JF Ptak Science Books Post 1470
Last week I wrote a post on Herman Soergel's plan for extending the landmass of the countries around the Mediterranean Sea by damming the straits of Gibraltar, lowering the sea and irrigating the Sahara--an original, interesting but not very good idea, filled with briney cultivation and racial politics. In the past on this blog I've written about other city plans--and in particular, for New York City--that have involved floating Manhattan into the harbor, or filling up large chunks of the Narrows, or floating the city on an enormous anti-gravity platform, and so on. Some of those plans were real, some science fiction, and some were plainly beyond both. The plan presented above is another monster, but at least this one could work, if not for the doing of it, and the expense. And the will.
But the bottom line, according to the engineer doing the thinking on this project, Kennard Thomson, would supposedly net the city a cool billion dollars after everything was said and done, and that would be 1916 dollars--that was equal to about 5% of the American GDP (!) in 1916, which would be about $400 billion in terms of 2010 GDP. I'm not sure how Thomson came up with this very big/very round number, though it must have been done for effect--I can just imagine him standing before a smokey room filled with civil engineers talking about his massive plan for enlarging NYC and throwing out the billion-dollar figure, watching the cigars glow red in exhaled disbelief.
Thomson did know what he was talking about--he was a busy (and "leading" according to the NYT) Manhattan civil engineer of stature, working on the Canal Barge and being the principal engineer for the Municipal and Singer buildings, for example--and his project seems to be well within the scope of possibility. Their sensical aspects however are, well, questionable.
Here's the story--around 1911, while examining proposals to repair and extend New York's wharves, Thomson came upon the idea--a magnificent, fabulous idea--of adding new wharves by adding new lands to the city. In short, the overall plan was to fill in the East River (!!) and reclaim the new land for city living, dam Hell Gate, construct a New East River (from Flushing to Jamaica Bay), extend the tip of Manhattan Island from the Battery to within a quarter-mile of Staten Island (!), create a new 40-square-mile island between Sandy Hook and Staten Island, extend the Jersey shoreline, add two new Manhattan-sized appendages to the east shore of Staten Island, and more. All of this would be connected by various new bridges and roads and tunnels, as well as a 6-track elevated railway that would circumnavigate the city. The purpose of all of this would be to add 100 miles of new docks, an enormous amount ("50 square miles of reclaimed land") of new land and the capacity for NYC to house 20+ million people, all of which would be worth a billion dollars.
Thomson really meant "really" in the title for the proposal. There have been reclamation projects undertaken in New York Bay since then of course, and I think that virtually all of what Thomson talked about could be done. I think it would be a very interesting project for a class of some sort to undertake an estimation of what such a thing would cost today (and I would guess to duplicate the idea in real terms now would take up a sizable chunk of the GDP). Maybe all of this will make sense at some more future point.
Another treatment of the whole idea can be seen at Frank Jacob's great Strange Maps blog, here.