Robert Frost gently reminds us that “Before I built a wall I'd ask to know/What I was walling in or walling out”. In this case, these seawalls only protect those who find themselves lucky enough to be lodged behind them. The rhetoric of “protecting New York City” is vague and self-serving, and ought to compel the question, “Whose New York City”? None of the three plans mentioned above would change anything for the residents of the Rockaways or other barrier islands. Moreover, if for example the water is indeed stopped by a seawall at the Narrows, it will have to find something to do with itself. It is likely that it will double back and form an even greater surge, promptly pounding the coastline nearest it, ie, the entire south side of Staten Island.
This then naturally raises the question of who is incentivized or even allowed to live where, and why. A seawall makes this explicit, and virtually permanent. This is the built environment at its most pointedly political. In fact, the essence of urban infrastructure is oftentimes its representation, or occlusion, of the political. Some may protest, saying that technology is fundamentally agnostic, that it can be used for good or ill but cannot be intrinsically political, but in fact there is nothing new about this.
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The monolithic nature of the seawall will occupy [. . .] instantly communicate who is on the right and wrong side of the tracks. Beyond signaling people where they may and may not live, it may further signal that we (as a society, as a government) refuse to be responsible for those who choose to dwell outside of its protective embrace.