In Houseraising, Ira Wagner asks, “What would you do to save your home in an environmentally threatened location?” A growing problem worldwide, this project looks at the raising of houses along the Jersey Shore in response to the calamitous damage of Hurricane Sandy.
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 and low-lying coastal areas. Seeking access to the sun, sand, water and salt air, people have built summer and permanent homes ranging from modest bungalows to mansions within yards of the sea, with little protection from rising tides and storms.
Up and down the coast these homes are elevated and rebuilt. Faced with tougher local standards for repairing and rebuilding and changing federal flood insurance regulations, homeowners are forced to undergo the expensive process of raising their homes up to 10 or more feet above ground level to be permitted to rebuild and avoid dramatic increases in the cost of federal flood insurance.
Sifting through a slow and bureaucratic process to obtain permits and insurance funds, and in many places forced to halt work during the peak summer season, only now, three years after Hurricane Sandy is rebuilding actively underway with homes of all shapes and sizes being lifted. 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, while former ground level garage doors and entrance ways must be adapted to their new elevation.
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 threat of the ocean outside the door? Despite the near certainty of rising seas, warming temperatures and stronger storms, man continues to stake a claim on the shore, even as it appears a fool’s errand.