Fluid New York: Cosmopolitan Urbanism and the Green Imagination

Fluid New York: Cosmopolitan Urbanism and the Green Imagination

Fluid New York is a memoir of New York City between Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg’s mayorship. It is an exploration of archipelagic New York, the city of many islands, more than the five boroughs we are customary used to thinking about. The book explores the forgotten and buried water traces of the city.  It connects quotidian practices to the hidden ecological memory of the city’s past. An ancient pond, an old river bed, a former swampland, are all now part of what we call New York City. Yet, how people use these now transformed sites have uncanny and sometimes, conscious connections to this forgotten ecological past. The most evocative of these environmental traces is New York’s forgotten shoreline. Hurricane Sandy dramatically reshaped New York’s relationship to this palimpsestic shoreline perpetually transformed through its Native American, Dutch, British and American land reclamation techniques. Fluid New York is a wake up call to rethink the implications of island cities. New York is an accident of water. It is a city vulnerable to storm surge. Its archipelagic structure demands new ways of thinking about its future growth. 

Refuge City

New York City is a refuge city. It is a city that has seen different sorts of displacements and always been a hospitable place for the displaced. With Hurricane Sandy, New Yorkers transformed the city into a refuge city, opening their homes, couches, and offices to friends and strangers, providing convivial help where ever possible, at the junction of traffic light stops where the lights had stopped working, at corners of streets where stranded tourists sought directions, and at home where old acquaintances called seeking a safe bed for the night.

New York is a refuge city in ethos. It is a city that understands that disaster is a shared communal burden. How New Yorkers cope with large disasters never stops to impress.

Coastal Cities, Rising Waters

The last 72 hours leading towards Hurricane Sandy hitting New York City, was a scene of chaos and national unpreparedness. 2.8 million people without power in New York City, hospitals in New York whose back up generators did not work, inadequate attention paid to Storm surge warnings by the Atlantic City mayor, over 10,000 flights cancelled with many more cancellations to follow, leaving travellers in stranded disarray. Many things that could have been more efficiently managed, were not adequately attended to. The scale of the black out in New York along with the extensive water damage, leaves New York in a place of reinvention once again. The sea is a central component to New York’s future. We are not ready to deal with the scale of water management required to secure New York’s extensive shoreline. How the city recovers from this devastating disruption to its public transportation networks and its low lying neighborhoods will tell us how far we have come since Robert Moses’s city designed for the car, cutting New York’s residents from its spectacular shores. The sea now comes to the city, demanding we engage with its shifting rhythms.

Hurricane Sandy

New York City cut off from the rest of New York- Manhattan’s island-ness is once again made prominent. Over 14 inches of water in Battery Park City, all of New York City ravaged and made vulnerable. Subways flooded. Downtown Manhattan without power. Island City’s like Manhattan have to deal with their island-ness with greater ecological awareness than has been given the island’s coastline historically.  Will Hurricane Sandy reshape how we imagine our future as an island city? 


Harmattan Theater, Mar Portugues, Da Gama’s Last Dream.
Terreiro Do Paco, Lisbon, Portugal

Edge of the Sea

When The Sea Rises

Kalaripayatti Performance

Spirit of the Tanabaru

Cape of Good Hope

Impending Reality

New York is slowly awakening to its coastal vulnerability. It is unprepared for the massive erosion of waterfront property in the coming years of rising water levels. How can we imagine our future in the light of this pressing fact?

Mar Portugues, Terreiro do Paco, Lisbon.

Performing Da Gama’s last dream.

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