New York City After Global Warming

A scrapbook

Paul Ford
Paul Ford
Jun 30, 2014 · 5 min read

After the Battery Park Seawall Extension was completed, Jordaine Sells found herself without a job. Then a friend told her about a new company in Long Island that specializes in wine cellar reinforcement and flood-proofing. Intrigued, she applied—and soon found herself visiting some of the most stately homes of East Hampton.

“It turns out that reinforcing wine cellars is a lot like seawater abatement,” said Ms. Sells. She held a flashlight and crouched by a wine rack, piled high with Saskatchewan and Siberian reds. It wasn’t good news for the owners: “You can see osmotic blistering in the terrazzo,” she said, snapping a picture and swiping a note into an app. Demand for the services of her employer, VinoContego of Suffolk County, keeps increasing because insurers refuse to cover large collections without specialist certification. “I work six days a week and I could work seven,” said Ms. Sells. “And I’ve been given some great bottles of wine.”

Every year, sprumfall hats keep getting bigger, with none bigger than those of James Fra, Master Milliner for YvesSaintWuyong. So there were shocked gasps around the runway when his collection featured hats reduced in diameter from six feet to two—even smaller than a typical winter chapeau.

“Women are tired of hiding,” explained Fra. “They feel free for the two months of winter. Then they need to wear these giant sunblockers for ten more months and it’s exhausting, it’s hard on the neck, it keeps other people at bay. Giant hats ruin romance and intimacy. More and more, women want to accept the sun rather than hide from it.”

Mike Illroy is a computational biologist at Rockefeller University, where he engineers grain crops that can flourish in arid, tornado-prone regions. Five years ago his first marriage ended in divorce. “It was a hard time. Dad was at loose ends,” said his son Kit, now a student at “He just had no idea what to do.” Mr. Illroy gave up all rights to a co-op on the Upper East Side but kept his family’s lakeside house near Woodstock, New York. Then, on the same day the divorce papers were finalized, that house was destroyed by Superstorm Jodi.

He spent the next few weeks salvaging what he could from the wreckage. “The metaphor wasn’t lost on me,” he said. But then, at his doorway (“if I’d still had a doorway”), appeared an attractive flood-and-hardship insurance adjuster named Dorothy Almay, herself a recent divorcee.

“I noticed her, of course,” said Mr. Illroy. “She was wearing very nice wading boots. But in my state I wasn’t thinking romance.”

“My car drove me up to his driveway and he was pulling a wet sofa out of his ruined house. I just thought: Damaged goods.” But after the claims were paid out, she found herself searching his name (“he was a scientist, it was a good sign”). Once she cleared it with her supervisor, she sent him coffee coupons, and he agreed to redeem them.

“I’d lost my marriage, lost my house, and I never forget that hundreds of people lost their lives in that storm,” Mr. Illroy said. “But here, all of a sudden, was a new life for me.” The two will wed in July in the same Catskills town where they first met.

At first, Mermaid Flotilla seems like another tired variation on the “low-impact foodboat” trend, down to the repurposed tug and biofluorescent strip lighting. But then you taste the braised mock bluefin tuna with lemon-tarragon crème fraîche. This reviewer has never tasted real bluefin, but it’s hard to imagine it could best this—there’s nothing mock about the intensity and flavor.

And while many foodboats talk up their farm-to-galley ethos, this one actually sails to the farm, in the northern part of Queens, during dinner. There, curious diners can disembark and, a few blocks from the waterfront, enter a shambling, vine-covered vertical farm built within an old radio factory. Diners can meet their pullets (floor two), hear a brief lecture on hydroponics (floor nine), check out a greenhouse filled with varieties of tomatoes on the roof and admire the view of Little Neck Bay, then descend through a stairwell overgrown with hop vines used to brew the Flotilla’s own beer. Everything is well-labeled and the young farmers, who wander around in dirty jeans using special probes, are glad to answer questions. Before returning to the boat to finish their 12-course prix fixe, visitors are encouraged to use the vertical farm’s composting toilet. Which means that Mermaid Flotilla might be the first farm-to-table-to-farm restaurant in history.

Mr. DeVoto said that while buying the rights to vanished oceanfront property in Brooklyn and the Rockaways “might seem crazy” he had science to back him up. He likes to bring up a chart of sea levels on his glowglass and point out the highs and lows over the centuries. “What people call warming is natural and normal,” he insisted. A tall, voluble, and bearded man in his late 40s, he stood under the solar canopy of his sloop, the Vice-President Boehner.

A decade ago Mr. DeVoto was a real estate lawyer. One night, he said, he realized that federal law allowed him to purchase some rights to former beachfront from the city government, which bought the land during the major evacuations. The price for this potential land, once worth billions of dollars, is a few thousand per acre. If the waters ever recede, it’s his.

Today, he owns most of what used to be Coney Island. “There were whole communities here, parks and stores and churches.” He pointed west, toward the former Rockaways, where Breezy Point used to be. “Politically it was easier to forget these people. Some neighborhoods get seawalls. Others get forgotten.”

Mr. DeVoto believes that these communities could some day return. He said that, while he does not believe that government megaprojects are effective, he is hopeful that efforts to cool the poles will bring back the beaches within his lifetime.

“When the tide goes out,” he said, “I’ll be sitting on a goldmine.”

The Message

A Pandaemonium Revolver Collection. Season 2 stars @anildash @alanalevinson @ftrain @hipstercrite @itsthebrandi @jamielaurenkeiles @vijithassar @yungrama @zeynep. Season 1 available on DVD shortly.

Paul Ford

Written by

Paul Ford

Co-founder,, a digital product studio in NYC. Also writer, Medium advisor, programmer. Any port in a storm, especially ports 80 and 443.

The Message

A Pandaemonium Revolver Collection. Season 2 stars @anildash @alanalevinson @ftrain @hipstercrite @itsthebrandi @jamielaurenkeiles @vijithassar @yungrama @zeynep. Season 1 available on DVD shortly.