Rebuild New Jersey and New York after the storm? Yes, but how and where?

During Hurricane Sandy, I worked long hours at a hardware store in the DC metro area, selling batteries, flashlights, sandbags, sump pumps and sundry other items as the monster storm swirled along the east coast. Work kept me too busy to be afraid or to watch much TV coverage. Fortunately, the storm only brushed past our section of the Mid-Atlantic before slamming into the most populated area in the United States. I expected wind and flood damage, but not the fires. Late Tuesday evening, when I finally saw footage of the massive destruction the storm wrought in New Jersey and New York, I found it hard to imagine how we will recover and rebuild or if we should rebuild in some areas.

The devastation caused by the wind, floods and fires reminded of the “end of time” Mayan prophecy for 2012 and the computer generated graphics in the recent apocalyptic film, “2012.” Except these shocking images on my TV screen were very real—but shock can help us get through a crisis by shifting our instincts for survival into high alert. To survive, we have to help each other.

I was moved by the countless reports of sacrifice and heroism of our first responders. It was great to see President Obama working so closely with Governor Christie of New Jersey. I was encouraged to hear the governors of New York and Connecticut talking about the long-term response this disaster will require and suggesting that we must rethink how and where we rebuild. Finally! This epic crisis may actually force our legislators to begin to plan and act on the very real predictions of extreme weather events as a result of climate change.

Then I heard the Mayor of Hoboken calling in to a cable news show and begging for the National Guard to help rescue her city’s thousands of stranded residents.   Yes, I thought, we’re going to need far more than just our police, fire and medical personnel to respond to this mega climate event. In addition to the National Guard, why don’t we bring our military personnel home? Why aren’t we paying them to rebuild our country instead of paying them to destroy and rebuild other countries?

We need to rally all of our people to help heal and rebuild America with a vision and plan based on sound principles of environmental sustainability. Dare I suggest that we should let the rising ocean have the devastated parts of our shore and rebuild farther inland? Will our government and our people act on this environmental imperative that’s based on scientific data? If profit is a requirement, there must be significant profits to be made in rebuilding America’s infrastructure.  We have work to do here that can’t be outsourced. Let’s take this opportunity to change course, work smart and invest in America’s future.

Perhaps this storm will be the turning point that will help us make the transition to a more sustainable life? There are many Americans already working toward this goal. The winds of change are blowing. Ideas and initiatives for building a better future can be found online at Transition United States.

~Nan Logsdon Mandelkorn

7 responses to “Rebuild New Jersey and New York after the storm? Yes, but how and where?

  1. Our response to climate change is critical. Wouldn’t most Americans want our military personnel brought home and paid to help rebuild our country based on environmentally sane policies?

  2. New York and New Jersey are still tangled in the aftermath of Sandy and it may be some time before it is all said and done. The question front and center in my mind is…….Is this the beginning of a new globe weather pattern?

    • Yes, Dave. Sandy is an excellent example of the extreme weather changes we’ve been experiencing. These horrific climate events will only get worse. That’s why we better change our ways. And soon!


    need i say more ? love the article and the above commentary.

  4. While I wish such monumentally destructive events would galvanize our nation to reassess and rehabilitate our infrastructure along more realistic, thoughtfully planned, and sustainable lines, I just don’t see it happening.

    I am a jaded optimist. I want to believe it will all work out well in the end, but I find the majority of people to be blinded by the tunnel vision of their own tawdry and immediate self-interest. I see little evidence that most of the population is willing to sacrifice even a little bit of their current wants to create better, long term solutions. It seems that most Americans have become so divisive and polarized and self-centered that they react like little children who are afraid someone will get a slightly bigger slice of the pie than they will.

    We do need to help one another. That is how humankind has managed to survive as long as it has. Without cooperation our puny little ancestors would have died out in the Olduvai Gorge. I hope the spirit of cooperation persists after the clean-up; I really do. Recent history does not give me much cause for this hope.

    I remember a New York City where a young woman, Kitty Genovese, could scream her lungs out while being murdered, yet not a single person who heard her screams called the police. No one wanted to get involved. I remember a city where you didn’t make eye contact with people you passed on the street. You certainly didn’t greet a stranger for they would fear you might mug them. The only time I ever heard strangers speak to each other on a subway train was when the power shorted, and you were all trapped in a stalled train in a dark tunnel. Somehow, that made it alright to speak and reassure one another. As soon as the lights came back on and the train was moving, everyone was a complete stranger again. Maybe people just aren’t meant to live in such crowded conditions. Extreme population density seems to lessen our humanity and concern for our neighbors.

    On a different level, I find the whole thing rather odd, though. When I was in high school in central New Jersey way back in the sixties, I used to envision a time when the newly under-construction Twin Towers would be completed, but would prove too heavy for little Manhattan Island. In this vision, the Towers would slowly sink through the bedrock, and the island would flood. Of course, I also asked my Dad, who was an administrator with the FAA at Idlewild, later Kennedy, Airport, what was to prevent planes from flying into buildings so tall. I have had an apocalyptic relationship with New York City as long as I can remember. It troubles me to see these visions coming to pass, in a certain sense. Call me Cassandra.

    Basically, I agree with you. I think we need to reevaluate the whole urban structure, especially in the Northeastern Megalopolis. You can only build so high and dig so deep before the land rebels. You can only cram people so close together before they lose all sense of community. How can it happen that one of the premier cities of the world can be so crippled and laid low by a storm? It just makes no sense. It should give us pause. It should humble us.

    We need to be kinder to our shorelines; it serves us right for the sea to reclaim some of it. Remember when they imported sand to Sandbridge in Virginia Beach to shore up the bulkheads so the houses built right on the dunes and shoreline wouldn’t get washed away? They took money from the education budget to fund that bit of arrogance. What priorities! A few states with more forethought than Virginia or New Jersey have laws that prevent building on or past the dune line. I say, let the ocean take away those arrogant structures. Let Mother Ocean redefine her borders and teach her children to respect her.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful commentary, Beth. I understand how you feel, wanting to believe the best of humanity and too often seeing the worst. You wrote, “I want to believe it will all work out well in the end, but I find the majority of people to be blinded by the tunnel vision of their own tawdry and immediate self-interest.”

      I agree that this mega storm should “give us pause…” and force us to develop more sustainable lifestyles based on very real climate science. I’m reminded of the parable about a foolish man who builds his house on sand, and it’s destroyed by a storm. That’s probably one of the first cautionary stories American children learn. Seems so simple; yet, the first reactions I heard in news commentary from many of the storm’s victims included the word “rebuild.”

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