Building the World

December 22, 2017
by buildingtheworld

Sinking Cities

Jakarta: originally Jayakarta or “Victorious City.” Muhammad Rashid Prabowo, photographer, Wikimedia commons.

Jakarta is sinking; sections of Indonesia’s capital city have lost 2 inches per year. Buildings in this dense city of 10 million people weigh down coastal land. Residential and business development increased demand for drinking water. Drilled wells, legal and illegal, caused the city to sink further. Draining urban underground aquifers is “like deflating a giant cushion.” Experts warn Jakarta must fix the problem within this decade. Climate change is worsening the situation: sea-rise could bring water even closer, as much 36 inches. Other cities may take note. Subsidence plagues Mexico City, built on a drained lakebed. Boston, shaped by landfill, contends with subsidence as well as sea-rise. New York is vulnerable to storm surge. The Erie Canal linking New York to the Great Lakes may hold promise as inland waterways play a new role in water protection. Inland Waterways International may offer innovations.  Coastal cities might find guidance from the Urban Harbors Institute in Boston. The East Coast of the United States is particularly vulnerable to sea-rise because of the steep sea-level slope just offshore that keeps the Gulf Stream channeled. Climate scientists place New  York, Boston, Norfolk, Ft. Lauderdale, and Miami on the watch list. Put a price on it? Coastal storm “Sandy” flooding New York and New Jersey in 2012 cost $50 billion. Sea-level rise brings inundation, flooding, erosion, wetlands loss, saltwater intrusion, and damaged sanitation systems. Meanwhile, Jakarta is sinking faster than any city on the planet. As goes Jakarta, so may go other coastal communities. When the problem is solved, Jakarta will give new meaning to its original Javanese name: Jayakarta or “Victorious City.”

Brown, Sally, Robert J. Nicholls, Collin D. Woodroffe, Susan Hanson, Jochen Hinkel, Abiy S. Kebede, Barbara Neumann, Athanasios T. Vafeidis. “Sea-Level Rise Impacts and Response: A Global Perspective.” Coastal Hazards, edited by Charles W. Finkl. Springer, 2013.

Climate Central. “These U.S. Cities Are Most Vulnerable to Major Coastal Flooding and Sea Level Rise” 25 October 2017. 

Crowell, Mark, Jonathan Westcott, Susan Phelps, Tucker Mahoney, Kevin Coulton, Doug Bellow. “Estimating the United States Population at Risk from Coastal Flood-Related Hazards.” Coastal Hazards, edited by Charles W. Finkl, pp. 245-66. Springer. DOI:10.1007/978-94-007-5234-4.

Kemp, Andrew C. and Benjamin P. Horton. “Contribution of relative sea-level rise to historical hurricane flooding in New York City.” Journal of Quaternary Science 28.6:537-541.

Kimmelman, Michael. “Jakarta Is Sinking So Fast, It Could End Up Underwater.” 21 December 2017. The New York Times

Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR). “A Stronger, More Resilient New York.” 11 June 2013.

Yin, Jianjun, Michael E. Schlesinger, ad Ronald J. Stouffer. “Model projections of rapid sea-level rise on the northeast coast of the United States.” Nature Geoscience. 15 March 2009. DOI:10.1038/NGEO462.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

September 30, 2017
by buildingtheworld
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Canals: building the future

Caño Martín Peña  may offer a vision for the future. Help Puerto Rico now. Image: wikipedia.

Caño Martín Peña stretches 3.75 miles linking wetlands and canals to rivers meeting the sea of San Juan Bay, Puerto Rico. In 2004, eight communities along the canal incorporated to protect the canal, and dredge the channel; in 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Urban Waters Federal Partnership issued a nueva vida – new life- vision for the canal. Rebuilding Puerto Rico, after recent hurricane destruction, may increase awareness of canals in flood mitigation. According to Inland Waterways International, canals create economic and environmental benefits, as well as locally-generated electric power. The World Canal Cities Organization recently met in Shaobo, China to explore the Grand Canal, busiest in the world, and building block of the Belt and Road InitiativePanama and Suez are also notable. The Erie Canal opened the United States to a new era of development; the New York Canal Corporation worked with the World Canals Conference to host the 2017 conference on the Erie Canal in Syracuse, New York. What should the future hold for the world’s canals? How might Puerto Rico lead the way? Enlace and the Caño Martín Peña Ecosystem Restoration Project aim to improve 6,600 acres of the San Juan Bay, and the lives of those near its waters. In the future, canals may help coastal cities weather rising seas, allowing the water in as in Rotterdam. Meanwhile, Puerto Rico looks for help now, and leadership in the future, perhaps including a new vision of canals.

