Hardened Water: The Remaking of a Coastal City

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As the rising sea levels of climate change reshape hemispheric space, we are confronting the historical legacies of building cities by the sea. This is especially so on small Prince Edward Island, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This essay explores the transformation of the waterfront in the Island’s capital city, Charlottetown, according to the prerogatives of the railway era in the latter nineteenth century. Covering fresh water and filling in salt were fundamental to city-building in nineteenth-century North America, but this essay seeks to highlight the importance of considering the intersection of fresh water and salt in our coastal cities, and the prevalence of the ethos of development in even smaller cities along the shore. This is the story of how a colonial capital initially praised for and defined by its aqueous features gradually lost one particular wetland in its downtown core, in building out the fabric required for the railway era. Human intervention had profound environmental consequences in shaping the city, especially its waterfront, and tied this Island city to larger narratives of urbanization, the politics of transportation and technology, and the regime of fossil fuels. Charlottetown demonstrates why coastal cities must rediscover their water lines, as tidewater, newly animated by climate change, forces us to address the origin, extent, and adaptability of urban infrastructure inherited from the nineteenth century. This essay draws heavily on manuscript and commercial maps.


Coastal Studies & Society





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