What would you do to protect and preserve your home? Along the New Jersey shore, following Hurricane Sandy, homeowners are raising their houses one floor up to qualify for lower cost future flood insurance and to get permits to rehabilitate and repair their homes. In the process, they are perched on jenga-like wooden supports, a reflection of their precarious claim on the land, before a new concrete block foundation is built and the house laid to rest on its new permanent supports.
The New Jersey shore, “where Americans learned to love the beach,” reflects a complex environment where man stakes a fragile claim on narrow barrier islands. Seeking access to the sun, sand, water and salt air, people have built summer homes ranging from modest bungalows to mansions with yards of the sea, with little protection from rising tides.
Global warming, rising ocean levels and strengthening storms threaten the very existence of these communities. Yet, man seeks to continue to occupy and build on this space, attempting to adjust to a sometimes-threatening environment. Billions are spent on complicated schemes trying to re-create what nature has evolved to protect the shores from the ocean. Sand is pumped from miles offshore to rebuild the dunes. Dune grass is harvested and planted to help the dunes resist the power of storms and waves. Hopefully, the dune grass will trap blowing sand so that the dunes will become even taller before the next storm comes and washes the whole construction away.
Up and down the coast homes ranging from modest bungalows to mansions are elevated and rebuilt. What is it about this place that spurs the herculean efforts to tame it at great cost and effort? Do we believe that our efforts will actually survive the next storm or are we just naively hoping it will hit somewhere else, a different town or point further down the coast? Will it survive another 5 years? 10? 50? Could this environment make it into the next century? Despite the near certainty of rising seas, warming temperatures and stronger storms, both man and nature continue to stake their claim on the shore, even as it appears a fool’s errand.
Ira Wagner is a photographer interested in the built environment and what it reveals about a place and its inhabitants. He began studying photography after a 27 year career on Wall Street. In 2013, he received his MFA from the University of Hartford and currently teaches photography at Monmouth University and Ocean County College in New Jersey. His current project, “Houseraising,” looks at the reconstruction of the Jersey Shore after Hurricane Sandy. Previously, he has photographed the New Jersey Meadowlands, New York City apartment lobbies, and in a project titled “Superior Apartments,” the landscape of The Bronx.