I'm fine. I was supposed to fly to Mexico City on Monday morning for a strategy session with multiple organizations to advise the incoming presidential administration in Mexico and the new mayoral administration of the Distrito Federal Mexico on urban transport policy. My hosts sent over instructions that they would arrive by bicycle at my hotel early Tuesday morning and that I was to make sure not to eat breakfast. A lovely surprise awaited me.
Instead my flight was canceled on Sunday afternoon, and after a long lunch with a friend in a half-empty though typically popular restaurant that day (where was everyone? like birds before a storm) I biked over to DUMBO to pick up my laptop, not knowing what to do next. I had cleared out my fridge in anticipation of being away for the week, but hearing about the long lines made me avoid the stores. It wasn't the waiting, it was the nervousness I wanted to ignore. I spent the night (or would it be two?) with close friends and their kids. We listened to the news, played games with the kids, cooked, and I learned a few guitar chords. We only bothered pulling out the flashlights when the storm hit full force on Monday night.
It was a couple of noisy, stormy nights, but our neighborhood is fine, outside of a few downed trees and store awnings. Though it's on the waterfront, it's on a bluff that overlooks the East River and the electricity stayed on. There were glorious trick-or-treaters on Wednesday, and the annual Halloween spectacular on Garden Place still got a good run.
Colleagues have urged me to seize the moment in the aftermath of Sandy. With the storm, climate change and cities became mainstream. This is your moment! What do you think, they keep asking me. Cities and climate change have become front and center. This is it!
I don't know what to think, and you know what, I don't want to revel in this moment.
News about the impact of the storm has given me great pause, each day a little dip deeper into harsh reality. Though the majority of us are fine, walking around lower Manhattan without power is apocalyptic. No traffic lights, no street lights, and small businesses operating on slim margins are closed. I picked up brick oven pizza the other day for dinner with friends, and went to the neighborhood bar each night to surround myself with people, and there are people without water to drink. I get around easily by bicycle while others wait in long lines for the shuttle buses. I don't even need to climb the stairs in my building because my elevator is still working. Meanwhile, seniors in Brighton Beach can't flush their toilets, are running out of food, and do not even have a way of sending out a SOS flare. (Their council member is MIA, in case anyone has any information.)
All the reports on climate mitigation, adaptation, resilience, etc, could not have possibly predicted the very localized nature of the aftermath of extreme storms, and the very human face of its impact. It's literally block by block, street by street, neighbor by neighbor. Like the lights being turned on in an empty house, room by room. It feels that even organizing help is taking everyone in the city a few days, as little needs are discovered and disconnects patched over. I sent out an unsteady stream of texts over the last few days, a slowly dawning realization of who lived where and who might be without power or water or a bed or perhaps even without cell service.
Luckily, New Yorkers are used to sharing, especially with strangers and in times of need. And thankfully we have overlapping networks of people and spaces. We're really good together. Bit by bit.
New York City's how to help page
WNYC's how to help page, targeted at specific neighborhoods
Posted by Shin-pei at 4:55 PM