Monday, October 8, 2012

New York missive no 121 - Glacial erratics

In a book about New York's East River I encountered the fabulous term “glacial erratic”. A glacial erratic is a boulder transported by a moving sheet of ice and then left when the ice melts, surrounded by geology different from itself.

The book begins with images and drawings of the East River (which is actually a tidal strait) before it was riddled with human influence. Such as a 1777 view northeast from a scraggy hilltop in what is now Central Park, looking across the expansive “Harlem Plain” to Wards and Randalls Islands. And an early 20th Century photograph of rocky coastline at East Elmhurst, which now lies under the Grand Central Parkway. That photo's caption reads: “By the 1930s, this highway...permanently walled the community from waterfront access except for a narrow, noisy strip of sidewalk.”

Our treatment of the East River has swung between respect and abuse. I won’t be surprised if some day she says that she has had enough and tries to kick us out for good. Native Americans and then the early settlers depended on her for food and transport. With the city's industrialization we clogged up the creeks that fed her – the tidal basin of Flushing Creek became Corona Dumps for example – and turned our backs on her, lining her banks with freeways and runways.

Now there’s an effort to get her back. Mayor Bloomberg has a “Vision 2020” to re-connect New Yorkers to the waterfront. ("Expand Public Access" is the plan’s first goal, but it will be access of a certain kind I’m sure, involving plenty of re-zoning to allow for the construction of towering apartment buildings à la Long Island City).

I wonder what the river will make of this change of heart? The last of the plan's eight goals is "increase climate resilience". That may not be enough to prevent the gleaming new riverside developments from being battered by storms and ultimately swept away by rising tides.


EWINY posts may become a bit more sporadic for a while. I'm back to work tomorrow after four months of maternity leave. I've also decided I need to use the precious hour that I have here and there for writing to finish something I'm working on, rather than babble away here!