To help Puerto Rico: and

Urban Waters Federal Partnership, “New Life for the Martín Peña Channel.”

Building the World, “A River Runs Through It.”

Kimmelman, Michael. “Going With the Flow.”

Inland Waterways International, “World Wide Waterways.”

New York Canal Corporation,

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

July 6, 2017
by buildingtheworld

Wedding of the Waters (Engagement Announcement)

Erie Canal in Lockport, NY. Image: W.H. Bartlett, 1839, wikimedia commons.

The waters announced their engagement in 1817 but would not be wedded until 1825. Upon the bicentennial of the Erie Canal, concert tours by water will ring celebratory along the route credited with shaping the economic and political destiny of the United States. Historians say the Erie Canal may have been inspired by Robert Fulton, of steamboat fame, who admired the Canal des Deux Mers in France. Once the engagement’s union was fulfilled, in the “wedding of the waters,” the Erie Canal was an instant success. Shipping goods from Buffalo to New York City before, required two weeks; via the canal, three days. Similarly, the cost of transporting goods by land, formerly $100 per ton, was now reduced to $10 per ton. What are the waterways of the future? Such considerations will be explored at the World Canals Conference, convening this year in Syracuse, New York, on the Erie Canal.


New York State Museum

Erie Canal Museum:

Bike the canal route:

See the art:

Hear the music:

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


June 8, 2017
by buildingtheworld

The Deep Frontier

Mulloidichthys vanicolensis, Coral reef, Guam, Mariana islands. NOAA Coral Kingdom Collection: Photographer, David Burdock. Wikimedia commons.

World oceans may be the deep frontier; we have explored just 5% of the seas that give name to the water planet. Great cities were built for ocean access: Amsterdam, port of the Netherlands; Singapore, hub of the trade winds; New York, joined inland by the Erie Canal, celebrating its 200th anniversary. Other ocean to inland waterways include the Grand Canal of China, the world’s longest; Suez and Panama, both led by Ferdinand de Lessups. Will the Channel Tunnel inspire a TransAtlantic HyperloopOcean Portal, by the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, offers educational resources for teachers and students. June 8 marks World Oceans Day, when over 100 countries honor, and protect, our oceans.

For the 5% of the oceans we have explored, and the future of our oceans:

For World Oceans Day:

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported Licen

March 6, 2017
by buildingtheworld


St. Petersburg: price of admission to the new city was one large stone, by order of the tsar. Image: wikimedia commons.

March! It’s a month that begins with a command. In fact, some opine that the fourth day may be pronounced as an imperative. Many great achievements thus began: Cyrene was discovered and built in response to a command of the Oracle at Delphi; the Grand Canal was dug by orders of successive emperors. St. Petersburg was built in stone, by directive of Tsar Peter who set, as price of admission to the new city, one large stone. What commands your attention, and action, to march forth?

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

July 2, 2016
by buildingtheworld

Wider Water

Wider Water: the new Panama Canal. Image: wikimedia commons.

Nicaragua almost won; it was preferred until Phillipe Bunau-Varilla and William Nelson Cromwell delivered to the U.S. Congress 50 postage stamps issued by Managua proudly featuring the natural wonder of a volcano. Persuaded by apparent danger, Senator John Spooner proposed an amendment that authorized the purchase of the canal lease but switched location to an isthmus just south. Colombia owned the site: a down payment of $100 million for lease of the desirable strip, followed by $250, 000 per year thereafter, was offered, enhanced by the U.S. battleship Nashville. Colombia agreed: the Hay-Buneau-Varilla Treaty was signed, producing not just the canal agreement but also a new government for a new nation, named Panama. A flag was sewn overnight; a constitution was conveniently ready; $10 million went straight into the new treasury. On 3 November, 1903, Panama was born, a nation conceived by a canal. In 1914, the Panama Canal opened.

But in 100 years, shipping changed: some container ships grew too big to transit the waterway. In 2007, a new lane, stretching 77 km (48 miles) was dug, missing the centennial by two years, but opening on 26 June 2016. The first ship to float thru was the Andronikos, flying the flag of the Marshall Islands but owned by China Cosco Shipping Corporation: it won the honor by lottery. Wider locks, deeper channels, $6 billion dollars, labor disputes, construction delays: all these challenges were overcome. Ships with 14,000 containers can transit; before 5,000 was the limit. But nature may present a more serious issue, one that the canal cannot do without: water. A new draft limit was revised down from 12.2 meters to 11.89 (39 feet), due to drought. If the water levels rise, the draft allowance will return to the planned 15.2.

