A Tourist Trinket - 27 East


A Tourist Trinket

This is to any future historians of Sag Harbor who happen to be combing back issues of The Express for clues to the downfall of this formerly quaint village on the East End, with its storied whaling and manufacturing history.

It turns out that four teams of bright fifth-year architecture students from the New York Institute of Technology, led by professor Dong-Sei Kim, optimistically and trenchantly plotted the future of Sag Harbor with their circumspect designs for improvements to the village, which they presented to a mostly empty Sage Hall at the Sag Harbor Learning Center on May 10.

This was after the majority of so-called activist (ie. self-interested) residents were nearby at The American Hotel at the Express Sessions “talking in circles” (per architect Nilay Oza, who attended both events).

Aspiring Village Board candidate Ronald Reed had provided the initial impetus for this year of work, which I was glad to facilitate as NYIT faculty.

The students came up with what amounts to a comprehensive plan for the entire village, considering the time spans of “nearly immediately” all the way to a 100-year horizon. They came up with four nonmutually-exclusive schemes that anticipated how the village could plan for up to 10 feet of sea level rise using canals, drainage, kelp beds and bio-swales, as well as techniques to raise and even float existing houses.

They directly addressed current issues of walkability and connectivity. They dealt with community-building with proposals for new parks, transportation modes and canals. They designed a community center at Havens Beach.

They addressed the seasonal nature of habitation, and trade parade traffic issues. They addressed affordable housing. They even anticipated a post-car future.

The schemes made many of us all in the room delirious with excitement. Honestly, I want to live in the town they designed. It is a vast improvement over what we have. It has vision, and vitality.

But, as one village resident put it brutally to these idealistic students directly after their presentation: “It’ll never happen.”

What a self-fulfilling prophecy, indeed. And, as historians from the future, you can confirm, none of it never did happen.

And as you also know, this has led to year-round population decline as part-year residents now form the vast majority in 2050. Sag Harbor has become a veritable ghost town, with luxury chain stores like the neighboring villages that succumbed earlier to this trend. This cool town has been reduced to a tourist trinket cruise destination, a parody of its former self.

This can be traced directly back to the (lack of) decisions made by the Boomers’ generation in the early 21st century and the maintenance, at all cost, of their petty financial and political fiefdoms.

Edgar Papazian