Thriving: September 2007 Archives



ITHACA, NY - Cornell University celebrated the retirement of its president, Dr. Waclaw Czerwinski, whose 2013 accident at the University's Synchrotron led directly to the low-cost fusion power the world enjoys today.

"Luck was with me that day," reiterated Czerwinski. "My mistakes in setting up the experiment produced a small but strange amount of unexpected energy. and it only took five years to move from that error to a surprisingly practical source of energy."

Czerwinski, who grew up in Buffalo's East Side, seized the opportunity to help his hometown and the surrounding area. He described his childhood in his farewell address:

"When I was a child, I was very angry to see what seemed like everything leaving Buffalo, both people and businesses. I almost went into politics, but my parents kept pushing me toward the sciences. As it turned out, I've been able to do much more as a scientist than as a politician."

Czerwinski's successes, both in his initial (and repeatable) discovery and later in his rapid drive toward commercial implementation, led him quickly to a platform where he could control the way his ideas were used: the Presidency of Cornell.

"The Trustees were pleased to invite me, much to my surprise, and I'm not sure they quite understood why I was interested in the job. I'd been lucky enough to be doing that work on university funds, so the university had clear control of the patents. I wanted to ensure that those patents helped the area I care about, in addition to easing the world's energy problems."

Czerwinski's vision extended beyond Buffalo to include much of central and western New York. The primary assembly point for the fusion reactors is an enormous facility in Buffalo, but ceramic components are made in Corning and Rochester, and electronics in Jamestown, Syracuse, and Binghamton, with fuel processing in Oswego. Cornell itself, in Ithaca, remains the main center for research on the practical side of the field. Other universities have established centers, but focus mostly on the theoretical side.

"These reactors produce so much energy so cheaply," said Czerwinski, "that we could have set nearly any price for them. That would, however, have invited price-based competition. Instead, we set prices at a level that comfortably covers manufacturing costs, including a fine living for all of our workers with money left over to help Cornell reach more students. We know how to make these reactors reliably and safely, and they are so incredibly cheap relative to other forms of energy production that we can help this area tremendously while easing the burden of the world as well. That may not last forever, but hopefully our current lead will last another thirty years."

In his conclusion, Czerwinski thanked university founder Ezra Cornell for his confidence that "Cornell University could produce practical results, helping its students, its community, its state, and the world. His founding of 'an institution where any person can find instruction in any study' has brought us to a wonderful new world where we can help more people find more studies."

Washing upriver


The 2030s were a bad decade for New York City and Long Island. A two meter rise in sea level, supposedly caused by melting icecaps, combined with three Category 3 hurricanes were just too much for the metropolitan area. New York City's sewer system, always on the edge, collapsed in two of those hurricanes, and tunnels and bridges sustained major flooding and damage. Long Island suffered massive erosion, with two one-mile channels cut across the south fork of the island and major damage elsewhere. The Port of New York and New Jersey was devastated.

Connecticut and New Jersey sponsored major legislation to move homeowners from their coastlines to deeper in their interiors, covering costs for people who never realized they might be in a floodplain, and building new high-speed trains to help those people reach their workplaces in almost the same time it had taken them before.

That cost those states a fortune, but New York had a much harder problem: the destination where all those people were supposed to be headed was itself in danger of washing away. By 2042, the outlines of a plan began to emerge:

  • A new Manhattan would emerge, three stories higher than the old. Existing buildings less than five stories tall would be demolished, and Central Park would become an enormous pond with built-up islands. Tall buildings would be required to move all critical infrastructure to their new fourth-floor basements, and subways - newly laid out inside the elevated area - would run at the old third and fourth floors. Only about 30% of the island would remain in use, but it would gain much stronger connections to Connecticut, New Jersey, and Upstate.

  • Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and Long Island, would shrink drastically, with neighborhoods above 100 feet in elevation surviving but the rest converted to agriculture and other similarly non-permanent uses. The south shore of the island would be largely abandoned, turned into parkland served by hotels on relatively higher ground.

  • New restrictions on the lower Hudson Valley similarly required construction to move to the higher ground.

  • The Port of Albany, already benefiting from growing Erie (Barge) Canal traffic and the survival of its railroads, would be massively expanded to replace a significant part of the former Port of New York.

  • As in Connecticut and New Jersey, the State of New York built massive high-speed rail down the Hudson Valley and along the Thruway Corridor to help relocated residents connect to their former center of business.

