New York City came to a grinding halt Friday as floods shut down roads and subways and inundated schools in one of the biggest storm-related emergencies since the remnants of Hurricane Ida hit in 2021.
It isn’t a problem that’s unique to New York. Flood risk is rising across the US with worsening weather disasters and growing strain on outdated infrastructure.
“The water has nowhere to go”
What should a flood-proof city look like? The Verge asked Samuel Brody, Director of the Institute for a Disaster Resilient Texas and a professor in the Department of Marine and Coastal Environmental Science at Texas A&M University at Galveston.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Are cities uniquely vulnerable to flooding? And if so, how?
Absolutely. Cities have more impervious surfaces and are sprawling outward with roadways, rooftops, and parking lots. The water has nowhere to go but downstream and sometimes into people’s homes and businesses.
One of the trends we’re seeing nationwide is that flooding is occurring in places that we never thought would be the case, and that’s because of the role the human-built environment plays in exacerbating and sometimes entirely creating these flooding events. Some of that’s playing out in New York City today. If you look in the paper any given week, you’re going to see some kind of flood event in a developed area somewhere in the United States.
So it becomes very important for cities to think about their drainage infrastructure, and not just put appropriate size and effective drainage infrastructure in place, but monitor, maintain, renew, update those systems over time. Historically, in the United States, we’ve done a very bad job of that.
That stood out to me in the report you and other researchers published in 2018 that found that “Many of the urban wastewater and stormwater systems that provide the backbone of urban flood mitigation are in poor condition.” How did that happen?
In Houston, where I live, say the stormwater system was put in place in the 1950s. Well, all the development that’s occurred since then is putting more volume and velocity of water into that system so that the system is just under capacity.
Even the systems that are designed today, they’re only designed for, for example, a five-year storm event. In the United States, the baseline of risk is a 100-year event. A 100-year event is a 1 percent chance, in any given year, that an area will be inundated by floodwaters. That doesn’t mean you get a 100-year storm and then you can feel like you’ll be safe for another 100 years. It just means every year, there’s a 1 percent chance.
New York City and most major cities are underdesigned because it would be so expensive to allow a storm drain system to handle a 100-year event. But that’s what we’re seeing. New York today has gotten about one, possibly two inches of rain an hour. A 100-year storm event in New York City is about 3.5 inches per hour. That’s not even near a 100-year event, yet everyone’s flooding because the storm drain system is old and under capacity. There’s not enough money to keep it up to date and accommodate the expanding development that’s taking place. We’re just starting to see some of the impacts of climate change, which result in many places in more intense episodes of rainfall.
How is flood risk changing with climate change? New York City’s commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, Rohit Aggarwala, said in a press conference today, “The sad reality is our climate is changing faster than our infrastructure can respond.”
That may be true, but I would challenge that statement by saying a much quicker, more powerful vector of risk, in that case, is that human development is changing much more quickly than our drainage systems and our infrastructure can accommodate — much more quickly than climate change, which is real, which is fundamental, which is happening.
The human-built environment has been a noted problem for decades. And to ignore that as the major cause of the problem right now, I think, would be missing the total picture. What’s overwhelming our infrastructure right now is more so our development decisions and our overall patterns of human impact on the landscape than it is rising sea level rise, changing rainfall patterns — which is happening, but it’s a much longer, slow variable of influence.
So what would a more flood-proof city look like?
There are four dimensions of what would be a flood-resilient city. The first is avoidance, getting out of the way. It means building higher in some cases; it means pulling away from vulnerable areas or letting remaining ecological infrastructure like naturally occurring wetlands do their job, act as a sponge, and not necessarily pave them over.
The second dimension is to accommodate. There are some places where we want to let it flood. Whether that’s creating areas of retention and detention or that’s, again, letting these naturally occurring wetlands alone. We’re so used to fighting water. Accommodation and about living with water and understanding that in these landscapes, both urban and non-urban, there are places where we want to let it flood.
