Brooklyn Boro

DUMBO’s downstairs retail tenants suffer rainstorm woes, urge city action

November 18, 2021 Sim Tumay
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One month into her new job at Smack Mellon art gallery in DUMBO, Willa Goettling went into work the morning after Hurricane Henri, grabbed a push broom, and cleared seven inches of water out of artist studios in the basement.

What happened that morning in DUMBO in August might occur a lot more often in the next 30 years, according to Flood Factor, a site created by the nonprofit First Street Foundation that allows anyone in the United States to assess their property’s flood risk by typing in a zip code. As hurricane season winds down, employees and residents are in agreement with climate change experts that something needs to be done. They want investments in infrastructure following the 5 Borough Resiliency Plan bill that was passed by the New York City Council last month.

Willa Goettling

“We needed this plan well before [Hurricane] Ida and Henri came along. It should not have taken record-breaking rainfall happening twice in New York City, roughly in the span of a month, for us to create a plan,” said Michael Sheldon, spokesperson for council member Justin Brannan, sponsor of the bill.

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The creation of a citywide climate adaptation plan was introduced in 2019 by council members Costa Constantinides and Justin Brannan, seven years after Hurricane Sandy. According to Sheldon, the bill was signed earlier this month by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The bill requires that city agencies develop and post a climate adaptation plan that evaluates climate hazards, including sea level rise, tidal flooding, extreme precipitation, and flooding surge events by next September, to be reviewed every ten years.

Smack Mellon basement

“Flooding is one of the most obvious and urgent aspects of the climate crisis that we are expecting the city’s plan to address,” Sheldon said. “We cannot accept a situation where people are dying in basement apartments during severe storms.”

“This legislation acknowledges the truth that the climate crisis is here, and is no longer some abstract future,” he added. According to Sheldon, council members are expecting the report to call for a number of anti-flooding measures including coastal barriers, permeable streets and sidewalks that allow rainfall to soak in rather than run off.

Smack Mellon, on the corner of Plymouth and Washington streets, is located in an area that Flood Factor assessed at a severe level of risk to infrastructure that increases over the next 30 years due to a changing climate.

Plymouth / Washington Street

After Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, multiple feet of water filled artist studios, damaging artwork. As a result, Smack Mellon has put preventative measures in place to combat weather related disasters.

“We had to make sure that residents were elevating all of their work. We have to keep tabs on rainfall and weather on a regular basis,” said Goettling, 29, programs manager.

Goettling nervously laughed when thinking about the future of Smack Mellon.

“How long can Smack Mellon continue to be in this space and how long [does] it have based on climate change?” she asked. “How are we going to be impacted by climate change? It’s such a real issue that I’m very worried about.

“With climate change getting increasingly worse and the possibility of all of this being underwater within the next 20 years, we don’t have an arts rich community and there’s so many art spaces here that it’s going to displace a lot of artists, businesses, and organizations.”

According to Goettling, the new legislation needs to focus on funding to save two century-old buildings such as the location of Smack Mellon.

Irena Milev (left), Brianna Saba (right): B-Reel employees who were present on the night of the flood.

Pieter Konickx, 33, Creative Director at B-Reel advertising agency, located on the basement level of a building in DUMBO, said that the morning after Hurricane Ida hit, the employees came into the office, only to find that there was too much water to work.

Henri not only fried wiring at B-Reel, but also upset one of the owner’s by ruining an expensive cream sofa.

Similar to Smack Mellon, B-Reel is located in a historic building and Knonickx said that there isn’t much that they can do. He said that “we are underwater in this basement.” Some days when it’s raining, employees can see water seeping in through the walls, he added.

Konickx said that his native Netherlands has proper structures put in place, but it took a huge flood to capture everyone’s attention. Similar to the Netherlands, he said that in New York “we’ll have a very bad flood, that’s going to take out some buildings and some infrastructure and then we’re going to recalculate how we should do things and then measures would be put in place to change that.

“We can all keep the city beautiful and old and make sure that the monumental buildings stand and they are part of what makes New York, New York, but sewers and drainage and everything like that should be kept up to the standard it should be,” Konickx added.

HEAL Veterinary Hospital

Laurie Mowrer, employee at HEAL Veterinary Hospital and resident of DUMBO, said Hurricane Henri “was the most torrential thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” According to Mowrer, the week after the hurricane hit, employees at the office had to go into work because they had surgeries. She said that the office could’ve shut down because “it was really bad” and said that there was water everywhere.

“Fix it so we don’t have to feel like we are underwater,” said Mowrer. She said that council members could add more gutters and sewage lines and said with urgency “fix the streets so they don’t get pummeled from this kind of rain, you have to fix the streets, they can’t absorb any rain.”

Hurricane Ida was a slow moving tropical cyclone that dropped a lot of precipitation, causing flash flooding, according to Dr. Jeremy Porter, head of research and development at the nonprofit organization First Street Foundation that created Flood Factor. “We’re generally not very well prepared for coastal storm flood risk,” he added. According to Porter, the new bill should address upgrading storm water systems.

“We found very early that if you say ‘climate,’ people don’t respond to that very well so what we ended up really focusing on were the symptoms of environmental change,” said Porter.

First Street Foundation’s primary mission is to quantify and communicate flood risk. The organization compiles publicly available data to create modeling for the first of its kind online tool Flood Factor, which was launched in 2020.

According to Porter, Flood Factor makes it easy for people to understand high level science by distilling it down to something that “the average person” can grasp. By entering a zip code, people can see any home’s flood risk and understand what can be done to protect it from future flooding.


“We have to think long term, but that also means we have to think where we will be able to have communities 100 years from now,” said Klaus Hans Jacob, a professor of geophysics at Columbia Climate School.

“Set neighborhoods in Brooklyn [and] portions of DUMBO…will be in trouble, permanently, not just during storms or heavy rainfalls, but [there will be] permanent inundation of the waterfront,” said Jacob.

According to Jacob, although parts of DUMBO will survive, “the lower lying portions of DUMBO, will have to either be strongly modified or evacuated and turned into a buffer land as a new waterfront, that will be farther inland, than it is now.”

“I don’t know why we’re waiting for something bad to happen like we did with Sandy, like we did with these flash floods. We need to be proactive,” said Andrew Kruczkiewicz, senior associate at Columbia Climate School.

With hurricane season continuing through the end of this month, Kruczkiewicz said “there may be a time when we have to start thinking about what the responsibility of the New York City government is to better prepare people for “this new normal.”

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