The process of reimagining New York City’s infrastructure with
climate change in mind was underway before Sandy, but the storm’s
devastation underscored the urgency of learning from nature and
then planning and designing with her machinations in mind.
There will be some managed retreat—some withdrawal from
coastal areas that one hopes will be graceful—but there are also
ways to stay along our shorelines safely. It demands rethinking the
meaning of edge, redefining it as something more fluid than the
single hard line conveyed by a cartographer’s pen. To get there will
require an era of collaboration and partnership, from government-level climate change panels to grassroots citizen e=orts, from design competitions to smart-phone apps to gatherings of engineers,
city planners, and scientists. It will take people stepping out to
meet their neighbors — before the high waters come.
Ultimately, such a collaborative approach could be our generation’s grand act of conciliation with the changing forces of
the natural world — one that could represent a cautious step into
a future that will allow us to keep some of our coveted seaside
haunts while also conceding that some places we’ve set up camp
are simply not ours to inhabit. A
Go to www.orionmagazine.org/infrastructure to see an audio slide
show about planting a resilient coastline.
John Street Watershed
In our basement, soaking mops, felt sops,
fans, and a useless shop-vac. The sump pump’s
conversation, all regurgitation
The old man down the street
tries to clear the storm drain again:
leaves, plastic flotsam, papery slops,
a condom, and one rubbery flip-flop.
Rain by gills, by gallons.
A boorish rain. A brutal rain.
200 drowned nightcrawlers on a sidewalk slab.
Prairie and Elm and Pine streets flooded.
They’ll add more culverts, pipes, retention ponds.
On a city map (hand-drawn, from the county
archives) farms and fields, a crooked line
branching eastward, cutting through pasture:
It shows a creek where John Street is now,
cattails, scouring rush, bluejoint grass,
and still, beside the creek,
a great blue heron with rain-slick feathers
and lifted beak, dour prophet, skewer
of blind, unwary shadows.
— Janice N. Harrington