

[4] Malone, E. L., & Engel, N. L. (2011). Evaluating regional vulnerability to climate change: purposes and methods. WIREs Climate Change , 2, 462-474.

[5] Suppasri, A., Shuto, N., Imamura, F., Koshimura, S., Mas, E., & Yalciner, A. C. (2013). Lessons Learned from the 2011 Great East Japan Tsunami: Performance of Tsunami Countermeasures, Coastal Buildings, and Tsunami Evacuation in Japan. Pure and Applied Geophysics , 170, 993-1018.

[6] Utani, A., Mizumoto, T., & Okumura, T. (2011). How geeks responded to a catastrophic disaster of a high-tech country: rapid development of counter-disaster systems for the great east Japan earthquake of March 2011. Proceedings of the Special Workshop on Internet and Disasters, (pp. 1-8). Tokyo, Japan.

From historic village to ghost town: A case study for uncertainty and conflict in human environment

By Emmanuelle Galeotti                       

Doel is to disappear from the map by 2020 [1]. This historic village is located north of the international seaport of Antwerp in Belgium, on the banks of the Scheldt River that gives access to the North Sea. Doel first appears in records in 1267 [2] and is the unique polder village left in Belgium. Doel has lots of historical buildings, some landscapes made famous by baroque painter Rubens, a 17th century stone wind mill, and a nuclear plant.

What happened? Rise in containers’ traffic demanded expansion of Antwerp’s harbor. Plans to expand the harbor had been in the air since 1963, but were subject to economic fluctuations and politics; subsequently construction of the new containers’ terminal in Doel only began in 2000 with additional plans for industrial development [3].


Sources/Credit: Wikipedia, Romany WG (

David versus Goliath

Located just south of Doel the first terminal called “Deurganckdock” has been operational since 2005. Since 2012 Deurganckdock has been undergoing expansion: it is to become the largest lock in the world with a length of 500m, a width of 68m and a depth of 17m [4].

Construction of the second terminal, Saeftinghe, will erase Doel and should be operational by 2016 [5].

The Saetinghedok would drawn more than Doel

The Saetinghedok would drown more than Doel

Ever expanding Port of Antwerp

Ever expanding Port of Antwerp

Sources:, and

The port of Antwerp is the largest port and petrochemical cluster in the world; it now spans the equivalent of 20,000 football stadiums [6].

Needless to say other communities and polders disappeared in silence to make place for the ever-growing international seaport. Officially the Port of Antwerp will develop the Saeftinghe terminal to guarantee the sustainable growth of the port, the European Investment Bank foots half of the bill [7].

But for those who want to keep calling Doel  ‘home’ the fight is not yet over; they formed  an activist group in 2007 called Doel 2020 to defend their community rights. As the population dwindles some artists and squatters have taken residence in Doel and they keep it alive. Now street art and ghost-town chills attract tourists and photographers, despite the disappearance of Doel’s cafes and hotels.

Demolition started in August 2008, 100 riot-squad officers were sent to oppose locals’ resistance.

demolition doelcaterpillar

Credits: Paul Maes

Social Impact Assessment (SIA), uncertainty and conflict

The Flemish government approved the construction of the new dock in Doel in 1998. The village was to be demolished. Those willing to leave were offered a sum by the government depending on the size of their dwelling and the number of years of residence in Doel. Owners also received compensation for the loss of their property while assistance to find a new home was proposed to the tenants [3]. The official  population declined from approximately 1300 in 1972 [2] to 188 in 2013 [10].

An SIA was conducted in 1999 (after the green party was locally elected) to evaluate the impacts of the port extension on Doel’s sociological profile. The population survey uncovered the fact that people wanted to stay only for their emotional bond to their village; never did they mention any positive outcomes – like jobs from the new development [3]. As for environmental justice, people living now in Doel are the most vulnerable: elders, jobless, single member dwellings, all tenants and deprived of services [3]. The SIA conclusions acknowledged the possible remediation of impacts on the environment, but stressed that social impacts were to “be very significant” on the village’s social fabric.  According to Marx (2002), the culprit is the uncertainty the community was left in for over 40 years, which had a deleterious effect upon household’s decision-making.

The Aarhus Convention was enforced late in 2001; therefore public consultation was not yet main stream in Europe at the time of the SIA.

