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April 21, 2013 / Leo Hollis

The resilient City

Earlier this spring, I found myself walking through Lower Manhattan. There was still a chill in the air; a few flakes of snow had fallen the night before but nothing had settled. As I wandered, I was interested to see whether there were any residual signs of Hurricane Sandy, which had struck the island on 29 October last year, battering the Five Boroughs remorselessly and serving as unnerving reminder of the fragility of the city.

That October night, as the waters rose and started to fill Lower Manhattan, there was proof that not even Wall Street was beyond the reach of nature. And as the lights went out — and stayed out for days afterwards — there was a strange feeling of the possibilities of this happening more often, anywhere in the world.

Elsewhere in the darkened city, the infrastructure was down. The subway system was flooded. Cars picked up by the rising waters were scattered and dumped like flotsam. In Staten Island, whole neighbourhoods were flattened, while, in Queens, an exploding generator set a fire raging across several blocks. To add to the physical damage were stories of human woe: 300 patients from New York University’s Langone Medical Center had to be sent outdoors when high winds knocked out the emergency power. In Staten Island, a young policeman drowned after leading his family of six adults and a 15-month-old baby to safety, and two boys aged two and four died after being ripped from the arms of their mother, Glenda Moore, as she tried to flee the rising waters in her car. She’d gone in search for help, but nearby residents had refused to open their doors.

Hurricane Sandy raises big questions about how we will live in the future. A city mayor, even one as optimistic as New York’s Michael Bloomberg, cannot stand up amid the wreckage and tell people that everything is fine, that it will never happen again. Today we face an ecological challenge of our own making: now that the majority of us live in cities, it is within the metropolis that our future salvation or death warrant will be drafted.

The rest of the essay can be found on the Aeons website. Check it out:


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