Exploring the Future...until we get there

Category: Cities

Cities and their relationships with water, good and bad.

Where the Wild Things Aren’t (Part 2)

Is it just me, or is the durned wind blowing most all the time now? Of course it’s not just me. More wind is a prevalent characteristic of the Big CC (Climate Change for you newcomers). It’s one of the reasons behind increased evaporation of surface water, whether in rivers, lakes, or your backyard pool. It’s the reason (in part) why wild fires are harder to control. It’s the reason (in part) why weather isn’t the same as it used to be, as anyone over fifty will verify (most likely). It’s the reason (in part) why dust storms rage across different parts of the planet, and at different times of the year, on most any given day.

It’s also the reason (entirely) why the canopy that I was hoping to use in the backyard for the entire summer got ripped to shreds the other night and is now useless to me. Yes, it’s always important to personalize Climate Change, complaining about its small trivial effects that have nothing to do with the big picture. You can always count on me for that. I’m like that figure in history who was more upset about his hang nail than the news that a thousand souls were lost in a mudslide on the other side of the planet (not literally, of course, so please don’t send me hate mail or death threats).

Continuing on that thread, I’d like to say that it’s becoming increasingly hard to rely on the weather to act in your favor for just about anything now. This is also a consequence of the Big CC, and I’m afraid we’re just going to have to get used to it. For the states along the Gulf of Mexico, the rainstorms are going to be a problem again this summer. We just exited the flooding in the late stages last summer (think Baton Rouge in August), and now here we are in the thick of it once more. Panama City, Florida, where I live, is in for a beating over the next couple of days, and I was hoping that last night’s deluge would take care of it. But this is the new pattern – in some ways the wind is out of control, and in others it just sits there, benign and flaccid, letting storm systems sit on top of towns and cities for hours or days, while the bottom drops out and people’s cars go floating down the street. A search on the net (or is it the web? … I never can remember) reveals numerous stories about flash flooding, tornadoes, and severe weather affecting every state from Texas to Florida’s Panhandle right now. Up to ten inches of rain expected in some places. Yep…the new norm.

It rained so hard last night at my place, a pump I had been using for my hydroponic peppers got pummeled into submission. I wonder if the Gub’ment will give out some sort of stipend to people for casualties of war like this. Or maybe it will be a good way to stimulate the economy under Trump. All the plastic junk (like my pump) that gets busted in the fires and floods and hurricanes and tornadoes will have to be replaced with a newer model (still thoroughly plastic, to be sure). Meteorological Economic Stimulation System (uh, yes, I was wondering where I go to pick up my, uh, MESS check?)

When I woke up this morning, I discovered that thousands of ants with wings had somehow gotten blown into my pool (I couldn’t get the cover on it, since the wind was blowing…too…hard). Where they came from, and why they had taken wing like that, I have no idea (ants aren’t supposed to have wings, normally, I don’t guess, unless it’s the Queen, but if everyone’s the Queen, then nobody’s the Queen, and there wasn’t anything royal about any of these little squirming masses of insect balls, anyway, trying to save themselves from the chlorinated water by forming living clumps of writhing panic, clambering up and over the side of the pool to continue on to God only knows where).

I think the fact that we’re killing off species everyday (apparently not flying ants, however) means that there is less wild where living things are concerned. But, because there’s so much excitement otherwise, all being caused by the ever more unpredictable weather, this is probably where we should consider the new wild things to be (i.e., flapping like hell in the weather, itself). After all, isn’t the weather just about as close to a living thing as it gets without actually being alive?

And speaking of flapping like hell, something is definitely going on with the birds. Has anyone else noticed this? It’s one of those things that you don’t even realize you’re taking into account in your brain until you realize that you’re now keeping track of the incidents, like a statistical thing in your life. When I mentioned it to my daughter, I knew it was because I wanted to share my craziness with someone I trusted.

Anyway, the birds seem agitated and restless, less settled than they should be, way too active, and just downright careless. They’re cutting it really super close with my car way too often now. I’ll see them flying straight across my windshield, or coming straight at me before veering off. They’ll land right in front of me on the road before immediately launching back into the sky with mere seconds to spare.