Unfortunately, the SIA came too late and the opportunity to prevent or diminish conflict between authorities and community was lost. Acting pro-actively through an SIA to identify potential causes and consequences in conflict-sensitive situations is often emphasized in the literature[8,9], because impacts on human environment start at the announcement of a change not when impacts materialize as is the case with physical and biological impacts. “Conflict-aware SIA” would have been a worthy approach since further delay or change in the expansion plans would be enormously costly to Antwerp Port Authority.

Essential elements for  a successful SIA include [9]:

–          Proper communication at all stages of the process

–          Stake-holders identification and network analysis

–          Considering each conflict as context-dependent and having a case-by-case approach

In SIA “subjective feelings and perceptions are valid impacts and indicators of impacts (…) they lead to negative experiences and may trigger conflicts.” ([8] p33)

According to these authors caution is necessary when identifying potential reasons for conflict as it is difficult to understand how all the variables interact in a conflict setting. Therefore, monitoring is critical to keep communication flowing and to avoid potential conflicts.

In October 2013, the group Doel2020  achieved the challenge to “put Antwerp’s plans for extension in the balance” after reaching to the Auditor of the Council of State[10]. As of 2014, Doel is still on the map and the Saeftinghe tidal container dock is still in the plans. The uncertain future of Doel continues.


[1] Telefunker , accessed 01/18/2014

[2] Wikipedia, accessed on 01/21/2014

[3] Axel Marx, Uncertainty and social impacts: A case study of a Belgian village, Environmental Impact Assessment Review, Volume 22, Issue 1, January 2002, Pages 79-96, ISSN 0195-9255,

[4], accessed 01/19/2014

[5], accessed 01/18/2014

[6],  accessed 01/19/2014


[8] P. V. Prenzel & F. Vanclay. (2014) How social impact assessment can contribute to conflict management. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 45: 1, 30-37.

[9] C.J. Barrow.(2010 )How is environmental conflict addressed by SIA?. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 30: 5, 293-301.

ISSN 0195-9255,


[10], accessed 01/19/2014

EIA’s role in changing the face of the city: Environmental impact assessment and urban form in New York

By Dana Feingold

A common misconception of environmental impact assessment (EIA) is that it focuses solely on the natural environment, while in reality there is often a strong focus on the built environment.  In New York City, environmental assessments are conducted under the City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR) act, which requires analysis of several factors that relate to urban form.  As such, during the EIA process, communication between the proponent and the lead agency can result in significant changes to the physical design of a project.  Zoning map changes, also known as rezonings, have a particularly strong potential to change the face of the city, and because rezonings in NYC must go through CEQR review, EIA is also in a strong position of influence.

Some building aspects controllable by zoning.  Source: NYC DCP

New York City’s Zoning Resolution was passed in 1961 for the purpose of “regulating the height and bulk of buildings … [and] the density of population, and regulating and restricting the location of trades and industries” [1].  In 2011, Amanda Burden, in her ninth year as the director of the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP), explained that “zoning is the language of the physical city: it is a three-dimensional blueprint for what any area of the city can become” [2].  In the 50 years between the above statements, there has been a shift in perception of zoning; it is increasingly seen as a design tool rather than a regulatory tool.  Between 2002 and 2013, DCP under Burden’s direction, rezoned over 35 percent of New York [3].  By the end of her tenure at DCP, the New York Times estimates that DCP will have rezoned about 40 percent of the city [4].  “Cities never stand still,” declared Burden, “neither should zoning” [2].  The map below depicts the location and size of the areas affected by these rezonings.

Source: NYC DCP.  Available in an interactive format here

Urban design is considered in several areas of CEQR analysis, including urban design, neighborhood character, and shadows.  The urban design section of a CEQR environmental impact assessment assesses changes to streets and sidewalks, the size and shape of buildings, visual resources, open space, natural features, and wind.  The neighborhood character section assesses the different elements that give neighborhoods their distinct personalities and examines whether a proposed project may result in adverse impacts to elements that define a neighborhood’s character.  The shadows section considers the interaction between a proposed development and the shadows it may cast on open spaces, historic and cultural resources, or open spaces [5].


CEQR technical analysis areas.  Source: NYC Mayors Office of Environmental Coordination [5]

A rezoning may be proposed by a private developer or by a city agency, often DCP.  In either situation, DCP is the lead agency and helps guide the EIA process, and Burden, as DCP’s director, is in a place of strong influence.  Developers complain about DCP’s intervention in their design process, and Burden has been known to argue with developers about everything from building height to the location and type of decorative plantings outside of their buildings [6].

