In 2006, I received a Sierra Magazine which included 1) “Katrina, One Year Later,” 2) a photo essay of the Galapagos by Sebastaio Salgado, 3) Documentation of four shrinking glaciers, 4) an edited (by the Bush administration) report from the US Climate Change Science Program which sought to soften the language and infer that climate change would be good for economic well being.In that one magazine, I was struck by both the inactivity around what I saw as a pressing issue – climate change and its related impacts – and the power of a visual story.I realized that while I didn’t have the skills to be a lobbyist, lawyer, or politician, I didn’t have the money to make huge investments or sway opinion, but what I did have was creativity and my art. Up until that time I had been a studio artist – working on abstract interpretations of the natural and built environments through drawings, sculptures and installations. I decided, at that moment, that my work would take on the pressing issues of our time and would move out into the public realm to encounter a larger audience.I started researching climate change and trying to understand the science. I then wondered about this global problem and what might happen on a local level – which led me to the Metro East Coast Assessment. This report pointed me towards the power of the 10-foot above sea level line (previously the 100-year flood zone, threatened by climate change to be an area of floods once every 4 years). I became interested in knowing what that line meant on the ground – in the neighborhoods in which it travelled. This led to HighWaterLine | NYC in 2007.
The experience of creating HighWaterLine | NYC was so deeply transforming to me – I loved working in the public and the research and dialogic approach. I knew that all that I learned could be an amazing learning and potentially transforming tool for anyone else who might take it on. In 2012 I started the collaboration with Patricia Watts that led to the core Action Guide. I was interested in getting the project into the hands a diverse communities interested in this experience for themselves. I also wanted to leave a lasting legacy from the project, when Heidi approached me in late 2012 I knew that we had something that could be a great tool for creating larger scale projects to shift the climate change narrative on a greater scale.
The experience of working with the people in Miami, Philadelphia and Bristol continues to inspire me and remind me of the value of this work. Walking the line with the participants and hearing of their stories after the event provides concrete evidence of the power of transformation of HighWaterLine. I hope to continue to find amazing communities with whom to work, and I hope that in every instance, HighWaterLine is just the beginning of these communities working together to build resilience and transform their cities.