At first I thought it was coincidence. Now, I see a pattern. Could it be related to something in the weather? Maybe it’s the wind. Maybe it’s telling them to get out of town, now, before they become next on the list of species slated for extinction.

Thanks for stopping by!


Where the Wild Things Aren’t (Part 1)

The Meaning of Nature

When we think about that word ‘Nature,’ some of us may not have a clear understanding of its meaning. This is probably due to the idea that the word’s usage is bathed in many ambiguous shades of intent to begin with. Do you need to board a plane to get to this thing called Nature? Is it something ‘over there’ as opposed to nearby? We all say we want to ‘get back to Nature.’ How did we get away from it in the first place? Where is this Nature thingy, anyway? Does it have to be a place set aside by the Gub’ment in order to qualify?

As for me, I’m sitting in it right now, even though there are several degrees of protective separation between me and this thing. I’m wearing a contraceptive called ‘the city’ to keep me safe from the ravages of this beastly foe. A building of some sort will keep me shielded from Her powers most of the time, a car most of the rest. It’s the in-between times that I’m directly exposed to the elements. God forbid that it should start raining and I get caught out in the middle of it. I suppose I could call that ‘Getting back to Nature,’ but it feels lame to me. And I’m pretty sure that’s all I would be if I did ever find myself at Her mercy, exposed without protection of any sort – lame.

My distant ancestors would look upon my sorry, unprepared self and laugh themselves into a stupor at what I’ve become. No survival skills, no knowledge of what to do in this situation or that. No knowledge of where to go, or how to make it through the crisis to see another day. They would have seen said situation as just another run-of-the-mill moment to deal with.  For me, for us, we are all standing in the rain with our pants down.

But I’ve wandered off point. Nature is what the big yellow machines are carving up all over town, and the outskirts of town, right now. It’s where all kinds of wildlife used to call home. Nobody’s going to call it Nature, though. They’ll call it land development. They’ll label it as jobs, growth, progress, zoned construction, economic progress, etc., etc. It’s not Nature. Oh no…anything but that.

It’s not the rabbits, squirrels, birds, turtles, deer, beavers, foxes, frogs, coyotes, raccoons, possums, lizards, snakes, bugs, plants, trees, ground water, springs, lakes, and whatever else might have naturally occurred there before we re-purposed it to our own needs and wants. Nobody on any planning board is going to ask what will happen to all these ‘items’ I just mentioned, because they’re not important. They are part of a bureaucratic process to be taken care of so that everything proceeds on schedule and everyone on the payroll can get a check on time.

The trees and vegetation will very likely be bundled up into several nice neat piles and set ablaze. And nobody has any qualms about rerouting any natural flows of water. It’s one of the things we do best. Name any major river in the world that we haven’t dammed ten times, a hundred times over. Water management is one of our specialties. The huge piles of staged pipe of every color, dimension, material, and purpose will be manifest, no matter what the project, small, big, or massive. The water must either be piped in, piped out, or both.

As far as the living things are concerned, they are entirely on their own. Of this we can be quite certain. As I’ve asked before—what lives in a concrete jungle, anyway, besides us and our pets? We don’t have any time or space for the things that were here before a mall moved in, or a restaurant, or a bank. Even a park has little tolerance for the wild stuff.

A park is largely the same infrastructure as any other city project. There will be sports fields, swimming pools, manicured parking lots, and manicured green spaces. But to think that it will be home to any but the smallest percentage of these creatures on the list is, for the most part, pure folly.

A park is not a wild place. A park gets a trim and a haircut pretty much every day, in some form or fashion. A park is one of the tamest, most purposefully landscaped places you’ll ever encounter in a city. To think you’ll ever see any wild beast much beyond a squirrel is fantasy. Parks are an important component of any civic concern, and the massive expulsion of all living creatures is just a casualty of war.

Anything that does manage to survive for a while in our environs might just as likely be labeled a nuisance as not, and summarily handled by any of a number of ‘pest’ companies that make their money by taking care of other people’s varmint problems.

