The Window Washer

Zeke ran the squeegee methodically across the porthole, stealing glances at the watery ruins of South street as he wiped away the soapy film. From his perspective inside of the Old Slip Plaza, he could see schools of fish winding their ways around old recycling bins and past street signs reading “One Way”. The room around him felt ancient, with seemingly the only visible objects built after 2050 being the reinforced pressure porthole modules covering the openings where there were once windows. He tried to imagine a time before the floods began to take most of lower Manhattan underwater but hardly could match the pictures he’d seen of the city around the turn of the millennium with the algae-ridden aquarium he saw in front of himself.

Though only hired to wash windows – or as a transparency technician, as his job title stated – his training had been extensive. If he ever spotted a crack or, god forbid, a leak, he was to immediately leave the room, hitting the flood alarm on his way out. This would seal the room after a 30 second countdown to ensure that any flooding would be contained. In the unlikely event that he was caught inside of a sealed room or unable to escape a breach, he was instructed to swim to the top of the room, wait for the room to fully flood, exit through the broken porthole and swim to the underside of the New York street level, 2 stories up. From here, lights on the underside of the floating street would guide his path to an emergency exit hatch which would allow him to climb up and emerge among a throng of people on Wall Street.

Zeke often imagined what that experience would be like. Emerging from the oceanic depths of old Manhattan like a drowned rat, gasping for air, while the city’s financial workers looked on with confusion. Many New Yorkers remain blissfully unaware of the city below them – both the ocean layer upon which their thriving streets floated, as well as the sub-aquarian floors of New York’s oldest skyscrapers. Some buildings used these floors for storage. Some housed vast research projects that investigated the strange and unique ecosystems growing in the city’s watery underbelly. Zeke had even heard of a few that converted these underwater rooms into unique hotels for experience junkies who wanted to augment their NYC trip with a luxury sleep with the fishes.

Zeke often wondered why his job hadn’t been given to the bots. Different coworkers speculated that their real job was to monitor the portholes for cracks, tampering, damage, or any other irregularities – something that even the most sophisticated machine learning models still failed to match human intuition on such a critical task. Zeke’s opinion was far more bleak; that his job, like so many of the jobs done by his friends and family, was make-work. A sort of purposeful opiate for the masses to ensure that everyone felt like they contributed to the world in some meaningful way.


  • How could the effects of climate change drastically alter or impact your city?
  • How will we adapt to these effects to learn to live with this new reality?
  • What opportunities arise that may embrace a climate ravaged world?