The Agency of the Contour by .

The Agency of the Contour: Evacuation plan reveals historic Manhattan waterline

Over at Manhattan Past, an interesting observation on how the Hurricane Sandy evacuation plan* reveals Lower Manhattan’s historic waterfront. As land was reclaimed from the Hudson and East Rivers, former lowlands became higher ground, newly protected from inundation. Water has a funny way of underscoring the agency of the “invisible” contour line.**

It is interesting to compare the evacuation map to a 1776 map of the island before much of the coastline was augmented by landfill. The eastern line of Zone A along the Hudson River runs along Greenwich Street, which was at the waterfront in 1776. The old slips on the East River extend inland to Queen Street, now Pearl Street, which is near where Zone A runs along the East River.

Also notable on the 1776 map is Bayard’s Mount, the high land rising in the area marked “Marshy Ground”  north and northwest of the old Collect Pond. The pond was drained in the early 19th Century and Bayard’s Mount was leveled to fill it in, but as can be seen in the evacuation plan, the pond and the marsh left their mark on modern Manhattan in the form of a hook-shaped low area delineated by the border of Zone B.

* The NYC Sandy evacuation plan is a great model of rapid digital deployment which Fast.Co.Design describes in some detail: “The street grid comes from OpenStreetMap, the free, editable map of the world based on open source software. The zones and shelter data were overlaid using MapBox, a fast way to create and publish your own maps with an open API. The map builds on the success of the city’s Hurricane Irene map. NYC’s Chief Digital Officer Rachel Sterne explains that she wants to “encourage expert designers and developers to take advantage of the geographic files corresponding to hurricane evacuation zones, available free of charge on the NYC Open Data platform.” More info on NYC’s other digital initiatives at

**Take a look at the Kreilsheimer Pavilion by Kathryn Gustafson for this in action at a micro scale.

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