If you don’t see at least a dozen examples of road kill on even your short trips across town, then you’re not looking very hard. We’ll get ’em, all right, it’s just a matter of time, and odds. The bloody carnage is something we just accept as part of urban living. The squirrels play dodge with oncoming traffic, while the slow poke possums and turtles might as well have left with their affairs in order when they decided that crossing a road was a wise choice for their family. I wonder if anybody has ever done a study to see what kind of increase in road kill numbers takes place in the immediate aftermath, once a project fires up and things start getting ‘felled.’ I would venture to guess the stats would be astounding…for those who care enough about such things to be astounded.

So, yeah…my city’s Nature is getting carved up at breakneck speed, more people are moving in, more wildness is being driven out so that we can all have yet another place or three to park our fat asses and inhale some greasy fast food. Our diets are pathetic, our health is deplorable, our levels of exercise are despicable. Maybe another park is just the ticket.

Apologies to all the little varmints we’re running out of house and home. Hope you find a place to land, while you’re dodging the headlights and looking for a new wild place. Stay clear of the cats and dogs.

Getting rid of Nature on behalf of progress seems to fit in with this scene just fine. The problem is, we need Nature to survive as a species. In Part 2 of Where the Wild Things Aren’t, we’ll consider some of the consequences of unrestrained growth we are now up against.

Thank you, as always, for stopping by!



J’Ville all Jacked up on Progress

Had to go to Jacksonville to take care of some personal business the other day. The long and wearying drive over and back from Panama City, where I live, was to be considered a necessary affront (both to my back and the environment) to get to a city I had never visited before. Not that I wanted to go, but there was no getting around it. Sometimes governments, both big and small, place impositions on us, the citizens, that we’ll have no luck protesting, and will lose out on perceived benefits, even if we consider any protest we do mount as successful. At any rate, governmental bureaucracy, bloat, and short-sightedness have nothing to do with this diatribe. I’ve got other axes to grind (snicker).

So, I took the opportunity to use the day trip as an evaluation of ‘progress.’ If you haven’t read my Entropecology post yet, I hope that you will, as it provides the basis for much of what I share here. In short, what we, as Humanity, consider to be progress is, in fact, quite the opposite. It’s the steady and persistent ‘using up’ of our storehouse supplies, with no replenishment coming, ever, and with serious consequences that will be felt with increasing intensity for a long time to come. We can call the consequences pollution. We can also call them Climate Change. In the end, it’s all entropy in one form or another, and once piled up and piled on, very hard to get rid of.

The unabated growth I witnessed in many parts of J’Ville today is the very same animal running amuck here in PC. The similarities were striking.

I wouldn’t doubt that there exists this small, well-organized and deep-pocketed group of developer / investor / venturist types behind all this outrageous growth along Florida’s I-10 corridor. Starting over there in J’Ville and threading its way clean across our state until it exits around P’Cola (this shortening of city names is a habit of mine), I-10 continues boldly on all the way to the other coast (hmm…I wonder what excessive and ill-planned building projects are going on in those other states? I’ll bet I already know).

These guys and gals are experts at cobbling together the chunks o’ real estate they’ll need to bring in the massive building ventures guaranteed to turn any existing landscape on its head. Neighborhood? Habitat? Farmland? Community? Forget about it. Anything that invokes images of all those things that bind us together in some humanizing way are all tossed out with vigor, replaced unapologetically with more urban sprawl, more concrete jungle, more consumerism, more tired, worn-out franchised predictability.

Once their team is unleashed on your team, it’s very likely that they’ll wind up with most of what they wanted in their back pocket, and you’ll wind up holding the proverbial bag. What you thought was your quaint and quiet little community about two summers back now butts straight up against the backside of a shopping center that runs continuously, with no gaps, for several concreted and blacktopped blocks. The view is dire, and trending toward more of the same, since these projects typically run in phases, y’know. The bulldozers are already assembled on the property that lies diagonal to your own, and adjacent to the one where the parking lots start filling up around 7 or so (you’ve begun to notice), since consumers don’t spot the day’s deals as well on empty stomachs. The fast food chains start serving those yummy sausage biscuits as soon as the sun breaks the horizon. It’s all for a good cause—spending money.

