Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Suffering A Sea Change


Mayor Bloomberg has announced his plan to combat the effects of rising seas on our urban population and infrastructure. Applause for having a plan, but I want to point to a couple of things.

In NYC, most of us who live on the water do it because its a splendid place to live, but for most of our history the waterfront, if it was occupied at all, was occupied by industry and shipping. The damage to it by flooding was often less critical than it is to the residential and retail space that have replaced it. It is clear, however, that if we didn't build on the boundary of the sea and the land, there would be little to spend billions defending against. The sea and the land are always in flux, giving and taking, and if you want to build something permanent in this space, you best design adaptive structures and infrastructure. All I can say is that we, not the sea, are our own worst enemy. We build directly on the sea, we cause a phenomena that results in sea rise, destroying a generally storm-resilient coastline, and then aim to build a way to protect ourselves from the monster we created. An old, but decent overview of shoreline protection awaits you here.

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Mayor Bloomberg insists that hydraulically fractured gas be kept out of the city's water supply regions. Why? Because he agrees that the risk of polluting our clean water supply is simply too high. Yet he then proposes that the city's response to human-caused global warming is to pump way more gas into the city because it has been considered less harmful to the climate. New pipelines are coming in at every angle, including through the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and Gateway National Recreation Area. Where is this new gas expected to pipe in from? Of course, it's the fracked states of the Marcellus Shale and maybe one day from our own State of New York. I don't believe in a double standard. If it's too risky for us in the city, it's too risky for everyone.

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Just a month ago I had a meeting with New Amsterdam Market. I reached out to them last December because I thought their model of bringing high quality, local foods to New Yorkers best matched my farming practice. Their offices were flooded by Hurricane Sandy and they had to relocate, so they were late in responding to my interest. As it so happens, the other reason they took so long to respond to my letter was that they are effectively being removed from the Fulton Fish Market. Yes, as it turns out, the City of New York (which means Bloomberg and Quinn) has envisioned the South Street Historic District, a waterfront, with new development of the residential, retail, and commercial kind. In fact, this plan is embedded in Mayor Bloomberg's plan to protect NYC from future sea level rise! What? Yes, it's true. Even a plan to protect the city from future flooding is an opportunity to develop public spaces with private dollars. Whereas a market with little infrastructure could tolerate occasional flooding, a new mall, hotels, residences and closed food markets will be a disaster to clean up after a flood. It simply makes little sense unless you view it through the lens of big money. As a consequence, this year New Amsterdam isn't having its regular markets. That's just great since they welcomed me to join their market to sell my garlic!


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