Superstorm Sandy and the Demographics of Flood Risk in New York City


“Superstorm Sandy” brought unprecedented storm surge to New York City neighborhoods and like previous severe weather events exacerbated underlying inequalities in part because socially marginalized populations were concentrated in environmentally exposed areas. This study makes three primary contributions to the literature on vulnerability. First, results show how the intersection of social factors (i.e., race, poverty, and age) relates to exposure to flooding. Second, disruption to the city’s transit infrastructure, which was most detrimental for Asians and Latinos, extended the consequences of the storm well beyond flooded areas. And third, data from New York City’s 311 system show there was variation in distress across neighborhoods of different racial makeup and that flooded neighborhoods remained distressed months after the storm. Together, these findings show that economic and racial factors overlap with flood risk to create communities with both social and environmental vulnerabilities.

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    For example, only 28 % of New Yorkers use a car to get to work (U.S. Census. Bureau 2012a), which has implications for evacuation plans.

  2. 2.

    Due to apparent coding errors in the dataset calls from January 2012 were excluded.

  3. 3.

    The fact that 1,800 units in Sandy-flooded areas were in foreclosure further complicates rebuilding efforts, because it may not be clear who is in charge of a foreclosed property (Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy 2013).


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The author thanks Eric Klinenberg, Harel Shapira, Samuel Carter, and Jessica Coffey of the Institute for Public Knowledge for their comments during the evolution of this project and financial support through the Hurricane Sandy Research Initiative. The author also thanks Ingrid Gould Ellen, Sean Capperis and others at the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy for ongoing support in this and other work. Additionally, this paper would not have been possible without the support and feedback from Frances Liu.

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Correspondence to Jacob William Faber.

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Faber, J.W. Superstorm Sandy and the Demographics of Flood Risk in New York City. Hum Ecol 43, 363–378 (2015).

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  • Superstorm Sandy
  • Climate change
  • Vulnerability
  • New York City