"How is it possible that the same winding, 538-mile coastline that has recently been colonized by condominium developers chasing wealthy New Yorkers, themselves chasing waterfront views, had been, for decades, a catch basin for many of the city’s poorest residents?" asks Mahler. In an essay for the Times, he answers his question by surveying the history of "accident, grand vision and political expedience," that led to public housing projects sprouting in close proximity to the water in such areas as the Rockaways, Coney Island, Red Hook and Alphabet City.
"New York started building housing projects on the waterfront because that’s where its poorest citizens happened to live. It continued because that’s where space was most readily available. Finally, it built them there because that’s where its projects already were."
Smack dab in the middle of this sequence sits Robert Moses. "It’s impossible to talk about the landscape of modern New York without talking about Moses," says Mahler, "who leveraged his position as head of the Mayor’s Committee on Slum Clearance to mass-produce thousands of units of high-rise public housing, often near the shoreline. His shadow looms over much of the havoc wreaked by the storm."