Constructing Water: Jamaica Bay 1898–1942

Although New York City's Jamaica Bay covers approximately eight percent of the city's area, little is written about its history. The bay intersects with countless local, regional, and global actors. Powerful public and private authorities have shaped its physical transformation and public image – changing small-scale neighborhood fabrics and large-scale industrial patterns. The history of Jamaica Bay’s coastal landscape is abundant with issues like urban sustainability, class conflict, real-estate speculation, and debate over provision of infrastructure. Recovery after Hurricane Sandy has highlighted these struggles and even sparked debate over the coastal communities’ right to exist. Yet contemporary debate does little to address historical reasons behind why, how, and when these coastal landscapes took shape. More broadly, I am interested in how the historic legacy of waterfront industry and environmental vulnerability has created a built landscape inscribed with inequality—and how these inequalities are tied to the social construction of nature. I hope to expand my geographic lens to encompass other coastlines. This project was made possible by support from the City College Fellowship, funded by the City College of New York and the Ford Foundation.