After Hurricane Sandy blew through New York in October, the lion's share of media coverage focused on the beachfront where damage was most visible. In lower Manhattan though, the 3m storm surge took a subterranean toll, ruining millions of dollars worth of mechanical systems and forcing many developers to consider how they'd retrofit for the next big one.
One downtown tower's plan to stave off the rising tides? A towering, $US250,000 airtight gate.
2 Gold, an 839-unit rental complex in the Financial District, was one of the hardest hit buildings in Manhattan — the city even declared uninhabitable after the storm. This week, after a lengthy legal battle with pissed-off tenants and $US15 million in repairs, the building's owners unveiled the centrepiece of their defence plan: a 4m gate that will gird its basement against the next "storm of the century" (maybe we should just cut to the chase and start calling them storms of the decade).
According to the Daily News, the gate uses nitrogen gaskets to create a sealed barrier in the complex's basement. It's designed to self-activate during crazy floods, saving the sensitive mechanical systems and preventing another seven-month-long debacle. These types of gates are common in hurricane-prone areas of the south, but 2 Gold is the first building in Manhattan to install one, and they're likely to become standard on major construction projects in the city.
The problem with building walls and gates to keep out rising tides is that the storms are predicted to get worse and worse. Sandy's 3m surge was twice as high as any previous storm. A 4m wall seems foolproof, but so did the building's old 90cm wall. It's not that we shouldn't build defence mechanisms for low-lying buildings. But there are plenty of ecologists who argue we should be thinking way, way bigger than a couple of measly floodgates.
For example, some groups are proposing that the city start building artificial archipelagos in New York Harbor to absorb the intensity of the next surge, or creating marshy "soft edges" around the city's perimeter to lessen the blow. Construction is already underway on one soft edge project between the Williamsburg and Brooklyn bridges (above), and similar changes are being made on Governor's Island. In 50 or 60 years, we might be making large-scale changes not to the city, but to the land and water that surround it. For now, though, New York's best defence against the rising tide is no different from the Romans against the Barbarian hordes: a big gate, and a little luck.