The Bight is the notch in the region’s coast where ocean currents conspire to pile sand, forever redrawing the shore. “The Bight” is also an invention — a hard coastline extensively built during the 20th century, now stiff with aging settlements determined (but ill-suited) to stand their ground against storms and sea level rise. These opposing forces, where the immovable city meets an unstoppable nature, define its uncertain future. It’s time to blur the line.
To relieve this tension, which threatens hundreds of miles of coast, hundreds of thousands of residents, and hundreds of billions of dollars in property losses, we propose replacing the hardened edge separating the city and nature with a new “landscape economic zone” — a buffer in which land and water commingle, creating new spaces for habitation, conservation, work and play.
Rather than futilely trying to hold the line, the zone’s mantra is “receive, protect, adapt.” Strengthen urban spines and nodes on higher ground to receive new residents at higher densities. Protect low-lying areas using the absorptive capacity of the buffer, and adapt to a more amphibious lifestyle in the zone — transforming the coastline into the new urban frontier.
The result is a less sprawling and more productive coast, made all the more resilient by tailoring homes, neighborhoods, and cities to this new reality. To test our hypothesis, we chose three sites representing three urban scales of the Bight in three snapshots from the future:
A vanishing barrier island refuses the inevitable and becomes a test bed for “the flood life.”
Well-managed retreat produces one of Long Island’s most desirable retirement communities nestled inland from a coastal “energy farm.
A half-submerged Jamaica Bay protects its edges while doubling as New York City’s new sunken central park.
Each scenario poses an opportunity to raise questions around the futures of energy, community, finance, and work in the region. Ranging from the rapid transition toward renewable energy to the redefinition of leisure in an era of intense automation, these seismic shifts go hand-in-hand with reimagining the Bight as a new open space for America’s most populous region, rather than an increasingly untenable line in the sand.