Sidebar: I don’t make these statements casually. I’m witnessing what I’m writing about every day. I see neighborhoods that once existed among live oak and palmetto for as far as the eye could see now surrounded on all sides by strip malls, convenient stores, banks, and restaurants.

I drove past this guy the other day, squatting at the entryway of his very posh abode. He was smoking a cigarette, pointing a garden hose at the street, apparently thinking that blacktop grows better when it’s watered. He had this vacuous look in his eyes, like things hadn’t turned out quite as he’d planned. I could see why. His neighborhood was full of mini-mansions, just like his own, beautiful landscaping, large lots, decent amount of natural beauty left behind to give the whole neighborhood a sense of unity with its surroundings.

But something was unexpectedly juxta-positioned just across the street, where I’m pretty sure a bunch of undeveloped stuff had been when he purchased, all scruffy and uninhabited. Now it was stuffed to the gills with a big old shopping center that was truly a poorly designed project if ever there was one. The streets were too narrow, the parking spaces crammed in, very little plant life, lots of pavement and concrete, and everything plain and whitewashed with black or gray trim. The designer probably thought it would suggest elegance. To me, it suggested nausea.

Anyway, this guy puffed on his cigarette, watering the road, not even acknowledging me or my car as I passed only a few feet from his squatted caricature, I guess in a pose of what disillusionment looks like. I’m pretty sure he was crunching numbers in his head, wondering if he’d ever get his investment back. Who wants to live a stone’s throw from an ugly architecture with mostly unleased spaces? I guess that’s what we get when developers and zoning commissioners strike deals over dinner and drinks.

And about those shoppers able to find the deals better on full stomachs? As I type, I’m literally sitting in a parking lot, watching the people come and go. In the space directly in front of me, there is a van that contains two grossly obese women. One gets out while the other stays behind and eats something fried while she waits. The car next to hers holds the same—two females, both terribly overweight, and wearing brightly colored summer wear that should have been purchased two sizes larger, maybe three. The car on the aisle one over from my own just spit out two more people, the man really chunky, the woman only a little less so.

I really do see obesity everywhere, spilling out of over-sized vehicles and waddling in to the over-sized shops. It’s really quite astonishing these proportions on display. Not only are the people big, but the vehicles, too. The trucks the robots are stamping out now almost require a step stool to scrabble up to that shiny chrome bar that will serve as a rung to get you to the floorboard, where you can then hoist yourself up by latching on real hard to the steering wheel, then swiveling over on the captain’s chair of your plush vehicular domain. It’s the best cardiovascular workout you’ll have all day. God help you if you fall, too, because your melon will go splat from that high up. (Please don’t think I’m poking fun while exempting myself—I’m part of that crowd I describe, sporting an expanding paunch just like the rest of us, enjoying the fried food and soda pop, too).

If the drivers and cars are getting bigger, the parking spots, as they must be, are small, so’s to pack in the most shoppers in the least amount of space. The massive shiny gleaming hunks of Hemi have to be sort of shoe-horned in (crank-the-wheel-hard…Reverse…crank-the-wheel-hard the other way, Drive…crank-the-wheel-hard…Reverse…you get the comical idea). Some of ’em just don’t give a damn anymore and will take up two spots, and screw you if you don’t like it. Yeah it’s five pounds of pure crap in a two pound bag…what about it?

I witnessed all the same stuff in J’Ville. As I drove into what appeared to be one of the very latest building orgies going on in St. John’s County, my jaw did not drop. Why not? Because it was as if I was staring at the same plot of over-developed land I had just come from in my (what used to be) sleepy little Panama City Beach, Florida. The same franchises. Same architecture. Same everything. Matter of fact, I can drive clean across America on Interstate 10 and I will see the same everything in every town I visit. Sameness. All of it. One great big Same. Welcome to the United States of Same. If you have at least one stop light in your fair little Podunk, look out because a Wal-Mart Super Center is looking at you hard (that is, unless you’re already shopping there).

