Queens borough president announces new advisory board to lead resiliency and sustainability efforts in climate crisis

BP Presser
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards announces Operation Sustainability, a new advisory board that will be tasked with guiding the borough’s resiliency initiatives and sustainability-related advocacy efforts in the climate crisis. (Photo courtesy of the Queens Borough President’s Office)

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards on Thursday, April 21, marked Earth Week by announcing the creation of a new advisory board that will be tasked with guiding the borough’s resiliency initiatives and sustainability-related advocacy efforts in the climate crisis. 

Operation Urban Sustainability is a working group of Queens environmentalists, government officials, clean energy leaders, transportation activists, elected officials, resiliency experts, community stakeholders and organizers. The group will meet monthly beginning in May to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the sustainability issues facing the borough and craft tangible solutions. 

Richards, along with members of the advisory board, made the announcement at the intersection of Kissena Boulevard and Rose Avenue in Flushing, a few feet from where three individuals drowned in their basement apartment in September 2021 amidst historic flooding wrought by Hurricane Ida. 

“Seven months ago, this block was ground zero for one of the most horrific examples of extreme weather our borough has ever seen. “We wouldn’t have been standing here; we would’ve been swimming,” Richards said. “In just a few hours, 9 inches of rain fell on our borough, completely overwhelming our infrastructure. As a result, entire blocks in Flushing, East Elmhurst and Jamaica were under water and hundreds of homes flooded and millions of dollars in damage.” 

According to Richards, the destruction caused by Hurricane Ida and Superstorm Sandy in October 2012 exposed the borough’s inadequate infrastructure inflicting apocalyptic damage in Queens. 

“Queens should be an unrivaled leader in modern infrastructure and clean renewable energy production. Queens should be a natural hub of urban agriculture and should be a model for the rest of the city to follow when it comes to creating open space,” Richards said. 

Operation Sustainability will develop a roadmap to create a more sustainable Queens. The initiative was created by Katherine Brezler and Malik Sanders, both of the Queens borough president’s office. 

Members of the group will serve one-year terms and will be tasked with crafting a yearly report that will inform and guide Richards’ sustainability and resiliency efforts in topics such as urban agriculture, composting, energy-efficient development, environmental justice, education, nature and ecosystems, flood prevention and resiliency, as well as transportation and walkability. 

“We are planning to craft solutions that are easily repairable in other areas, and all impacted communities, especially minority and low-income communities that have been historically left out of these conversations,” Malik said. “Ideally, the work we do here in Queens will be able to be recreated in other areas.” 

Reflecting on the devastation of Hurricane Ida, Brezler says the group understands the fierce urgency and task at hand to develop a plan to deal with the inevitable catastrophes ahead in the climate crisis. 

“I feel so honored to be with so many skilled practitioners and can’t wait to get to work with them,” Brezler said. 

Tyler Taba, senior manager for climate policy of the Waterfront Alliance, said Operation Sustainability is a wonderful initiative that threads the needle between the need for stronger community engagement and the development of solutions for the Queens community.  

“Climate change is not a challenge that we can continue to push away; we need to act today to be ready for tomorrow,” Taba said. “Our city’s own climate projections make it clear that more extreme and intense weather events, possibly worse than what we saw from Ida, are on the horizon. Adaptation resilience planning, funding and action is critical to protecting the people, infrastructure and natural ecosystems.” 

Laura Shepard, a Queens organizer for Transportation Alternatives, said sustainability and climate resilience are interdisciplinary and encompass many things such as  protecting parkland and environment to devising better transportation systems. 

“We are at a critical juncture with how we respond to the crisis. The decisions we make today will determine the survival and the future of Queens for generations,” Shepard said.

The group will hold its first meeting on Tuesday, May 10, but it will not be public. A report will be published in a year that will be available to the public. According to Richards, there will eventually be an opportunity for public input. In terms of funding for projects, it will be dependent on what funds the office can get from the local, state and federal government.

“Once we know what the initiatives that they’re going to create look like, that enables us to then go and advocate to the administration on this Queens plan,” Richards said.