“We’re so used to fighting water.”
The third component is resistance, which is all about the history of flood management in the United States: fighting the flood. That’s barriers, sea walls, levees, different ways to hold the water back. We know that doing that alone as our main strategy doesn’t work over time. That’s why I’m mentioning that as a third component, not the first.
The last component is communication, telling the story of risk. That’s providing information in a way that’s interpretable and actionable to those decision-makers but also individual residents to have them better understand what their risk will be so that they can take action.
We’re finding that there’s such a lack of awareness and a distortion of communication around floods that people are caught off guard. Even today, in New York City, they’re surprised.
Officials have said this is the wettest day in NYC since Hurricane Ida hit in 2021. Flooding then killed more than a dozen people in basement apartments, many of whom were low-income immigrants. What might make certain pockets of a city more vulnerable than others? And what can be done to fix those disparities?
Basement flooding is a huge problem in Houston, which is the epicenter for urban flooding in the country. Wealthy homes are the ones that are elevated really high and have all kinds of expensive systems in place to withstand floodwaters.
One of the problems with our system in the US of flood risk reduction and management is that it tends to favor wealthy populations. More expensive parcels tend to be less flood-prone. More expensive structures and households have more capacity to deal with flood waters. Lower-income neighborhoods tend to have fewer drainage resources.
That stands in contrast to other countries like the Netherlands, where they put a precedent on protecting the socially vulnerable first. It’s not just income — it’s age, education; those are the populations that need to be protected first.
Microsoft Paint’s OpenAI-powered “Cocreator” image generator is here
Microsoft is officially launching its Cocreator image-generating AI feature within the Paint app for Windows 11. The new integrated text-to-image generator, powered by OpenAI’s DALL-E 3 model, was previously available only to Windows Insiders. As Windows Central points out, the new Cocreator button in Microsoft Paint has now been widely released, giving all users the ability to enter a description of something they’re visualizing and get three generated images to choose between.
As powerful and capable as Copilot is, it’s also kind of overwhelming. Microsoft has pushed Copilot onto countless offerings, from Windows 10 to Microsoft 365 services, and it’s starting to feel like an AI Kool-Aid Man bursting onto the scene. But Cocreator and Paint feel deliberate and like they intuitively belong together, another step toward a future where image generators are the new clip art.
Clever tech hacks for less stress this holiday, from Amazon spoilers to family pics
Gift shopping, scammers, cooking the prime rib just right … There’s too much to worry about this time of year. Before you dive headfirst into the festive frenzy, I’ve got tech tips that’ll sprinkle a little magic on your celebrations.
As my holiday thanks to my loyal readers, I’m giving away an iPhone. Yep, you can win a new iPhone 15 (valued at $799). Enter to win now!
Cook up a storm with a digital cookbook
Picture this: All your go-to holiday recipes are neatly corralled in one digital cookbook. No more frantic shuffling, clicking through a million tabs or misplaced ingredient lists.
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If your recipes are printed or handwritten, snap a pic with your tablet. Add all the pics to one folder (or try the Notes app if you’re on an iPad) for easy swiping between them. Cooking from recipes you found online? Save the PDF versions and toss them in one spot. No iPad? Use your phone!
Bonus: An inexpensive cookbook holder will keep your tablet out of the mess of flour, stock and butter in the kitchen. (This one is gorgeous if you have a bit more to spend.)
Do cards the easier way
I’m giving you permission to go digital with holiday cards this year. Canva, Adobe Express, Paperless Post and Mailchimp are solid options. You can choose a template, whip up a greeting and send it off in just a few minutes — no trip to the post office required.
Before you start buying holiday gifts in a frenzy, make sure your Amazon account is set up the right way.
- Hide and seek: Archive any orders you don’t want someone else to see. On a computer, hover your cursor over Account & Lists and click on Orders. Find the order you want to hide and click View order details, then Archive Order. Click Archive Order again to confirm.