In J’Ville, there was this place where the changeover was absolutely palpable. Farmland, riddled with unattended wide open spaces, dilapidated structures, and the fragrance of Nature running free and wild because nobody was mowing down anything so they could jam through the new infrastructure. Anyway, it had the signs of death written all over it, literally. The massive wheels of the earth movers, already visible here and there, looked like ravenous wolves gathering around their prey, anxious to begin the toothy work. Even the way previously undisturbed lands get violated in a very predictable evolution of sequential movements has that characteristic mark of…Same.

New mortgages dotted the landscape, and the bright orange surveyors’ flags and spray paint, like so much cryptic engineering graffiti, was on display on any flat surface that could be defaced. Pretty yellow ribbons were tied around old oak trees, a sign that their end was nigh at hand (sorry Tony Orlando and Dawn), and the temp plastic fencing defined perimeters that said, “Here’s what it used to be, now get used to what it’s about to become…Sameness.”

The big waste management companies had their roll-offs placed strategically for all that rubble that results from any project, big or small. Yeah, life was good and the slightly sour smell of money was steadily overpowering that cool, fine fragrance that wafts up from any place that’s green and lush, rather than black and hot.

Progress was rearing its ugly head and sneering. Another place where the elements of Nature might have enjoyed at least some chance at freedom were now being broke, tamed, corralled, hemmed in, penned up, sheared off, eviscerated. All the critters of the planet that weren’t human were in the ongoing and unfolding process of flight. What lives in a concrete jungle besides us, our pets, and rats?

Yeah, progress is all backwards. Progress is a heat engine. Progress is loss of habitat and bio-diversity. Progress is resource depletion. Progress is a slow demise. Progress is cheese burgers and thick crust pizza. Progress is a big belly and a weak heart. Progress is finding the closest spot in the parking lot to your favorite plastic crap vendor. Progress must proceed at breakneck speed or the house of cards buckles and the jig is up. Progress is a progression toward something totally undefined. Does anybody have any idea where this train is headed? Who’s the conductor, anyway?

Mostly, Progress must strike a balance. The world is a very small place, and with a storehouse that has borders and limits. Only so much can fit in any physical structure, and so much pulled back out of it. The world is that physical structure. We’ve been emptying out her coffers for quite some time now. Our continued existence has depended on it. Now our continued existence depends on us slowing down…way down. Progress eventually runs out of all the things it needs to keep going. We’re getting there. It’s just a matter of how fast.

Because I’m a skeptic by nature, and a bit of a doubter as a result of living fifty plus years in an industrialized society, I wasn’t surprised by what I saw. I wasn’t even disappointed. The view from yet another city where I’d never gone before was nothing if not predictable to an unspeakable degree. Urban sprawl sprawling more and more. Same thing the rest of America, and the world, is doing. I think the agreements our fearless leaders made for us in Paris in 2015 to cool this planet back down to a suitable temperature simply aren’t going to hold water. Too much progress still to be had out there.

In the meantime, I concluded that J’Ville was all jacked up on the stuff. It’s what I expected, but I guess I had to see it for myself to be sure.

Sincere thanks for stopping by!


“The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.”       

Albert A. Bartlett



When I first arrived in Panama City, Florida some 22 years ago now, Apalachicola was one of the first little nearby towns I visited. The place was kind of famous, according to legend, and I couldn’t find any locals who didn’t highly recommend it as an enjoyable day excursion. So I went.

There’s something about the salt air that I truly think is good for the human soul. I have a friend who swears by it, even getting a little surly when she can’t get her fix of the salty elixir. But beyond that, Apalachicola just makes me feel happy in lots of different ways. It’s small town USA. The streets are bright with sunshine, and the whole place has managed to keep its down home vibe, with nothing but small Mom and Pop shops, lots of great restaurants, and plenty of maritime culture and American history to soak up, whichever way you turn. I’ve been to this fantastic little place numerous times, both with friends and family, and always leave with the feeling that it won’t be too long before I go back.