All of this cost a fortune, with little assistance from the beleaguered federal government, which was already dealing with the near-complete relocation of Florida residents to other states. Leaders in the key finance and media industries rallied to raise private funds for the redevelopment of Manhattan, easing the burden on the state government. Land values along the old Thruway corridor skyrocketed, though the state used its powers of eminent domain to break several logjams that threated redevelopment.

As of March 2050, the resettlement is almost complete. Residents who refused initially to leave their homes have mostly surrendered to continuing weather problems and the decay of their surrouding infrastructure. The rebuilt Manhattan is widely praised, though the use of the Port of Albany has limited New York's access to the largest freight shipments. Both wealth and population are much more evenly distributed across the state, and the upstate-downstate divide that many feared would create catastrophe rarely emerged.



My grandparents were from Upstate New York, around Cazenovia, but they'd left for Phoenix in 1982, when Grandpa's job transferred there. My parents lived in San Diego, but moved back to my grandparents' place when they moved on to Lake Havasu City. My father's brother moved back to Syracuse in 2005, and it always seemed like a joke, moving to the land of harsh winters and taxes. The one time we visited in 2008 it was just too lushly green for me.

I grew up in this arid place and loved the desert - the sand, the cacti, the way it all looks the same until you look closely. When we had to stop watering my parents' lawn, I didn't mind - it seemed more real to me, and my brother and I had a good time trying to replace that grass with something that could last in the desert. I wound up using those skills as a landscape designer, helping people adjust to an ever-drier world while guzzling bottled water and turning up the evaporative cooler whenever I had the chance.

After a while, though, I had fewer customers. Somehow living in the brown didn't really appeal to people, and a lot of them headed for the coasts and for points north. In some ways that was a good thing, taking a lot of pressure off what little water we had left. We'd used up the aquifers a lot faster than we'd recharged them, and there wasn't more water coming in. A few wet years in the 2030s eased things a bit - actually kind of messed up some of my landscapes, but not permanently - but the 2040s have been miserable.

Phoenix is emptying out now, down to 200,000, and maybe there will still be a city there when they figure out how many people can live there permanently. There's not a whole lot of water left there.

Cascadilla fall

I brought my family to Upstate in 2047, not too far from where my uncle used to live. It's strange, looking around and seeing not just rain, but waterfalls. Everyone knows about Niagara, but who knew about Chittenango Falls, or Taughannock, or Watkins Glen? Water, even drinking water, is everywhere here.

The last few years of landscaping in Phoenix were pretty much a loss, so it looks like I'll be working here for a lot of my retirement, like a lot of us who moved back. The house is small and old, but it will do, and I have a lot to learn about gardening in a place where it's supposed to be easy.

Bobos in Paradise

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In 2015, when the Hudson Valley had filled in with growth pouring out of New York City, and as the rest of Upstate continued its dramatic population decline, the State of New York decided it was time to make the rest of Upstate New York as accessible to New York City as the Hudson Valley had been.

The state purchased railroad rights-of-way and tore up roads where necessary to build two high-speed rail lines connecting Buffalo to New York City, one following the Thruway and the old New York Central, and the other following the old Erie line and Interstate 86. A third line climbed up to Plattsburgh from Albany, and then ran south along the St.Lawrence, where it reconnected with the east-west line south of Oswego.

While the distances, even with burst speeds around 200 miles per hour, were still too long for an easy commute from Buffalo, the trains, powered primarily by windfarms all over Upstate, made parts of Upstate into convenient vacation homes for those living Downstate, and provided new (and cheap) permanent homes for people who could telecommute most of the time - something New York City's media and finance jobs could support easily in an age where videoconferencing was normal.

Unfortunately, mixing New York City culture with Upstate produced conflicts, including a few riots at schools as newcomers and older inhabitants came into conflict. Upstate's generally poorer residents and the wealthier newcomers had little in common, resentment between 'natives' and 'colonists' peaked in the 2030s, when several trains derailed because of damage to the tracks. Conflicts emerged over issues from styles of speech and dress to religion and ethnicity to local taxation and spending. State police crackdowns on theft, vandalism, and the more dangerous problem of train derailments led to the arrests and imprisonments of thousands of 'natives', reducing resistance to newcomers except for occasional outbursts.

In 2050, Upstate New York is thriving, with active cities along its high-speed rail lines and tourism and farming along its branch lines. Rochester, and Syracuse have grown into engineering centers, while Buffalo has become an important hub for finance and legal work, a gateway between similar work done in New York City and that done in points west. A generation of change, as well as steady accumulation of wealth, has calmed the conflicts between old-timers and newcomers.

(The title for this entry comes from a 2001 book by David Brooks.)

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This page is a archive of entries in the Thriving category from September 2007.

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