10:51 am Dec. 6, 2012
Mayor Michael Bloomberg this morning gave what was billed as a big infrastructure speech, in which he dismissed one of the biggest-ticket infrastructure proposals of all.
"Over the past month, there's been a lot of discussion about sea walls," he said, at a speech hosted by the Regional Plan Association and the New York League of Conservation Voters in a Marriott downtown. "And it really would be nice if we could stop the tides coming in. But King Canute couldn't do it and neither can we. Especially if, as many scientists project, sea levels continue rising."
Mayor Bloomberg routinely invokes the story of King Canute, the real ruler who supposedly sought to demonstrate that no man, not even a king, could stop the tide from coming in.
Here's how the legend goes, as per the BBC:
The first written account of the Canute episode was in Historia Anglorum (The History of the English People) by chronicler Henry of Huntingdon, who lived within 60 years of the death of Canute (1035 AD).
According to the story, the king had his chair carried down to the shore and ordered the waves not to break upon his land. When his orders were ignored, he pronounced: "Let all the world know that the power of kings is empty and worthless and there is no King worthy of the name save Him by whose will heaven and earth and sea obey eternal laws," (Historia Anglorum, ed D E Greenway).
The account shows Canute setting out to demonstrate that the tide would come in regardless, says Professor Simon Keynes of the department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at the University of Cambridge.
Bloomberg clearly thinks that building sea walls would be a fool's errand; they would cost too much and would quickly be at risk, as the oceans continue to rise, of becoming obsolete. (The mayor's opinion on the matter isn't a universal one in New York officialdom, or even within his administration.)
Rather than use sea walls to mitigate against rising sea levels, as they've done in London and Rotterdam, Bloomberg endorsed smaller (and, he argues, smarter) measures like berms, jetties, levies, and dunes of the sort that saved Fire Island from the worst of Hurricane Sandy.
The co-host of today's breakfast, the Regional Plan Association, has said the city should should look into tidal barriers, as have Rep. Jerry Nadler, and Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
In addition to his tackle box of smaller measures, the mayor said today that the city would update its evacuation zone to better represent existing and future threat levels.
(During the hurricane, some neighborhoods, including Gerritsen Beach, suffered terrible devastation, despite being outside of the mandatory evacuation Zone A.)
He also said that he'd tasked the head of the Economic Development Corporation, Seth Pinsky, with coming up with ways to deal with future storm surges, and Linda Gibbs, his deputy mayor for health and human services, and his deputy mayor for operations Cas Holloway to develop better preparedness and recovery plans for the city's hospitals.
Bloomberg also said, as he has before, that the city would not abandon its shoreline, which, in planner-speak, is known as "retreat," and is something that some serious urban planners think must be an option.
"We're not gonna leave the Rockaways or Coney Island or Staten Island's south shore," he said. "But we can't just rebuild what was there and hope for the best. We have to build smarter and stronger and more sustainably."
Former vice president Al Gore, a surprise guest, introduced Bloomberg's speech, and said that Hurricane Sandy was undoubtedly a result of human-induced climate change.
"Dirty energy causes dirty weather and we have to come to our senses and do someting about it," he said, adding, "What will it take for the national government to wake up, as this mayor has been telling us to do?"
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