So, it’s a bit of a concern to know that Apalachicola has been hit really hard on a couple of different fronts. If you read the paragraph down at the bottom of the free posters they give away, showing the river and the bay from satellite height (one hangs on the wall of my home because I really like the way it looks), you’ll discover that it is one of the most important estuaries in the southeast United States. And for generations, the place has been home to some of the best seafood you’ll ever taste for hundreds of miles around. Apalachicola Bay is home to blue crabs, shrimp, numerous kinds of saltwater fish, and of course…those famous bay oysters (this bay supplies 10 percent of the nation’s supply, and there are thousands of jobs that depend on the success of the oyster).

Their annual seafood festival is something to experience. I had never seen so many oysters in all my life. The vendors serve them up a dozen different ways, and all of them delicious. Baked on the grill with some parmesan cheese, hot sauce, butter and lemon juice…oh, my mouth is watering just thinking about it.

So the part that’s disheartening is the fact that the oystermen haven’t had the kind of catches they did in times past for years now. The seafood festival I went to was twenty years ago. I hear it hasn’t been the same for quite a long while. It’s hard to determine just what the cause is, and there seem to be several factors involved. Although some would say it comes down to drought and drought only, others maintain that the real cause behind the oyster shortages has everything to do with river flow, and that means Georgia is to blame.

This water feud has been going on for decades now. Florida claims that Georgia needs to loosen its grip on the spigot that controls the flow of water downstream. Oh, if it were only that easy.

You have to go way back to the late 1930s, when the Army Corps of Engineers (they seem to be behind a lot of the troubles that are caused by water) proposed the construction of a dam in northern Georgia, to provide water for nearby Atlanta, as well as to control flooding, and a host of other reasons that sounded good at the time. Buford Dam was finished in 1957, with Lake Lanier created as a result. Of course, nobody knew that nearby Atlanta would become the water-starved metropolis that it now is, gobbling up every available drop it can get its hands on. (P.S. I lived in Atlanta for two God-forsaken years. Why anybody would want to do that to their soul is beyond me, although I guess traffic gridlock for hours on end may be a charming way of life for some. Take my advice…visit often, but live somewhere else).

The problem started way back when, after the Corps authorized that the water used for the hydroelectric component of the dam be diverted, instead, to supply Atlanta residents with more drinking water. Alabama immediately cried foul, filing a lawsuit against Georgia and the Corps. Florida wasn’t far behind. When you start depriving citizens of the water they’ve come to expect, trouble’s bound to ensue. That goes double for people whose livelihoods depend on it. The Apalachicola River supplies 35% of the fresh water that flows into the eastern portion of the Gulf of Mexico, and is critical for maintaining proper salinity of the waters in the bay. When things get too salty, oysters don’t grow, and people don’t eat.

All parties decided to settle down a bit and try to reach favorable agreements for all concerned. The devil’s in the details, of course, and there’s two sides to every story (although there’s three in this case who can’t play nice together). A couple of compacts were the result, but these didn’t last for long, and everybody climbed back in the saddle, ready to kick things up to the next legal level.

From there, the story just gets very litigious, I’m afraid, and I’m not adept at making good drama out of lawsuits and arbitration that just drag on and on. Things have been mired down for a while, with big players in Florida, like Senators Rubio and Nelson, and Governor Scott all weighing in for Florida. Meanwhile, the oyster industry has been recognized as “in collapse,” with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently issuing a fishery disaster over oysters.

Essentially, there’s been trouble over water in some aspect or another between these three states for nearly a quarter of a century now, and a happy compromise seems nowhere to be found. Maybe the Supreme Court justices can throw the hammer down.

Several conclusions can be drawn, and you’ll probably make most of the same ones I have. Population growth continues to strain the nation’s natural resources (Atlanta is the nation’s ninth most populous city, and with no slowdown in sight). Water is, of course, one of the most important natural resources we have, along with every other nation on the planet, and how precious we are finding it to be these days.

