Northeast
An artist’s rendering from the 2014 Seaport City report. NYCEDC/TW Schafer

Manhattan Transfer - To save the city from rising seas, build more of it.

Bill de Blasio has plans to part the East River—and expects New Yorkers to follow him 500 feet into the estuary, to a new land that will protect downtown from the sea.

On Thursday, New York’s mayor reiterated the city’s intent to preserve its core by reclaiming a slice of New York Harbor between the Brooklyn Bridge and the southern tip of Manhattan Island, planting as many as 20 new New York blocks into the silt to keep the rising Atlantic Ocean at arm’s length.

On the one hand, the East River extension is a gargantuan, once-in-a-lifetime endeavor that would transform New York City, at a cost the mayor pegged at $10 billion. On the other, it’s just the latest step in Manhattan’s long march into the harbor, which began with blocks of muddy “water lots” sold to enterprising colonists and culminated with the 1970s construction of Battery Park City on 92 acres of landfill.

It’s an example of the type of investment that cities like Miami and Boston will have to make as climate scientists’ predictions come true. It is also a reminder of how inequitable the adaptation will be, with urgency for the infrastructure of wealthy, central neighborhoods and piecemeal strategies where the land is worth less.

The eye-popping price tag, the mayor reminded New Yorkers, is nothing compared with the damage that would be wrought by another storm like Superstorm Sandy—which inundated New York in 2012, killing dozens and causing billions in damage—or even the periodic storm-surge damage foreseen from rising sea levels in the mid–21st century. “There’s a reason to start thinking about investments like this,” said Howard Kunreuther, a risk management expert who serves on the New York City Panel on Climate Change. “Everyone who’s involved in this panel is very, very concerned about how much worse things are going to get.”

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