This is the post where I share what I’ve learned from my non-fiction travels. Won’t you join me in my latest “huh!” moment? (Brought to you by The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman)
Today I learned that NYC depends on constant human maintenance to stay even half-livable. Without lots of people and machines, it’ll flood pretty quickly, whether this whole global warming thing pans out or not.
Manhattan used to be full of streams (Spring Street?), inlets, and marshes (Central Park was actually “built” by bringing in soil). It also used to be covered in, y’know, dirts and plants and stuff, which did the job of absorbing rain water. Now those streams have been covered up, and that soil has been replaced by concrete. Of course, as one of Weisman’s many experts says, “Rain still falls. It has to go somewhere.”
Turns out, Manhattan’s preservation depends on the minute-by-minute efforts of Transit employees tasked with pumping this water, with over 700 pumps. “Every day, they must keep 13 million gallons of water from overpowering New York’s subway tunnels.”
And like a few other older cities (London and Moscow included), Manhattan’s subway tunnels were built underneath sewage pipes, partly so that they could also be used as bomb shelters. This means that all that excess water has to be pumped uphill.
Without these pumps, even if it didn’t rain at all, it would only take TWO DAYS for the subway tunnels to fill, which would eventually cause all the streets to cave in, in under 20 years. So there goes my nice little notion that our major metropolises would last decades, slowly wearing away (in a rustic but still romantic way) and being inhabited by lovable families of raccoons.