Joan Slonczewski: June 2013 Archives

Your perennial Ohio-exiled New Yorker returns, on an urgent mission: To save our beloved New York City.

For decades, somebody or other has been out to destroy New York. From King Kong to The Day after Tomorrow, the aim has proved irresistable--in fiction, and in fact. 9/11 didn't succeed, nor did Hurricane Sandy (although thousands of mice were lost to science.) But what of the inexorable greenhouse-fueled march of sea level?

Since the hurricane, serious people are taking seriously the inevitable and actually talking real solutions. Before we get to that, I'd like to offer my own.

Relocate the city to Ohio.
When Mayor Bloomberg visited Kenyon College to receive his honorary degree (which I presented in Latin--that's me at right, behind), he must have got a good look at our bucolic inland campus. His speech on gun control and gay marriage drew enthusiastic applause. Why can't the mayor return--and bring the rest of the city with him? We'd love to have New York next door, with Indian restaurants and Kinky Boots and all.

After Katrina (Beasts of the Southern Wild), persuasive arguments were advanced against rebuilding New Orleans. It's ecologically unsound, the people are poor, the public schools are a failure. If New Orleans was geographically unsound, what of New York? Been to Battery Park lately? I took extensive notes before The Highest Frontier.

I still favor this option, but for any two New Yorkers you'll have three opinions, so here are alternative scenarios reported by NPR.

Replace streets with wetlands.
This too was a promising recommendation for New Orleans--rebuild the wetlands that act as shock absorbers, scrubbers, and garbage filters. New York, too, is built on landfill, and the Statue of Liberty on what should have been wetland. Let's built streets of absorptive materials that respond flexibly to storms, sponge up the excess water and channel it off. More parks instead of buildings would help too.

Admirable plans, should definitely pursue. But, getting back to that sea level rise, we may be too late to stop with created wetlands.

Build offshore floodwalls.
The Dutch approach; they're expert, it works for them. This approach made it into The Highest Frontier. A SUNY professor envisions a "set of barriers that would span the harbor between New Jersey and Long Island, and another between Queens and the Bronx." This idea is most likely to appeal to the American engineering spirit. A barrier tall enough to keep out anything, and it adds to the skyline.

But can any barrier be tall enough to keep out the rising seas? Or does it just stave off disaster, and make it worse?

Move up, above the floodplain.
Like "the bathtub" in Southern Wild, why not abandon the lower floors? Effectively build on stilts? Eventually steer gondolas down the canals? Some businesses have already chosen this approach, moving "essential equipment" to upper floors. The NYU lab where the mice died won't house mice there again. Maybe Hushpuppy's dad had the right idea. Although it reminds me of that haunting scene of post-human NY at the end of Spielberg's AI.

If you have thoughts, now's the time, probably past time. How shall we save New York? And London, and Shanghai?



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This page is an archive of recent entries written by Joan Slonczewski in June 2013.

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