Ruin and Resilience in Sheepshead Bay

In The Transmission of Affect, Theresa Brennan begins with the phenomenon that occurs when one walks into a room and can immediately feel “the atmosphere” (Brennan 1). Atmosphere is elusive yet omnipresent—it pervades our spaces while often evading tangibility or easy description. In Sheepshead Bay, an oceanside neighborhood in southern Brooklyn, the atmosphere can shift rapidly from a peaceful calm to stagnant decay. 

An empty lot in Sheepshead Bay, September 2019.

What creates this atmosphere? I believe, and aim to examine through my ecology research, that it is due to the imminent threat of climate change and the past destruction caused by superstorms like Hurricane Sandy. Communities like Sheepshead Bay rely on the ocean for their local economy, yet must also face the inevitable damage it can cause. Brennan writes, “All affects […] are material, physiological things” (Brennan 6). The empty storefronts, the rust, the quiet construction sites, the empty lots: they all express the pressure placed on this neighborhood and its inhabitants. 

But Sheepshead Bay is by no means lifeless or dilapidated. When walking down one of the main roads, one sees advertisements for new condo developments posted all around. Tall apartment buildings rise up behind the old Brooklyn bungalows. Locals carry fishing equipment to the docks. The smells from popular seafood restaurants along Emmons Avenue waft out onto the street.

A sign advertising luxury condos on Emmons Ave along the waterfront, September 2019.

In Vibrant Matter, Jane Bennett discusses the power that inanimate, nonhuman entities can have. She writes of debris she sees over a storm drain grate, saying that the objects switched from “stuff to ignore” to “stuff that commanded attention in its own right, as existents in excess of their association with human meanings, habits, or projects” (Bennett 4). Bennett refers to this as “thing-power,” and this is exactly what the scenery of Sheepshead Bay seemed imbued with as I walked around the neighborhood. It communicated to me a series of tensions. Together, diverse objects create “assemblages”: “living, throbbing confederations that are able to function despite the persistent presence of energies that confound them from within” (Bennett 23-24). Sheepshead Bay is under the influence of a multitude of forces attempting to pull it in opposing directions. I was somewhat surprised to how palpable these disparate energies were, despite my being new to the area and therefore not able to witness change over time.

Hurricane Sandy occurred about seven years ago, and much of the significant damage has been repaired, yet some old homes sit vacant after their owners fled the scene. New condos are rising up next door to demolition sites. There are two futures being imagined: one of economic prosperity, and one of imminent destruction. In most places I saw, the only thing that divided the ocean from the commercial streets, senior living facilities, and apartment complexes was worn, rickety fencing. Climate scientists estimate that this century will see a sea level rise in New York of four to six feet (deMause). One of these futures feels essentially apocalyptic—what can be done, if anything, to ensure it doesn’t win out? 

A local business that relies on the neighborhood’s proximity to the ocean, September 2019.

–Taylor Stout

Works Cited:

Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Duke University Press, 2010.

Brennan, Teresa. The Transmission of Affect. Cornell University Press, 2004.

deMause, Neil. “As the Sea Rises, Will Resiliency—Rather Than Retreat—Be Enough to Save Waterfront NYC?” City Limits, 17 April 2019, https://citylimits.org/2019/04/17/nyc-sea-rise-resiliency-or-retreat/.

~ by taylorstoutmcc on September 28, 2019.

2 Responses to “Ruin and Resilience in Sheepshead Bay”

  1. Most Informative: I found that this post was the most informative in how it highlights the destruction and affects which can’t be seen. I was not in New York during Hurricane Sandy, and learning that there are still continuing issues, 7 years later, is very relevant and important.

  2. MOST ENGAGING – The structure of your blog post is very effective, you connect the content and your idea together very well. It was actually interesting to read and the topic that you chose helps with that too. The photos that you took are very nice and appealing as well.

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