With large swaths of the city being rezoned and with each rezoning undergoing environmental review, the EIA process plays a significant role in shaping New York City.   The city is a built environment, after all, so why should environmental impacts refer to wildlife habitat and not human habitat?

For more of Amanda Burden’s perspective, watch the following speech she gave in São Paulo, Brazil, in 2008, on how “aggressive pro-active government action can create a more livable city:”


[1] New York City Planning Commission and Department of City Planning. 1961. The City of New York Zoning Maps and Resolution.

[2] DCP (Department of City Planning). 2011. Zoning Handbook.

[3] Karni, Annie.  Who will fill Amanda Burden’s shoes?  Crain’s New York, 17 May 2013. Accessed 18 January 2014:

[4] Satow, Julie.  Amanda Burden Wants to Remake New York. She Has 19 Months Left.  New York Times, 19 May 2012.  Accessed 18 January 2014:

[5] NYC Mayors Office of Environmental Coordination.  2012.  CEQR Technical Manual.  Accessed 19 January 2014:

[6] Gordon, Meryl.  Champion of Cities. Wall Street Journal, 23 June 2011.  Accessed 18 January 2014:

Using GIS to Synthesize the Watershed Approach into EIA

As planners and decision makers being to recognize the spatial significance of managing resources at the watershed scale, the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) as a main researching and teaching tool will only grow in importance. An early definition of GIS by Burrough (1986) deems it ‘a powerful set of tools for collecting, storing and retrieving at will, transforming and displaying spatial data from the real world.’ Figure 1 shows a very basic cross-sectional model of a unit watershed with different land use types.


Figure 1. Different land uses across a cross-sectional model of a watershed. (Source:

Development projects that require EIA, such as highways, factories and mines tend to impact the landscape by increasing impermeable surface cover. These impacts become compounded when there are multiple developments within the same watershed. The negative impacts of increasing impervious surface cover are noted by Barnes et. al (2002)

“The growth and spread of impervious surfaces within urbanizing watersheds pose significant threats to the quality of natural and built environments. These threats include increased stormwater runoff, reduced water quality, higher maximum summer temperatures, degraded and destroyed aquatic and terrestrial habitats, and the diminished aesthetic appeal of streams and landscapes.”

Since development impacts have cumulative effects, watershed conservation and management needs to be built into regional frameworks developed through Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). Regional SEA is the most appropriate framework within which to address cumulative effects when the primary goal is to influence the nature and pace of conservation and development in support of regional sustainability (Gunn and Noble, 2009). Using GIS software to better understand how these cumulative effects impact the integrity of watersheds is where I see the EIA process taking a major leap forward.

Utilization of GIS applications allows professionals to store, analyze and manipulate large amounts of spatial data on one interface. In today’s world it is not only professionals that have access to watershed data; web-based hydrological models such as Model My Watershed ( are making watershed data available to all sectors so we can collectively conceptualize how our decisions affect the world around us in terms of both space and time. Model My Watershed has developed three user-friendly applications that are free to the public and help us visualize how different land use patterns accumulate together to affect streams, rivers, lakes and entire watersheds.

Companies such as SRK Consulting have already begun utilizing GIS software to assist in the EIA process. Throughout the years of utilizing GIS applications for EIA the team at SRK has already realized some of the benefits:

“Potential risk factors may be identified upfront and presented to the client to assess the viability of proceeding with the project. This approach reduces timeframes and usually presents the client with a cost savings.”

It is the responsibility of those conducing each EIA to understand the current state of development within the watershed they are dealing with, and to understand how proposed projects will affect the integrity of entire watersheds. Anthropogenic stress on watersheds is accelerating along with human development; making GIS applications an integral tool when making more informed decisions and monitoring the impacts our development has on these vital hydrological units around the world.


Barnes, K. B., J. M. Morgan III, and M. C. Roberge., 2002. Impervious surfaces and the    quality             of natural and built environments. Baltimore, Md.: Department of             Geography and          Environmental Planning, Towson University. 28 p

Burrough, P.A., 1986. Principles of Geographic Information Systems for Land          Resources       Assessment Clarendon Press, Oxford. pp. 193.

Gunn, J., Noble, B., 2009. Integrating Cumulative Effects in Regional Strategic Environmental       Assessment Frameworks: Lessons from Practice. Journal of Environmental Assessment            Policy and Management, 11:03

Noble, Bram., 2008. Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment: A Guide to             Principles and Practice, Second Edition. Toronto: Oxford University Press

SRK Consulting., 2013. Application of GIS in the EIA Process.