Castles Made of Sand: New York


In Castles Made of Sand, the Jimi Hendrix song, love, dreams and hope slip into the sea, eventually. Since 2010, I have been photographing the coastal communities around New York City, another kind of castles made of sand. These neighborhoods, with the love, hopes and dreams of their residents, will slip into the sea, eventually, if sea level rise is not addressed. Hurricane Sandy was a harbinger of this reality and all of the locations shown in this series were damaged by that storm. From office towers in Lower Manhattan to bungalows in the Rockaways, the threat cuts across all the socio-economic groups that make up the city. Significant infrastructure from the A Train to the tank farms of Bayonne are also found along the metropolitan area’s shores. 

Castles tells a local story but versions of this same tale are unfolding globally. The story can be told in many ways: as a scientific report, an engineering challenge, an economic problem, a saga of sociology. And in New York City, this narrative is entwined with the value of real estate and the city’s current building boom, which is transforming every neighborhood. Whatever the genre, the two basic plots are resilience or retreat. The built environment will be designed to coexist with more water or it will be abandoned. Choices are being made about what to protect, what to change and what to vacate. New sand berms line the beaches of the Rockaways and Staten Island. Homes are being raised in Broad Channel and the lower floors of new apartment complexes designed to withstand flooding. Oakwood Beach is being returned to nature. This story is ongoing with what will happen, eventually, far from certain.