Day 27: No, Seriously, Sand Is Not A Valid Foundation Material

Neither is trash, Boston.

I just turned in a research project about Boston’s climate adaptation plan and how that’s going (plan’s good, now they just need to do it), which meant I did a decent amount of research about the city’s history of infill projects. I knew before that a lot of Boston was built on unconsolidated sediments because nobody knew they had to compact infill before they built out onto it, but I didn’t know that the first infill project was because the rope-maker’s district caught fire in the late 1790s and leveled about a 100 buildings. Naturally, the city asked the rope-makers to get the hell out of dodge if they were going to be so flammable, and the rope-makers starting building out onto the mudflats to the west. I also didn’t realize that the Back and South Bay infill were initially by mistake; Boston had built a bunch of dams to power mills in the city, but trash and sewage (a perennial problem in cities) starting building up behind the dams. In a fit of mad improvisation, Boston decided to heap more trash into the Bays and build housing for the wealthy on top. And somehow, this actually worked, and there are still expensive townhouses built on literal, actual trash. This is my favorite crazy thing to happen in Boston since the Great Molasses Flood of 1919.

a figure stolen from said research project

Anyway, it turns out literal garbage is a bad building material, and a lot of the infilled areas are at high risk for flooding in the upcoming decades. go figure. This was also a factor is what made the Big Dig go so far over schedule; they had to do a lot of unexpected soil reconstitution, otherwise the tunnels would have just squidged sadly and sunk into the ground. There was also some hazardous waste in there that they didn’t know about before they started, because trash from the 1830s is not the safest of materials.

I had a lot of fun doing the research for this project, in part because the last project we finished was about the municipal plan for the town. Small wrinkle, the plan is only available in Icelandic, as are many of the other sources we needed, and Google Translate is still pretty bad on languages with a small set of translation-text pairs. Which means my group spent a lot time looking at sentences like, “the government will work with government to reconstitute old schedules” and wondering in the fresh hell that was supposed to mean. Speaking the language, it turns out, makes research so much easier. It’s just such a relief.

I was flipping through my notes earlier this week, trying to find if I’d actually written something down or just thought about it and found two things that cracked me up. The first was a lot tiny sarcastic marginalia in the notes about use of the word ‘community’ rather than ‘town’, because, to me, ‘community’ implies everyone at least kinda knows each other, and is not a correct blanket term for everything from a small village to a city of several million, which is how this class was using it. I keep all my notes in the same notebook, and I found almost exactly the same tiny sarcastic complaints in my Coping with Disasters class. At least I get points for consistency, I suppose. “But what if words had meanings” is an ongoing sore point for me. The second silly thing, was I found a couple of animal doodles:

I think that shark is the most dangerous looking thing I’ve ever drawn. (It’s been years and I’m still a little embarrassed and little amused at how accidentally adorable the snakes on a Gorgon-head shield I made were. They had such derpy little faces). That cat, on the other hand, is right in style.

Looking south-west over the beautifully flat inner fjord and floofy clouds on the way to school this morning

The strangest thing about Iceland in the spring, given the other seasons, is that isn’t windy all the time anymore.

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