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The Power of Water and the Vulnerabilities of Port Cities

Today’s guest blog post is by Stephanie C. Kane:

Tropical Storm Sandy takes a left turn into the Eastern seaboard and meets a Nor’easter, they say. Con Edison’s Lower East Side power station explodes, darkening the iconic skyline from Midtown to Manhattan’s estuarial southern tip, turning Ground Zero into an Iguazú Falls. Families, like mine, stranded in edifices towering above the flooding tunnel networks, familiar sidewalks evacuated, government agencies animated, the eco-blind presidential campaign rhetoric sidelined.   “Often found underground, or on the periphery of cities, infrastructure remains largely invisible until the precise moment at which it breaks down,” writes Pierre Bélanger in Ecological Urbanisms.[i] Wealthy and poor together experience the dread and thrill of a socio-natural disaster in this precise moment. But as events unfold, the different resources available for withstanding disruption reveal the biophysics of inequality. The sudden changes in earth, water and infrastructure  simultaneously affect all people distributed in geographic and social space, but not in the same way. This is why, like climate change-related phenomena more generally, the design of and investment in intelligently integrated, eco-savvy infrastructure are social and environmental justice issues.

In recent decades,  artists, environmental activists, urban planners and landscape designers have been reimagining the world’s post-industrial waterfronts, in New York City and globally. But even as they reimagine the functions and aesthetics, the fixities and flows,[ii] of edge spaces, how many of the newly built environments have seriously grappled with the problems of flexibility, flooding, and problematic interconnectivities of the larger infrastructure of which they are a crucial part? (For a good example, see HafenCity . (http://www.hafencity.com/en/home.html). Continue reading

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