Episode #159: Gotham Unbound

Frank concludes his interview with Dr. Ted Steinberg, ecological historian and author of the book Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York. In this second part of a two-part conversation, Dr. Steinberg explains the origins of the book title, and challenges the notion that New York City can grow without limits in an age of rising sea levels. Climate models predict an 11 to 24 inch rise in sea levels in the coming decades, which spells big trouble for the Big Apple as flooding and other natural catastrophes become a certainty in one of the most built environments on the planet. He breaks down the different plans that have been put forth for mitigating these problems, most of which are costly and unrealistic, while monyed interests continue to push for an ever-expanding growth horizon for New York City.

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Episode #159: Gotham Unbound — 2 Comments

  1. Was hoping he might comment on the idea of damming the Verrazano Narrows and Throgs Neck. He mentioned it very briefly but didn’t use the words dam or dike, only “barrier”. It seems really ironic to me that most of the nation of Holland is below sea level but they are completely capable of thriving, while even the most valuable city in the United States, Holland’s long lost child, hasn’t already invested in this sort of engineering — business as usual in northern Europe. Is there some civil engineering reason why it can’t be done in New York, where there’s plenty of terrain to work with, versus in the very flat Netherlands or Thames watershed? Who cares if it’s “difficult”. As he says, “New York is planning to be flooded” — a very Venetian attitude!

    (There are also other radical “future past” scenarios that he didn’t mention, like filling in the East River, or building over the Hudson, draining New Jersey’s wetlands, diverting the Hudson to the Atlantic via Kenisco Lake, etc. It would be interesting to numerically compare these ideas with the logistics of the Panama Canal or the sum of all New York’s landshaping.)

    “Reason and sound thinking” probably don’t have the upper hand, as you say — I certainly see this in my own behavior and in the landscape all around me. Laziness is a very underrated world-shaping force.

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