Bigger problems lurk. Ships are still growing; the latest models carry 18,000 containers — too large even for the new Panama. Will China again win the lottery? Builders of the world’s oldest, and longest, Grand Canal of China, are busy not far from Panama. Wider, deeper and longer than new Panama, a new waterway may open soon, with concern of environmentalists, and development by Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Group, headed by Wang Jing, granted concession in 2013 for the Grand Canal of Nicaragua.

Thanks to Ernst G. Frankel, Cherie E. Potts, and Sheila M. Turney for suggestions.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

August 6, 2015
by buildingtheworld

Suez Canal: Encore!


Amneris, in “Aida” by Verdi. Photographer: Marty Sohl, Metropolitan Opera,

“Aida,” the opera by Guiseppi Verdi, was written in honor of the opening of the Suez Canal. Now there may be an encore. Egypt is widening the canal with a second lane. Before, 49 ships transited per day; the improved waterway will accommodate 97. Wider and longer, the new Suez Canal will also be faster, cutting southbound transit from 18 hours to 11. Building the improved canal, at a cost of $8.5bn, is expected to generate revenue of $13.5bn by 2023. Suez commands 7% of all global water-transport business; this expansion caused the Suez Canal Authority to term the achievement a “rebirth.” Built by diplomat-developer Ferdinand de Lesseps in 1869, the Suez Canal was dedicated, by firman Article VI, for “tariffs of dues for passage…always equal for all nations, no particular advantage ever stipulated for exclusive benefit of any one country.” Should projects of connectivity, such as canals and tunnels, be chartered channels of inclusiveness and peace? On August 6, one year after construction began, the new Suez Canal opening is planned. Will there be a new opera? “Aida” had a sister; Elton John wrote a second version. What artists of today might celebrate the current widening of Egypt’s gateway waters? Verdi, and John, might advise such gateways include a budget for the arts.

“Egypt holds trial run on second Suez Canal,” BBC News, 25 July 2015:

“Egypt opens new Suez Canal,” BBC video, August 6, 2015:

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


March 4, 2015
by buildingtheworld

Solving Brazil’s Water Crisis

Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil: official photo, 2011. Image: wikimedia commons.

Cantareira reservoir, supplying water to 6.5 million Brazilians, is running on empty: 7% capacity in 2014, down from 50% capacity in 2013. Could building canals, like China’s Grand Canal, or France’s Canal des Deux Mers, be the answer? If drought is not solved, there will be energy problems as well: 80% of Brazil’s electricity is hydropower from plants including Itaipu. What actions should president Dilma Rousseff take to solve Brazil’s water crisis?

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

November 26, 2014
by buildingtheworld

Voice of the Future: Sustainable Agriculture and Transport


"Our goal is to transport durable food goods from Vermont and upstate New York down the Hudson to New York City," Erik Andrus, Voice of the Future 2014. Image courtesy of Vermont Sail Freight Project.

Image courtesy of Vermont Sail Freight Project.

At the core of the project is the idea that individuals within a small community can pool their skills and labor to pull off a project of surprising scope and complexity. As project director, it was very inspiring to be at the center of this, and helped to dispel my fear that we have become a nation of passive consumers of products and answers. Together our team built and launched the “Ceres,” a commercial sail-powered vessel with 15 tons cargo capacity in a handful of months on a tiny budget. Our goal was to transport durable food goods from Vermont and upstate New York down the Hudson to the lower valley and New York City, and in so doing tie together the concepts of sustainable agriculture and sustainable transportation.

Erik Andrus, Founder, Vermont Sail Freight Project

Voice of the Future, 2014

November 24, 2014
by buildingtheworld

Did a Postage Stamp Change History?



Did a postage stamp change history? When Phillipe Bunau-Varilla delivered a postal issue featuring a Nicaraguan volcano, thereby swinging the vote, Senator John Spooner immediately proposed an amendment switching the lease to create the Panama Canal. But now Nicaragua may re-emerge in the competition, as a new transitway wider, longer, and deeper has been authorized.  The Nicaraguan route will also feature a bridge to span the waterway, creating more transportation options. However, denizens of the region, where the new waterway is proposed, are raising questions regarding many aspects including effects on the environment. There still may be eruptions: of protest.

For more:

Thanks to Zoe G. Quinn for suggestions on this post.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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