ILLUSTRATION BY STEPHAN MARTINIERE
Science-fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson paints a vivid picture of life in New York City after the sea level rises more than 50 feet, drowning lower Manhattan and creating a forest of skyscrapers in his new book, New York 2140.
Your future commute to work is on a boat.
Numbers often fill my head. While waiting for my building’s morose super to free my Jesus bug from the boathouse rafters where it had spent the night, I was looking at the little waves lapping in the big doors and wondering if the Black-Scholes formula could frame their volatility. The canals were like a perpetual physics class’s wave-tank demonstration— backwash interference, the curve of a wave around a right angle, the spread of a wave through a gap, and so on—it was very suggestive as to how liquidity worked in finance as well.
Too much time to give to this question, the super being so sullen and slow. New York parking! One can do nothing but practice patience. Eventually the zoomer was mine to step into, off the boathouse dock and then out the doorway onto the shadowed surface of the Madison Square bacino. Nice day, crisp and clear, sunlight pouring down the building canyons from the east.
As on most weekdays, I hummed the bug east on Twenty-third into the East River. It would have been shorter to burble south through the city canals, but even just past dawn the southward traffic on Park was terrible, and would only get worse at the Union Square bacino. Besides I wanted to fly a little before settling in to work, I wanted to see the river shine.
I turned and thwopped across some big barge wakes, then hummed and gurgled into the city.
The East River too was busy with its usual morning traffic, but there was still room in the fast southbound lane to plane up onto the Jesus bug’s curving hydrofoils and fly. As always the lift off the water was exhilarating, a rise like a seaplane taking off, some kind of nautical hard-on, after which the boat flew over its magic carpet of air some six feet off the river, with only the two streamlined composite foils shearing through the water below, flexing constantly to maximize lift and stability. A genius of a boat, zooming downriver in the autobahn lane, ripping through the sun-battered wakes of the slowpokes, rip rip rip, man on a mission here, out of my way little bargie, got to get to work and make my daily bread.
If the gods allow. I could take losses, could get shaved, get hosed, take a hammering, blow up—so many ways to say it!—although all were unlikely in my case, being well hedged and risk averse as I am, at least compared to many traders out there. But the risks are real, the volatility volatile; in fact it’s the volatility that can’t be factored into the partial differential equations in the Black-Scholes family, even when you shift them around to account for that quality in particular. It’s what people bet on, in the end. Not whether an asset price will go up or down—traders win either way—but just how volatile the price will be.
All too soon my jaunt downriver got me offshore of Pine Canal, and I cut back on the jet and the bug plopped down into ordinary boathood, not like a goose crashing down, as in some hydrofoils, but gracefully, with nary a splash. After that I turned and thwopped across some big barge wakes, then hummed and gurgled into the city, moving at about the pace of the breaststrokers braving the toxicity in their daily suicide salute to the sun. The Pine Canal Seebad was weirdly popular, and they did indeed “see bad,” pods of old breaststrokers in full wetsuits and face masks, hoping the benefits of the aquatic exercise and the flotation itself counteracted the stew of heavy metals they inevitably took on. Got to admire the aqualove of anyone willing to get into the water anywhere in the greater New York harbor region, and yet of course people still did it, because people swim in their ideas. A great attribute of the species when it comes to trading with them.
The hedge fund I work for, WaterPrice, had its New York offices occupying all of the Pine Tower at Water and Pine. The building’s waterbarn was four stories tall, the big old atrium now filled with watercraft of all types, hanging like model boats in a child’s bedroom. A pleasure to see the foils curving under my trimaran’s hulls as it was hoisted into place for the day. A nice perk, boathouse parking, if expensive. Then up the elevator to the thirtieth floor and over to the northwest corner, where I settled into my aerie, looking through a scattering of skybridges midtown, and the superscrapers looming uptown in all their gehryglory.
The intertidal zone of lower midtown sloshed back and forth over an area with a lot of old landfill, and that double whammy had brought a lot of buildings down. Thirtieth to Canal was a wilderness of slumped, tilted, cracked, and collapsed blocks. A house built on sand cannot stand…