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Charting a New Course

In the mid 20th century, people began leaving waterfronts due to pollution, safety concerns, and deindustrialization. By the turn of the 21st century, decades of disinvestment in waterfront infrastructure would have tragic consequences. The evacuation of lower Manhattan during the attacks of September 11, 2001 revealed serious deficiencies in critical maritime access to one of the busiest and most densely populated island cities in the world.


Another critical threat to waterfronts globally is coastal flooding and sea level rise due to climate change. As states and municipalities develop climate mitigation plans for their waterfronts, the needs of sail freight should be taken into account.


Sail freight has many advantages in terms of climate resilience. It is unaffected by fuel availability or price, avoids roadway and bridge congestion, and can reduce wasted fuel and air pollution from traffic. In 2019, traffic congestion in the New York Metro Area wasted 335.9 million gallons of fuel, amounting to 5 million tons of carbon emissions. Shifting toward sail freight could reduce traffic and emissions considerably.


Sail freight can provide increased food security and reduce shipping disruptions due to outside forces, such as global pandemics and war. Many major cities have only a two day supply of food on hand at any given time. Because sail freight schedules can be inconsistent, warehouses are an important part of a more sustainable and resilient food system. Warehouses allow cities to develop reserves of food and other essential goods for use in emergencies.  


Small coastal port cities and inland waterways like the Hudson River are well suited to adopting at least some sail freight for their transportation needs. Simple port facilities will provide jobs, link agriculture to cities, and encourage the development of energy-independent local food economies. Many of these local economies already exist in the Hudson Valley and are seeking more sustainable transportation options.

As we imagine and plan for a sustainable future, we can turn back toward our waterfronts as a key part of the solution. By planning for human scale waterfronts where recreation, working vessels, and native ecosystems coexist, we can adapt to climate change, and preserve more of the places we call home.