I didn’t set out to be a prophet(ess). I never wanted it to happen. I only took the published facts and translated them into a physical and visual indicator. In fact, I was hoping that I could bring the conversation to light in order that we might avoid this.
We were lucky. Bloomberg & Cuomo stood their ground – they shut down transit, MTA, bridges and ordered a mandatory evacuation. Everyone said, don’t be fooled into complacency, Irene was a “near miss” – this one is like no other. Hurricane Sandy brought the HighWaterLine project into stark reality this week.
I have seen images of water up to (and past in many cases) where I drew the line. I keep hearing about incidents that, sadly, don’t surprise me at all. The explosion at the 14th street substation? That is a power plant right on the coastline, and below 10 feet above sea level. The height of the storm surge? Reportedly 13 feet.
The images are shocking, the storm itself was pretty scary, but the inundation (which was quieter than the wind rattling the windows, tearing down trees and ripping up fences and awnings – and even a few building facades). The inundation is what has crippled the city – the subway and the tunnels remain closed. Manhattan below 38th street remains without power. And, as this insightful article states, even though “the worst of the storm is over” the recovery has only barely begun, and there are a lot of pieces missing in the recovery.
In 2007 I walked along almost 70 miles of Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan coastline. I got to know the people who lived, worked and played in those communities. I know what the Paedergat Basin is, and what the Gowanus and Newtown Creek look like. I have seen the power station at 14th street.
I have also seen the sewage treatment plants, waste transfer stations, other power stations, and the schools, hospitals, nursing homes and neighborhoods that were inundated. At the time I sought to get climate change and its potential impacts to be a part of the conversation – locally, at the city and state levels and maybe even at the federal level. Many have complained that it is still not a part of the national conversation, it should be. If we don’t solve this, what do any of the other problems matter? What is good education if there is no school? Healthcare when the hospitals can’t operate? Housing rights when your house has been washed away?
Thankfully, Bloomberg and Cuomo are talking about it. Even Cuomo’s quote, “It seems like we have a 100 year flood every two years now,” is eerily familiar to the conversation I had on the streets during the project.
…the likelihood of a 100-yr flood could become as frequent as once in every 43 years by the 2020s, once in every 19 years by the 2050s, and once in 4 years by the 2080s, on average, in the most extreme case.
I never wanted this to be a reality. Five years ago I couldn’t have even imagined it. And this year I have been finishing up curriculum (with Tricia Watts) to allow other communities to realize their own version of HighWaterLine and working with Heidi Quante to bring the project to London and Miami, and working on a Philadelphia HighWaterLine with Chemical Heritage Foundation.
And along comes Sandy. And now it is true.
I have really mixed feelings about the project. Last year we didn’t end up doing it in Dublin because they experienced flooding with fatalities, and it just felt too soon.
It is an awkward situation in which I find myself. These projects are really really important in engaging around the very harsh, scary and sad realities of climate change. But seeing it is another thing. It hurts. It is scary. I am speechless often and shocked by the images.
And yet, here I am, a voice that really really knows what is at stake, and I have a certain responsibility to sharing that story.
I don’t have an answer. Only more questions. But I hope that Obama starts to talk about the reality of climate change. And I hope, since he wouldn’t run for re-election again, he can ignore the lobbyists and the big money and make some bold moves for the US, that other countries could proudly follow.
There was the guy in Gerritsen Beach whose family grew up in and owned houses in the neighborhood dating back to his grandmother – in the worst case scenario, his own grandchildren wouldn’t have that opportunity. The gentleman who chose to spend the summer at his mother’s place in Manhattan Beach instead of his apartment in Bushwick, his children or grandchildren may not have that opportunity.
But this project is about hope and belief in our ability to change the course we are on. There is the guy whose meditation class is focusing in July on less consumption. The woman in Sheepshead who wanted to get involved in the community in order to raise awareness about flooding. The family on the way to the beach who remarked how by saving energy, they could save money.
…And for every one person who is a skeptic or annoyed about the chalk on the street, there are the 10 or more that are so excited about the project and the information that they high five me on the curb, or call out to say hello as I ride my tricycle down the road. Sometimes I am utterly utterly exhausted by the end of the day, but as soon as I put down the next mornings first stripe of chalk or have a kid run up to ask “What are you doing?” I feel energized and ready to take on the days path.
…I get to look back at the stories that I have heard and the incredibly varied neighborhoods that I have seen, and the people I have met, and I feel really truly honored to be the one who is bearing witness. I hope that I can find a way to share the sights and stories from the project. I hope that I also am able to give something back to the communities through which I pass and to the people that I meet.