Last year I went to NYC six months after Hurricane Sandy had struck to look at recovery (and retreat) efforts and to explore the issue of coastal infrastructure in a time of changing climate. Here’s an excerpt from the start of the piece, published in the March/April issue of Orion magazine:
ONCE UPON A TIME, about 2 million years ago, the Pleistocene era locked up the world’s water in glaciers miles thick. Then, it warmed. It was about ten thousand years ago when the water of the melting glaciers was released to reshape the world into the coastlines we now associate with modern-day maps.
By all indications, though, the shape of those coastlines is about to change.
The archipelago of New York City’s five boroughs has almost six hundred miles of littoral zone between solid ground and watery sea, a place of straits and river mouths, bays and beachy backshores. It’s also a place whose contours have been radically transformed by its citizens. A large percentage of the city’s edges were created artificially, filled in and built upon with the false confidence that land taken from the sea is permanently allocated for terrestrial use. But on October 29, 2012, the record-breaking storm surge that swept over New York City flooded fifty-one square miles of that falsely allocated land—and like a finger from a watery grave, the high-water mark traced the coastline that once was and may soon be again. The mayor’s office says that, by the 2050s, 800,000 New Yorkers will live in hundred-year flood plains, double the current number.
You can read the full piece here, but consider subscribing to Orion, which produces a gorgeous, ad-free publication filled with stunning photography and art. I was pleased to share the issue with and Danica Novgorodoff‘s lovely last-page watercolor and words and Paul Kingsnorth’s essay, In the Black Chamber, which begins in a cave and roams into Pandora’s future of rewilding the earth.
I also had a chance to speak with Alex Wise of Sea Change Radio about the City & the Sea. Have a listen here. And Orion also has an audio slideshow where you can see some of the visions for coastal reimagination. More photos on a reprint at Slate.
There have to be more options than an eternity of shoveling sand.
We might also have to consider relinquishing some places that maybe weren’t ours in the first place.