In the meantime, I’ve known some families, either directly, or through friends, who have decided to walk away from the oyster and fishing industries after making their living on the water going generations back. That’s a tough call, and another piece of Americana that’s slipping away. Apalachicola’s economy depends heavily on the bay to stay open for business. But people have decided to call it quits, with some long-time restaurants, distributors, and other supply-chain interests shuttering their doors for good.

We can always hope things get better, but, at least for now, the once-thriving Apalachicola Bay is just a shell of its former self.

Check out these other related posts, and sincere thanks for stopping by!

Big Ball of Bio-Water

Falling Electricity



The Ground Beneath Us

As a result of my discovery that Bangkok is sinking, I went on a reading rampage and discovered that she is certainly not alone in the world where sagging cities are concerned. Although there are many vulnerable mega-metropolises we could highlight here (literally dozens), Mexico City stands out as the poster child for all the things prudent decision makers should not do when their most vital water resources are there beneath their very feet.

But first things first. As I’m sure I will ultimately end up mentioning elsewhere in this blog, sometimes bad decisions made by those in power many generations ago only sneak around full circle to bite their long-removed progeny in the hind-end when they least expect it. Sometimes the progeny seem as ill-adapted as their ancestors at understanding what’s at stake when they “drain the lake.”

We’ll start this tale of woe with the 16th century Aztecs who decided to build a small town on an island sitting in Lake Texcoco. Fair enough…nice lake, nice climate, pleasant scenery, good fishing, oh, and plenty of fresh water…let’s put some roots down here. They called it Tenochtitlan and made it the capital of their empire. That’s when things start going wrong, and they’ve never quite recovered…

Mistake No. 1: The Aztecs were ambitious builders, constructing the new buildings on top of old ones, and several times over. The place was already sinking way back then. Stone is pretty heavy stuff, after all.

Mistake No. 2: Now here come the Spaniards—specifically Hernan Cortes— looking to take over the place. So he kills off the natives (as all conquerors worth their salt are obligated to do) and decides to build his new Spanish city right on top of the old Aztec abode. I’m sure nobody took soil samples, did percolation tests, or conducted much survey work, at least not the kind that would have told them it’s always bad joojoo to keep building atop already shaky ground.

Mistake No. 3: No time to waste on this highly compressed timeline, though. The engineering work meticulously accomplished by the Aztec engineers— causeways, bridges, canals, dikes, aqueducts, dams? Yeah, all destroyed in the heat of battle or its immediate aftermath.

Mistake No. 4: Drain the lake! Maybe you would too if your city kept flooding time and again because it was already beneath the water table. Dig a great big tunnel and channel the water out to a nearby river. That will solve all the problems for sure.

Mistake No. 5: Keep building and building…and building on the basin of the lake that once was, adding more and more weight on top of a foundation that simply cannot support the top heavy mass now there entrenched.

Mistake No. 6: As the thousands, and ultimately millions of inhabitants slowly move to the megalopolis, built atop salt marshes and lake sediment, tap the aquifer mercilessly, right there in the ground beneath us, driven relentlessly by the needs of a thirsty electorate. Drain it down and down, until buildings begin to slide, and tilt, break and fall. What more could a city’s leaders do to make the situation any worse?

Since lists of ten always seem to please, here are four more…

Mistake No. 7: Deforest surrounding hillsides and build into those, as well, further exacerbating what’s already an unfolding ecological disaster. Dump a bunch of the city’s waste on the outskirts of town somewhere, too, because existing infrastructure simply can’t cut the mustard, and the poo has nowhere else to go.

Mistake No. 8: Put many rules and regulations on the books regarding zoning, building, industry, wastewater treatment, sewage and drainage…then enforce none of them effectively.

Mistake No. 9: Keep pandering to that elephant squatting in the room…always trumpeting for more fresh water in its trough. Pump additional water in from far and wide, not only ignoring the issues that should have been faced head on many decades ago, but catering to the needs and wants of industry, land developers, politicians, and wealthy residents who usually get their way. Pretend as though nothing is the matter, running everything as it always has been, inefficiently and with so much indifference about what’s truly at stake for the multitudes.

