“Millions of New Yorkers have stories” from the hurricane, Council Speaker Christine Quinn declared this morning during a soaring, post-Sandy speech at the Association for a Better New York. Among those stories was Ms. Quinn’s own.
It was an emotional moment that came during what was otherwise a wonky, if powerful, policy-laden address to the city’s business leaders during which the council speaker (and presumptive mayoral candidate) called for at least $20 billion in new infrastructure across the five boroughs to protect against future disasters. The story, from the summers of Ms. Quinn’s youth, underscored her belief that the city must seize upon this disaster to create a stronger (or at least drier) future.
“My grandfather came over on a boat from Ireland with a third grade education and worked his way up through the ranks of the Fire Department,” Ms. Quinn explained. “Rockaway Beach offered him a chance to rent a bungalow in the summer, to afford a little place on the ocean just like the rich people he saw in the magazines. It was his own piece of the American Dream.”
There has been a big debate in (local) government about how best to respond to Hurricane Sandy going forward. There is the governor’s camp, which argues for redesigning great swaths of the city and state’s built environment; and the mayor’s camp, which both before the storm and after, argued that the city could never really protect itself from these kinds of disasters, so it was up to citizenry to protect themselves. The city would help with evacuations and the like, but really, don’t build near the sea or count of some fancy new sea gates to protect you, the mayor insisted.
During the recovery, The Observer would ask major officials into which camp they fell. Both Senator Charles Schumer and Congressman Jerry Nadler (who represents much of the formerly flooded downtown Manhattan) put themselves in the camp of doing more, building more, protecting more.
“For the future, we have to look into it,” Senator Schumer said.
Planes Trains & Automobiles
Update, 11/6 11:42 a.m.: The MTA just announced that the L-train tube under 14th Street has been pumped out and “damage is currently being assessed.”
Original post: Since we have become your defacto North Brooklyn subway depot—just take a look at the Popular Stories box right now—here is the latest from those skinny-pants filled lines. According to the MTA’s evening service advisory, the Newtown Creek tunnel on the G-train has been pumped out while pumping work remains for the L.
As we previously reported, no tunnel saw more flooding than the L, which is among the reasons the MTA left it until the end of its recovery operations to pump out, because the more water, the longer it takes. Among the reasons the 4/5/6 and 2/3 were up and running so quickly is they needed minimal pumping. They also carry more people, making them, arguably a greater priority. Just don’t tell that to the people living in North Brooklyn.
How many more lives will be lost and how much damage will it take for us to realize that Sandy was part of a continuing menacing pattern of extreme weather events that are here to stay? In 2005 it was Katrina, last year Irene and now Sandy. But around the world, extreme weather has crippled nations and destroyed property since 2000. You may think this has been going on forever, since the time of Noah, but this destruction has been escalating, with more damage every year than any similar span in recorded history.
Insurance losses in the U.S. averaged $9 billion in the 1980s. Katrina alone cost nearly $100 billion, with an average of nearly $40 billion a year in the 2000s. If we include Japan, the destruction to the globe in the last couple of years is unparalleled. Is this global warming or something else? No matter what the cause, there is a clear pattern of severe weather causing catastrophic human losses. This pattern, according to the National Research Council, is going to continue. We have to do more than hope it won’t happen here (wherever here is). The data indicates that a disaster is coming to you, or near you, in the near future, if you live in an urbanized coastal area. More than 60 percent of all Americans do.
So, what to do?
A storm from the tropics blew through town last week. It left wintry weather in its wake, along with a path of destruction that has left as many as 40,000 New Yorkers temporarily homeless. Half of them are expected to be unable to go home for weeks or months, assuming they even have homes to return to. Serious damage to heat and electrical infrastructure in apartment buildings and homes on the waterfront are among the most serious issues that have created a housing crisis for the city following Hurricane Sandy.
“Many of the fears we have is that with cold weather coming, we have to make sure people can stay warm,” Mayor Bloomberg said at an afternoon press briefing. “Among the hardest hit are the Rockaways and Staten Island. A lot of places aren’t gonna have electricity but are going to experience the cold. That is the next big problem for us.”
The Neverending Story
So many parts of the city’s crucial infrastructure remain under water, most notably those Con Edison generators downtown, but the city is drying out remarkably fast following the worst storm in living memory. Even some of the subway tubes have come back, if only there was power to run trains through them.
At his press briefing this evening, Gov. Cuomo made a surprise announcement, actually in the middle of talking about what dismal shape the PATH train is in—there appear to be some five miles worth of flooding, the length the line under the Hudson from New York to New Jersey, so that is one thing that will probably be submerged for some time to come. But a place that will not be is the World Trade Center, which, after flooding a good 15 to 20 feet across the site only three days ago, is now dry and in working order.
“Work will recommence at the Ground Zero site tonight,” Gov. Cuomo declared. I was just congratulating some of the workers; there was tremendous flooding at the Ground Zero site. We went from seeing the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel turned into a flume, we walked up the World Trade Center site, where water was cascading into the site from every imaginable angle, at such a decibel level it was disorienting. The entire site was flooded.”
on the waterfront
The Observer has been reaching out to urban planners for the past few days now to discuss the issues with our waterfront development in the face of storm surges and rising sea levels. One of the very first people we called was Vishaan Chakrabarti, the director of Columbia’s Center for Urban Real Estate and a partner at SHoP architects. (You can read what others had to think in a story in today’s print edition, as well as in posts still to come.)
Mr. Chakrabarti previously served as director of the Department of City Planning’s Manhattan office, so he was around when much of the waterfront planning by the Bloomberg administration, and the thousands of condos that came with it, were taking shape. Mayor Bloomberg, at least before the storm hit, was fine with things proceeding as they were on the waterfront, with little investment in new protections and infrastructure, while former deputy mayor Dan Doctoroff, who helped hatch many of these plans, wants more of both.
Mr. Chakrabarti has taken a more urgent stance. “The thing we as a city have to understand is, we’ve been promoting all this waterfront development, and most of that waterfront development is happening in the zone that is getting evacuated right now,” he said in a telephone interview. “We’re talking about thousands and thousands of housing units. It’s fine for that housing to be there, but we have to figure out a way to protect it all.”
But Mr. Chakrabarti also has a simple solution. Well, if the world’s largest floodgates would qualify as simple.
after the storm
As all New Yorkers are well aware, Hurricane Sandy brought a devastating combination of winds and ocean surges to the city last night, resulting in a multiple deaths and untold amounts of property damage. Throughout it all, as with many major emergencies, a remarkable collection of photos capturing the action emerged.
If you happen to live on the city’s now-glitzy skid row, you should be high and dry, at least for the time being, so fear not for a slip-up during the mayor’s storm update this morning. If you caught it, Mayor Bloomberg said the Bowery had flooded, when in fact he meant The Battery, according to his staff.
“There has already been some flooding already in the Bowery, as well as the FDR and some of the Rockaways,” Mayor Bloomberg said. “We expect surge levels of 6 to 11 feet. A surge of 9 to 10 feet is possible along Coney Island and the Rockaways. And a surge of 11 to 12 feet may occur at the Battery Monday evening.”
If you were planning to hop that last chopper out of town, Saigon-style, forget it. The 30th Street Heliport on the West Side is under water.