- Banish the browser: Remove items from your browsing history to avoid revealing your gift ideas. Hover your cursor over Account & Lists and click on Browsing History. For each item that you want to hide, tap Remove from view.
Stop arguing about when to leave
The classic holiday battle: When should you leave the house to get to your destination on time and avoid traffic? Stop guessing and let traffic-predicting algorithms make your drive easier.
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You can get a pretty accurate traffic forecast for a future date based on what the conditions are like on that day and time. Then you can fine-tune your departure time to find the ideal time to hit the road.
Here’s how to set a planned time and date for a trip in Google Maps:
- Open Google Maps and tap on the Search here field.
- Enter a destination and select it from the results.
- Tap Directions and then tap the three-dots button to the right of the Your location field.
- Tap Set depart or arrive time.
- Select Depart at and enter a date and time, then tap Done. You’ll get various route options and details such as time and distance.
- Select a route and tap Start.
Steps are here to find out the best time to leave based on when you want to arrive — and steps to do both in Apple Maps.
Say ‘Cheese!’ to better group pics
Remember the days of designating one unlucky soul to be the photographer? You know, the family friend or someone’s random date. Upgrade to your smartphone camera’s timer.
- On iPhone: Open your Camera app and tap the up-facing arrow at the top of the screen. Scroll right to the option that looks like a clock, then tap it. Select a 3- or 10-second delay.
- On Android: In the Camera app, select Timer and turn it on. Choose from a delay of 2, 5 or 10 seconds.
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If someone insists on taking the pic, ask them to use burst mode. All they have to do is hold down on the shutter button to capture a ton of photos at once. Better chance you’ll get everyone smiling!
Smile! But do it the right way. Here’s how to look better in pics.
Remove the screen temptation
It’s not the weekend to be glued to your phone, scrolling headlines or social media. Need a little help disconnecting?
- On iPhone: Open Settings > Screen Time.
- On Android: Open Settings > Digital Wellbeing.
Rather than a blanket screen time limit, be strategic and limit the stuff that sucks you in. Maybe you set a 10-minute limit on Instagram, for example.
If you set your phone to Do Not Disturb, all good — just make sure you get the calls you want.
Keep your tech-know going
My popular podcast is called “Kim Komando Today.” It’s a solid 30 minutes of tech news, tips, and callers with tech questions like you from all over the country. Search for it wherever you get your podcasts. For your convenience, hit the link below for a recent episode.
PODCAST PICK: Selfie-related deaths, TikTok Jesus scam & expired tech in your house
Plus, Gary Larock needed a kidney, so his family turned to Facebook. A stranger saw the post and stepped in with a life-changing decision. Apple is opening up to Android messaging, and the Feds want to monitor your car. Also, affordable home mesh Wi-Fi systems.
Check out my podcast “Kim Komando Today” on Apple, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player.
Listen to the podcast here or wherever you get your podcasts. Just search for my last name, “Komando.”
Sound like a tech pro, even if you’re not! Award-winning popular host Kim Komando is your secret weapon. Listen on 425+ radio stations or get the podcast. And join over 400,000 people who get her free 5-minute daily email newsletter.
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GM wants you to know that it’s also unhappy with the slow pace of its EV business
General Motors is dealing with a lot right now: a slowing EV business, delays in battery manufacturing, a safety crisis with its robotaxi unit, Cruise, and financial headwinds from the monthslong autoworker strike. On top of it all, its stock price is still struggling to get back to where it was this summer before the strike started.
With all that in mind, GM CEO Mary Barra hopped on a call with investors early Wednesday to address these compounding challenges and assure them that they have a number of fixes in mind. Costs will be reined in, factories will be delayed, and stock buybacks will recirculate cash to shareholders. It’s a crucial moment for GM, which is locked in a tight race with Ford, Tesla, and others to develop EVs and roll out autonomous driving safely and profitably.