Mistake No. 10: Watch the national treasures of this most impressively beautiful and historical city list mercilessly into the muck and the mire, since there’s really nothing anyone can do.

Okay, No. 10 is where somebody amongst the protesting angry mob leads the rallying cry, searching for that rare personality who can bring hope and money and science to bear. Someone with that can-do spirit, an entrepreneur, a visionary, a politician? Who can take the bull by the horns and insist that a remedy for the disaster exists, it simply must be found? Someone? Anyone?

Alas!…(wait for it) they’re working on it.

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Sinking Bangkok

Sinking Bangkok

In March 2016, I found myself immersed in the many sights and sounds of Bangkok, Thailand, a happy tourist on vacation for several days in one of the world’s most popular travel destinations. Well, okay…the truth of the matter is that I was there for reasons other than food, fun, and frolic…I was meeting the family of my bride-to-be. But that’s a story for another day, isn’t it (nod your head).

Before I left the U.S., and since I’ve returned, I have read extensively about Bangkok’s history, as well as the topography of the area. Because I always have water on my mind, I was intrigued by the city’s canal system (once extensive, now largely covered over), a slowly progressing network of waterways throughout the metropolis, an ambitious engineering feat ongoing over a period of many decades. The trenching was driven by different motives at different times, including those involving agriculture, the transport of the city’s ever-growing population, and the desire by Bangkok administrators to better manage the affairs of their “city of angels.” Thailand has long been king when it comes to rice, and each year’s bounty had to get to market somehow. Water was, for a long while, the transport option of choice.

The more I read about Thailand, the more intrigued I became. As is often the case with us bookworm types, one topic of interest will inevitably spill over into others. Ultimately, I wound up making a startling and disheartening discovery I wasn’t quite prepared for –Bangkok is sinking!

This is one of those situations that can instill frustration in an invested reader trying to get to the bottom of things, as it were (in the information age, the world is full of rabbit holes). A city sinking? How does that happen? What does that even mean? How much is sinking? All of it or just parts? Can they fix it as they go, and even prevent it from progressing? Hmm…the more I read, the more I realized that everyone knows a little, some know a lot, but nobody knows for sure. Eventually I acknowledged that a problem as big as a sinking city is bound to have its fair share of rumors, gossip, and bad science.

Contributing factors are not in short supply, however. Direct or indirect causes for city’s foundering foundation are numerous: were the canals partially to blame? (as I mentioned, many have long since been filled in or paved over, with just a few continuing to function as waterways for taxis and tourist shuttles, but did they lend to the overall topographical instability? The over-pumping of aquifers has been good cause to raise eyebrows for a while now. The much-emptied spaces are less able to provide adequate support for the city’s weight above. Thousands of wells have been dug throughout the city, too, with depths of hundreds of feet sometimes necessary before new sources of ground water can be found. All this and a lousy footing of marshland and clay for all those massive skyscrapers to rest on. That can’t possibly help! Taken as a whole, these factors, even to the most untrained mind, seem to have the common theme of short sightedness written all over them.

This news is particularly troubling to me, since, as I mentioned, I now have “family” there. Many of my fiancé’s relatives reside in and around Bangkok, part of the multiple millions who call this amazing cosmopolitan sprawl their home. I wondered what the “game plan” was, and grew even more alarmed as I learned the dire predictions for Bangkok, with some analysts fearing that unprecedented flooding would occur within a decade’s time. I suppose even science is full of those who insist on invoking the most negative of outcomes, while others are overly optimistic and things can’t possibly be as bad as they seem. The truth, as is often the case, probably rests somewhere in the middle. Yes, Bangkok is sinking, but how fast, and for how long before disaster strikes? No one can say for sure.

I wondered if the unfortunate predictions that may ultimately spell doom for a magnificent city such as Bangkok might also be in the cards for other major cities of the world. As it turns out, the answer is a most astonishing Yes!

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The Ground Beneath Us

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