I love the sidewalk trees example because I think that's something especially our students will understand and relate to. These trees can make such a difference for cleaning the air and noise pollution, and so on. Now, is there a biggest environmental threat facing New York that you're focusing on and if so, do you feel like this is something New Yorkers are informed about and preparing for, and if not, why not?
Well, I think it's clear that the major environmental threat facing New York is climate change. There's no question that [this is the major threat] for most cities, maybe not for a handful that are in truly terrible shape with respect to air quality but in New York, where our air quality is not what it should be, it is still so much better than in most places, and our drinking water is fantastic. Here in New York City, we're a coastal city, we have more than 500 miles of coastline, and a huge portion of the city lives in areas that are low-lying and therefore subject to coastal flooding. We are coming up on the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, which, as I think much of the world knows, flooded large parts of New York City and took out a power plant that served Manhattan below 34th street, leaving them for nearly a week without power and killed 40+ New Yorkers. Sandy demonstrated the risk that we face from sea level rise and greater storms which bring coastal flooding. Just last year, we suffered the after-effects of Hurricane Ida, which dumped historic levels of rainfall on us. We had nearly twice as much rain in one hour than we'd ever had before in the city's recorded history, and as you might imagine, none of our infrastructure was built for that. We had people who literally died in their homes because they live in basement apartments that were flooded in a matter of moments. So that's a huge challenge. And then, what is, to a certain extent, less visible is actually the biggest threat to New York's health, and lives from climate change is heat waves.
Heatwaves kill more New Yorkers than flooding, which is likely to be true going forward, even in a world where we have more frequent and more intense storm activity. We don't notice it as much because we don't think of it. It's not as visual, but we have seen the numbers going up over the last decade. It started a bit during the Bloomberg administration and got more attention during the de Blasio administration as the world became more aware of the rise in temperatures that was shaping summertime temperatures, and that's actually the biggest health risk to New Yorkers from climate change. And then there are also gonna be some challenges to our water supply. Our water supply will become more complicated. It's not an existential threat to the city, which some cities around the world are facing due to climate change, but it requires us to think differently about our long-term water supply.
So you have made comparisons between New York and other cities. One thing that comes up when I discuss urban sustainability with my students in my Core 9 class, for example, is that so many of these "green cities" around the world are in Europe. I always come across the same names, cities such as Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Berlin, and one thing I wonder is why is Europe so ahead of the curve on greening their cities? Why aren't the greenest cities in the world in the United States, and are there best practices that work in Europe and that U.S. Cities like New York can adopt?
Certainly, I think it's a combination of things. On the one hand, it has to do with the period in which many European cities urbanized. The modern, urban form of a place like Berlin or a place like Copenhagen really got put into place before the advent of the automobile, which is, of course, not true when you think about Houston or Phoenix or even the vast majority of the urbanization that has taken place in places like India, China, and Africa; Delhi, of course, is a city with a 3000-year history but frankly until the 1960s Delhi was a relatively small city, and so part of what you have is populations that grew very fast during a period when large portions of the population owned a car, and that shaped the urban landscape, and that's actually true about Rome because so much of Rome's growth over the last 50 years has been outside the GRA and it makes Rome actually a more auto-dependent city than New York, which is, for a European city kind of an embarrassment, to be honest. The second, which also relates to Rome, is just a relative lack of investment in transit. So New York's an outlier in the United States, having preserved and resurrected its transit system while many American cities got rid of theirs. Many Asian cities took a long time to have their transits systems expand in line with the population.
The other thing that has happened as you look at the cities of Asia particularly is that we see how a massive population growth led to planning that often underinvested in park space and other aspects of greenery in Asia. So in Europe, you have the perfect mix in many cases of good urban planning of moderate but not hyperdensity and good transit and land use, and that's not just a function of parkland or anything like that because there are lots of American cities that we wouldn't think of as being particularly green, for example, that have lots and lots of park space, like Kansas City has tremendous parks, but it's a sprawling auto-dependent, mainly suburban metropolitan area. So anyway, that's the quick overview of why European cities tend to be ahead; the final thing I'll point out is, compared to the rest of the world, European cities, especially the cities of Northern Europe, have had a tradition of really high-quality municipal governments and I think that [makes] a big difference.