Nature, Intervention & Protection

Discovery inspires.

Participation motivates.

Discovery + Participation + Organization =


Click any of the images above to go to the website of this organization featured once before in our pages and now again in the article below. It will make more sense after reading the article. But do visit the site and consider volunteering. Take some kids along.

In New York, Kate Orff will use oyster reefs to mitigate storm surges. Photograph by Thomas Prior for The New Yorker

Eric Klinenberg‘s work on the topic of libraries provided a sense of common cause. After featuring so many stories about libraries and librarians (my more recent personal anecdote was purposely brief so did not relay how many ways my local library impacted my young life, a topic for another day), his book summed up much of why the institution matters to us. And then some. Advocating for libraries was something a talented academic could do on a larger scale than we could in these pages, especially with publications like those. Bravo. And now this.

After lots of attention to rewilding in these pages, plenty of it related to urban landscapes, the same author that further illuminated our understanding about the value of libraries has convinced me of how much more there is to learn on this topic:

The Seas Are Rising. Could Oysters Help?

How a landscape architect is enlisting nature to defend our coastal cities against climate change—and doing it on the cheap.

On a windy afternoon in April, the landscape architect Kate Orff stood on the open walkway of a container crane, some eighty feet above the Red Hook Terminal, in Brooklyn, and the Buttermilk Channel, a tidal strait on the southeast side of Governors Island. Most places in New York City make it easy to avoid thinking about the rivers, canals, and ocean waters that form an aquatic thoroughfare for the global economy and surround the industrial corridors, office towers, and densely populated neighborhoods where millions of people have settled. This place is not one of them.

Orff, who is forty-nine, pushed back strands of ash-brown hair that had blown loose from her ponytail, and pointed out the busy navigation channels, which, for more than two centuries, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has dredged in order to keep them deep and fast. Then she pointed toward the steel-and-concrete barriers that separate the city from the harbor but that, in 2012, proved no match for Superstorm Sandy.

“I’m interested in reworking the edges,” Orff told me, squinting into the breeze. Farther west, along the Hudson River, we could make out the ports and cities in New Jersey where the risk of tidal flooding has more than doubled over the past generation, as sea levels have risen. Behind us were the Red Hook Houses, the largest public-housing complex in Brooklyn, with some twenty-five hundred units set on a peninsula, a former tidal marsh that will take on more and more water as the planet continues to warm.

“Before Buttermilk Channel was dredged, people used to walk from here to Governors Island at low tide,” she said. “There were oysters, tide pools, grasses, lots of colorful marine life, and they were a big part of New York’s coastal-protection system. They acted like breakwaters, absorbing wave energy and slowing the water before it hit the shore. We’ve spent the past one hundred years dredging out everything for shipping and hardening the edges. Now we have a different climate, and we need a different approach.”

A great deal of Orff’s work addresses the inescapable fact that the Atlantic Ocean is rising, and coming for the land. She’s the founder of the design firm scape, the director of the Urban Design Program at Columbia University, and the first landscape architect to win a MacArthur “genius” grant. She’s also at the forefront of an emerging approach to climate resilience that argues we should be building with nature, not just in nature. Its guiding principle is that “gray infrastructure”—the dikes, dams, and seawalls that modern societies use to contain and control water—is often insufficient, and sometimes destructive. Green infrastructure, by contrast, involves strategically deploying wetlands, dunes, mangrove forests, and reefs to reduce threats of catastrophic flooding and coastal erosion, while also revitalizing the land. This carefully designed “second nature,” the thinking goes, could be our second chance…

Read the whole article here.

One thought on “Nature, Intervention & Protection

  1. Pingback: Nature, Intervention & Protection — Organikos | THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON...

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