Costs will be reined in, factories will be delayed, and stock buybacks will recirculate cash to shareholders
Barra said she is “disappointed” with the slow pace of its Ultium battery development, which is supposed to underpin the company’s forthcoming lineup of EVs. She is “not satisfied” with GM’s low stock price. And the Cruise “incident,” in which a driverless vehicle drug a pedestrian 20 feet after she was struck in a hit-and-run, is now under independent review, but the robotaxi company will be smaller and slower going forward.
“We will be very transparent with what our go-forward plan is,” Barra said. “But I think there’s been some concern about when that comes.”
Cruise, in particular, was under the microscope. The company has paused all robotaxi operations in the aftermath of the incident in San Francisco in October. Two top executives, CEO Kyle Vogt and chief product officer Dan Kan, have resigned, and the company has said that layoffs will be coming.
In the call, GM offered more details on Cruise’s uncertain future. The company hired two outside law firms to review Cruise’s safety protocols as well as determine whether Cruise purposefully withheld video footage from the California DMV of its driverless vehicle dragging the hit-and-run victim to the side of the road. The company issued a voluntary recall of all 950 Cruise vehicles earlier this month to update the software to prevent similar incidents in the future.
Photo by Tayfun Coskun / Anadolu via Getty Images
GM has lost $8.2 billion on Cruise since 2017 but expects to lose much less going forward. The automaker didn’t share specific cash reductions, but chief financial officer Paul Jacobson said it would likely amount to “hundreds of millions” of dollars.
“We are projecting to have a little bit of a narrower scope as we focus in on safety and scaling up in a much narrower view,” Jacobson said.
But unlike some of its competitors, GM is not pulling out completely from the autonomous vehicle business. “We’re going to be very deliberate about how we go forward,” Barra said, adding that when Cruise restarts its operations, it will be in only one city. The company also will need to “build trust” with local leaders and first responders, Barra said, in a nod to complaints from San Francisco officials that Cruise’s vehicles obstructed city operations.
“There’s been a lot of uncertainty in our industry and frankly, we didn’t execute well this year”
On the Ultium battery delays, Barra was blunt in her assessment. “There’s been a lot of uncertainty in our industry and frankly, we didn’t execute well this year, as it relates to demonstrating our EV capability and the capability of Ultium because of the module manufacturing automation equipment issues that we had,” she said. “So I’m disappointed in that. I think that has created some concern.”
Recently, GM said it would delay production of its upcoming slate of electric pickup trucks at its plant in Michigan’s Orion Township by “a few months.” Barra assured investors that the issues with Ultium manufacturing were being resolved.
“Our module production issue is not really related to Ultium,” she added. “As I’ve said before, it is really an automation manufacturing issue.”
Barra said that while EV growth has slowed, demand is still heading in the right direction, noting that US car buyers were on track to purchase 1 million EVs this year for the first time.
“There’s really no reason that EV demand won’t be higher in the years ahead,” she said. “Consideration is rising, the policy environment is favorable. The public charging infrastructure is growing and customer choice is expanding.”
She also acknowledged that the recent contracts with the United Auto Workers union are spooking investors because of their associated costs. GM estimates that the new contracts will result in added labor costs of around $500 per vehicle in 2024 and $575 on average over the life of the contract. The company also expects to raise battery costs by about $3 per kilowatt-hour, but it still expects to achieve “mid-single digit profitability” on its EV business by 2025.
GM expects to reduce net costs by $2 billion through 2024, which includes lower salaries, lowering marketing expenses, and additional overhead reductions. And tellingly, Barra also managed to slip in some praise for the company’s internal combustion engine vehicles, which continue to generate profits for the company at a time when costs are rising across the board.
“Our strong ICE business that frankly has gotten stronger, and we still believe there’s growth there,” Barra said.
GM has said it expects to go completely carbon neutral by 2040.
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