Sandy Aerial

Sandy Aerial Credit: Half of Manhattan was in the dark after Superstorm Sandy struck.(Getty)

A year ago Tuesday, Superstorm Sandy slammed into New York City with a vengeance, ultimately claiming 44 lives, leaving 2 million of us without electricity, and forcing the evacuation of 6,500 patients from hospitals and nursing homes.

In Sandy's wake came a bill for $19 billion in damages -- and a lot of talk about building back better.

But how?

As it turns out, at least two modern complexes built to take full advantage of the water offer some answers.

Battery Park City in lower Manhattan and the Arverne by the Sea development on the Rockaway Peninsula -- survived Sandy's sound and fury relatively unscathed.

City reports suggest that meticulous planning -- before climate change and extreme weather became everyday phrases -- made all the difference.

In Battery Park City post-Sandy photographs show lights glowing brightly along the Hudson River even though the nearby Financial District was enshrouded in an inky darkness for days. Con Edison says the power stayed on with more reliability in Battery Park City because the complex is on a different network than its neighbors -- one fed by a substation that's built on higher ground. And just as startlingly, Battery Park City -- which was built on landfill in the river -- suffered far less wind and water damage than buildings in nearby areas. Builders had been careful to elevate the site and position structures behind a buffer of parks and an esplanade. It worked.

The strategy worked at Arverne as well, where 1,000 families live extremely close to the Atlantic Ocean. A heavy-duty drainage system and an intentionally raised foundation prevented catastrophic flooding. Buried power lines meant the electricity came back faster at Arverne. And steel-framed homes meant they didn't blow down -- not even in a storm like Sandy.

New York has always been about the water, and always will be. But now we know: We have to build back smarter -- and in a way that's within our means. Battery Park City and the Arverne community give us two strong models.

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