With more than half of New Yorkers living in the city’s coastal counties, NYC’s coast has watched the sea level rise by at least a foot (30.5 centimeters) since 1900 as a result of global warming. By 2100, it is projected that sea levels will increase by 18 to 50 inches (45 to 127 centimeters), prompting architects, designers and urban planners to think pragmatically about the watery future of the Big Apple.

Thanks to The Rockefeller Foundation, the Regional Plan Association (RPA) launched a competition as part of its regional plan dubbed “A Region Transformed,” calling on urbanists to illustrate how policies, investments and urban growth would change in the next 25 years in different parts of the metropolitan region. One finalist team decided to tackle NYC’s coastline and how it could be transformed to meet the reality and adapt.

Rafi Segal A+U + DLAND Studio Rendering 1

Rafi Segal A+U + DLAND Studio Rendering 1. Courtesy of the Regional Plan Association.

Team Rafi Segal A+U + DLAND Studio has designed what it calls an “environmental buffer” to help ease the tension between vulnerable coastal communities and the rising waters. According to the team’s vision, the environmental buffer would bring both land and water space together while providing areas to live, conserve, work and play.

The buffer would transform the coastline into a new urban frontier, capable of receiving and catering to new residents at even higher densities and able to protect the low-lying areas in the meantime by utilizing the absorptive capacity of the buffer. Using this approach, the team hopes to spread awareness among communities living along NYC’s coastline about the city’s impending reality. This will happen through the building of tailored homes, neighborhoods and cities that can withstand and endure in an amphibious future.

The team presented a full scenario before the judges and audience, mixing politics with urbanization and illustrating how people will feel during that time through Orwellian videos (see below). A senior fellow for urban design at RPA, Rob Lane, thought that the team came up with really interesting ideas about what the underwater areas might look like and how people will continue to feel some sense of ownership, even if they cannot literally occupy the space.

Rafi Segal A+U + DLAND Studio Rendering 2

Rafi Segal A+U + DLAND Studio Rendering 2. Courtesy of the Regional Plan Association.

Urban and artist initiatives across cities have been obsessing over the watery future of the world for quite sometime now. In mid-May, the Italian canal city of Venice was witness to an artistic intervention: two godly hands made out of concrete, holding up a building as if to support it against the merciless currents of the canal.

The intervention, entitled “Support,” was crafted by Lorenzo Quinn in preparation for this year’s LaBiennale di Venezia. Quinn’s intervention drew attention to rising sea levels, which threaten to whisk cities away — an issue that has had environmentalists fretting for years and which is particularly pressing for the canal city of Venice.