On the Waterfront, There’s No Place Like Home: Mayor Bloomberg’s Tidal Wave of Development Washes Out

Venice it ain’t. (Getty)

Portions of this story have already run on Observer.com in different posts. This story appears in the October 31 print edition of The Observer. You can find links to the original posts at the end of this story.

“I love the water,” Blis Laurel said Sunday afternoon, having ventured down from her apartment on Bedford Avenue to stand beside the choppy waters of the East River.

“Mother Earth is so powerful,” she continued. “I love to connect with her; I wanted to come down before the storm and feel the energy.”

Ms. Laurel was wearing a white- and rainbow-colored knit cap and a green down vest. She had a chain around her neck with a crystal hanging from it. She is from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and thus well accustomed to hurricanes.

“Andrew was my first, when I was 3,” Ms. Laurel explained. “Hopefully I won’t be spending any time hiding in the closet again.”

Ms. Laurel said she was not afraid of the potential Frankenstorm that was then being predicted. “It’s exciting because two celestial events are happening at once,” Ms. Laurel explained. “It’s a harvest moon and a hurricane, which I hear can mean a big storm surge. I don’t know what that would mean energetically, but I think it’s important to be in a place of love and not a place of fear.”

She was not the only one feeling the pull of Mother Earth—or of Mayor Bloomberg—to this spot on the Williamsburg waterfront.

Behind us soared The Edge and North Side Piers, 30 stories of luxury condo glory, offering some of the best views in the city. The condo towers are some of the biggest pillars of the Bloomberg administration’s physical legacy, the result of a 2005 rezoning of the waterfront to replace old factories and warehouses with gleaming piles of apartments. Standing tall on the east side of Kent Avenue, these high-end high-rises are squarely in Zone A, the first of the flood zones to be hit in the event of a severe weather event.

Not only has this corner of the city begun to resemble Miami, but it is also starting to feel like it. Memories of Hurricane Irene and the evacuation that preceded it still linger in the minds of those who call this place home. Many, drawing on the anticlimactic experience of last year, saw little reason to leave.

As the same loudspeaker recording blared over and over again, it seemed like the vast majority of residents were indifferent to the pleas of Mayor Bloomberg.

This is the NYPD. You are located in Zone A. There is a mandatory evacuation in effect, and the mayor has required everyone to evacuate by 7 p.m. Anyone found to be knowingly violating this evacuation order will be charged with a class B misdemeanor.

“We’re staying,” Javier Andrede said, wearing a windbreaker as he made his way into the lobby of Northside Piers 1, his English bulldog waddling beside him. “I’m not worried. After the previous hurricane, I think we’ll be okay.”
Mr. Andrede said hello to Zigi Liebold before making his way inside, as Ms. Liebold tried to corral her young daughter, who was dancing around, wired from all the excitement. “We’re on a high floor, so we’re not very worried,” Ms. Liebold said.

“I just got these kick-ass new stereo speakers, and I am going to listen to those until the power runs out,” Jim Butler, a resident in the neighboring The Edge said, tugging on the doors of the CVS that is part of the complex—it had just closed, a few minutes before 5 p.m. “Then I’m going to read and look at my art books. I’ll live by candlelight, get in touch with my 19th-century self.”

He wouldn’t have any choice, either. The management company planned to bar the doors within an hour, complying with the mayor’s mandatory 7 p.m. evacuation. Sandbags already surrounded many entrances. Still, judging by the lights on in windows—we saw one guy painting at an easel—and by the comments of residents, more than half were staying put.

Mayor Bloomberg did not approve, as he made clear during his press briefing Monday morning. “You’re sort of caught between a rock and a hard place,” he said. “You should have left, but it’s also getting to be too late to leave. If you really experience an emergency, [call] 911. We will send our first responders in, although we’d love very much not to have to put their lives at risk, and you can control that by getting out now.”

On the Waterfront, There’s No Place Like Home: Mayor Bloomberg’s Tidal Wave of Development Washes Out