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Trendsetting: New York City and Indigo River

Trendsetting: New York City and Indigo River

By Luke Carothers

Throughout its long and storied history, New York City has consistently played the role of trendsetter for American culture.  Its location on the Atlantic Coast made for a diverse, ever-changing city where new and old ideas melded together to reverberate trending shockwaves throughout the fabric of American society.  While its geographical location has been a boon to the city since its founding, the coming effects of climate change are directly poised to severely impact it.  In keeping the spirit of innovation that has long beheld New York City, it has responded to the looming threat of climate change by positioning itself as a leading center for the research, development, and implementation of climate solutions.  As the city continues to adapt to climate change, it has become clear that, rather than relying on traditional solutions, new approaches must be developed.  One New York City firm demonstrating a new approach is Indigo River.

Indigo River has demonstrated the ability to use a “multi-pronged approach” when developing flood mitigation and climate adaptation recommendations.  Taking a holistic approach to these concepts, Indigo River works with local stakeholders to identify the most appropriate solutions for each community.  The result is plans that are both resilient and sustainable.  The team has demonstrated this approach on projects like Wildflower Studios, where they worked with the client and design consultants to develop a comprehensive Flood Resiliency Strategy that included both permanent and temporary flood mitigation solutions.  According to Dena Prastos, Indigo River’s founder, the plan for the Wildflower Studios project featured the construction of wet and dry floodproof spaces, as well as the creation of  Flood Emergency Action and Response plans for the Operations team.  Another example of this multi-pronged approach is Indigo River’s work with a private asset management group to evaluate their national portfolio.  To complete this evaluation, Indigo River utilized Coastal Risk Consulting’s RiskFootPrint Report, which resulted in a ranking of their properties and assets in terms of which are most vulnerable to natural hazards.  According to Prastos, they are in the process of developing site-specific plans for those that are most vulnerable to flood hazards with plans including recommendations for both permanent and temporary solutions.  Included in these site-specific plans are solutions such as the creation of new floodwalls, the phased reprogramming of spaces, and the development of deployable systems for flood events.

In developing these recommendations and deploying solutions that are both resilient and sustainable, Prastos and Indigo River are a major part of the ever-increasing push towards flexible climate change solutions.  This approach allows Indigo River to help communities become more resilient to flooding–protecting people, property, and the environment from the devastating effects of flooding.  However, as Indigo River and others continue developing these multi-pronged approaches, Prastos is quick to point out the inextricable link between our continued ability to respond to climate change and the capacity to develop the next generation of workers in the AEC industry.  Within this relationship, Prastos notes the importance of things like economic transformation, education and training, innovation and research, green jobs and workforce, and interdisciplinary collaboration.  To respond to climate change, communities must transition to low-carbon economies and adopt sustainable practices.  There are significant economic opportunities opened up by this transition, and, with this, new opportunities for job creation.  For Prastos, “developing the next generation of workers with the necessary skills, knowledge, and innovation capacity” will be crucial to such a transition.

As new opportunities are created in areas like renewable energy, clean technologies, sustainable agriculture, resource management, environmental sciences, and green infrastructure development, new workers entering the industry must be equipped with the expertise in such fields, which necessitates a solid foundation of education and training.  Prastos believes that education and training systems need to adapt to provide relevant learning opportunities.  To do so, programs must integrate climate change and sustainability into school curricula, vocational training programs, and higher education.  Prastos further points out that including climate change and sustainability into these programs is a way to foster an industry that supports innovation and research.  Responding to climate change requires innovative solutions in order to mitigate its impacts and adapt to its effects.  Included in this is a solid investment in research and development, supporting entrepreneurship, and promoting collaboration between academia, industry, and government.

More than just focusing on workers entering the industry, Prastos believes that training should also be focused on workers already within the industry.  Inevitably, as our societies transition to these low-carbon economies, workers already in the industry have to contend with existing jobs being transformed or becoming obsolete.  Prastos points out that managing this workforce transition effectively is crucial for social and economic stability.  This transition involves providing re-training and re-skilling opportunities for workers in carbon-intensive industries, which will ensure their smooth transition to emerging green sectors.  This alignment of labor market policies will help governments create a just and inclusive transition that protects workers’ rights and promotes decent work.   Ultimately, within these factors, addressing climate change will require collaboration across sectors and disciplines.  In the same way that companies like Indigo River have demonstrated the positive impact through multi-pronged approaches to flooding, companies can also have a positive impact on sustainability by building teams that possess strong interdisciplinary skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, and effective communication.  Prastos believes that, by promoting collaboration between different fields of expertise, we can “foster holistic approaches to climate change and develop innovative solutions that consider multiple perspectives.”  In building a team at Indigo River that encompasses a wide set of specialties and disciplines centered around a clearly-defined vision, Prastos says they are able to be more proactive in finding work and identifying new and innovative partnerships.  So far, Indigo River has partnered with numerous organizations that are positively influencing a shared vision of an environmentally-conscious future like the Billion Oyster Project, NY Harbor School, Waterfront Alliance, Rock the Boat, PlusPool, One15 Community Dock, and the Reti Center.  In developing these partnerships, Prastos emphasizes the importance of being a team player, which helps different various parties to compromise and collaborate.

Within New York City’s leading position in climate change research and solutions is work being done by companies like Indigo River.  By demonstrating a holistic approach to not only developing solutions and recommendations but rather continuing this approach through its commitment to partnerships and workforce development, Indigo River and founder Dena Prastos are a major influence on the trends and actions needed to respond to climate change in a way that is equitable and just.  If the history of New York City as a trendsetter continues, it’s only a matter of time before these ideas become more widely adopted.