Atlantic Cities

After Sandy: The Best #CityReads of the Week

After Sandy: The Best #CityReads of the Week
Reuters

Our weekly roundup of the most intriguing articles about cities and urbanism we've come across in the past seven days. Share your favorites on Twitter with #cityreads.

"What's Really Happening in Blacked Out Manhattan," Anya Kamenetz, Co.Exist

The darkened stairwell of the tower on Broome Street on the Lower East Side is like a dripping, foul-smelling cave lit only by a few headlamps and flashlights. A group of eight 20- and 30-somethings are climbing to the top floor of the 23-story building to check on public housing residents who have been stuck without power or water since Monday night.

"Hello? Hello? We’re volunteers! Do you need help? Water? Agua? Ayuda?" The women do the talking in hopes that people won’t be intimidated. Theo, a resident on the 18th floor who escorts us up, says that this is a dangerous building in the best of times. He also says to his knowledge, no one has been door to door to help yet: not FEMA, not the Red Cross. Just the NYC Housing Authority Police on Monday to tell people to get out. This is Thursday.

On each floor above the fourth we find elderly and sick people who have been unable or afraid to venture out since the start of the storm. "I’ve fallen down twice--that was enough for me," says Estelle Kleinhaus, a white-haired woman on the 12th floor who lives alone. They need food, drinking water, and medication. More able-bodied residents have been filling buckets at a hydrant outside in order to flush toilets.

Nadia Televiak, 68, in 22C is out of candles. Antonia Rivera, 72, her next-door neighbor in 22B, is sick with a fever and is in need of food. In 20G there is an elderly man with a broken foot who only speaks Cantonese--luckily one of our group can translate. In 18H, one of the Wongs has a heart problem and they haven’t been able to climb downstairs. In 8A there are two young girls by themselves. They say their mom is at work.

"We Are All Venetians Now," Frank Jacobs, Foreign Policy


A partially submerged house is pictured in Barnegat Bay, New Jersey. (Reuters)

We are a coast-hugging species. About 44 percent of the world's population live beside the seaside, and that number is set to rise. Why? Maritime commerce and easy access to all that lovely seafood spring to mind. But maybe there's a more fundamental reason, a human instinct touched upon by the sailor Ishmael, explaining his aquatic affection on the very first page of Moby Dick: "If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me."

Unfortunately, the sea doesn't always return that tender affection. Like the number of coast-huggers, it too is set to rise. Between 1950 and 2009, global coastlines rose between 0.6 and 1 millimeter annually. Taken together, those two trends spell global disaster, albeit of the very, very gradual kind. So what if the sea swallows up a low-lying atoll here and there? Who cares if entire (albeit tiny) Pacific nations may be engulfed in a few decades? If it happens slowly enough for the victims to row away to safety, it surely happens too slowly for anyone else to notice. So, if you're a low-lying island nation, you probably need a clever media stunt for the world to pay any attention.

But add a noticeable rise in extreme weather to those creeping sea levels, throw in a high tide surge, and you've got Superstorm Sandy. Suddenly, New York looks eerily like it does in all those apocalyptic movies that were enjoyable because they seemed distant enough. Director Roland Emmerich's cinematic schadenfreude feels like a guilty pleasure now. It won't forever.

"Leaving Langone: One Story," David Remnick, The New Yorker

Virginia Rossano is seventeen years old and has been suffering from epileptic seizures since she was six. She and her family live north of Boston. After consulting with Orrin Devinsky, a renowned neurologist and epilepsy specialist at the N.Y.U. Langone Medical Center, the Rossanos decided to pursue a surgical course for their daughter. Virginia and her mother, Cathy, came to N.Y.U. last week, and on Thursday Virginia underwent a craniotomy. Surgeons removed skull tissue and connected electrodes to the brain to monitor her brain functions. The next step was to wean Virginia from her medications and induce a seizure. Doctors could then locate the source of the seizures and remove the offending tissue. “Dr. Devinsky said that surgery could be a home run for us,” Cathy Rossano told me.

Then came Hurricane Sandy.

Virginia’s first surgery was a success. While she and her mother waited, word came that the ominous storm approaching New York would be powerful beyond prediction. Doctors and nurses started discharging patients from the Langone Medical Center, in the East Thirties, near the East River. Hundreds of patients were sent home or to other facilities. But many of the sickest and most fragile patients—some of them infants—stayed in the hospital. What no one had counted on was that when the power failed all over downtown Manhattan on Monday night, so, too, did the hospital’s backup generator. Now everyone would have to be evacuated, and in terrifying conditions.

"Chaos and Community at East Williamsburg's Post-Apocalyptic Gas Station Line," Jada Yuan, New York magazine


Brendan McDermid/Reuters

The Hess gas station at the intersection of Bushwick and Metropolitan Avenues in East Williamsburg became one of the few lifelines in a fuel-starved city after Sandy struck. While nearby branches of Shell and BP went dry and were circled in police tape, trusty Hess kept pumping, seemingly the only game in town. The line of cars started forming on Metropolitan Ave. at 6am on Tuesday morning after the storm, and it’s been steady since—abating only when the fuel runs out. On Thursday, the day of the worst line, cars stretched from beyond the Ridgewood border in Queens all the way to the Williamsburg Bridge, with a concurrent line down Bushwick Avenue with no end in sight. “People just started driving in like renegades and parking wherever they wanted because there was no police,” said Sadie Benning, an artist who lives near the station (and who is also my neighbor).

Hess has its own refinery in Port Reading, NJ, which means that its gas supply comes into the city by tanker truck, instead of through the ports, which were closed after Hurricane Sandy struck. A company spokesperson explained that, based on experiences from hurricanes in Florida, Hess purchased 85 generators in advance of the storm. They managed to keep 177 of 186 stations in the metropolitan area open (about 36 in the city proper), and while their refinery still has no power, they’re using a generator to keep their truck rack in Port Reading open to send out whatever fuel they have. (The company’s website shows the inventory levels at various stations.)


At 7pm on Friday, this particular Hess had one pump open for cars from Metropolitan, one for cars from Bushwick, and one for about 100 people who’d been standing in the cold for hours with red canisters. Cars were limited to $40 of gas, people on foot to $30. Rules varied from station to station. Joe Cardellos, a Modell’s employee, told of waiting for two hours at the Greenpoint Hess, watching as the police sergeant in charge let off-duty NYPD, FDNY, and sanitation workers cut ahead of everyone else “because they work for the city,” said Cardellos. “I don’t think that’s fair.”

 

"There could be worse: What New York isn't doing (yet) about the next storm," Dana Rubenstein, Capital

This week, New Yorkers learned just how vulnerable their city is to rising ocean levels.

Gale force winds fed fires in Breezy Point, burning more than 80 houses to ash.

Surging waters and violent winds ripped the Rockaway boardwalk from its moorings and tossed it inland.

Water covered Coney Island, Alphabet City and City Island.

Wind whipsawed the crane erecting the city's tallest apartment building, leaving its boom suspended 1,000 feet in the air.

Salt water surged into every East River subway tunnel between Manhattan and Brooklyn, filling the South Ferry station to the ceiling, corroding equipment, and rendering the system unusable for at least the next several days.

Trees blocked emergency vehicles, stormwater trapped cars, electric lines fell into puddles, and all the lights went out downtown.

"It can get a lot worse than this," said Richard Barone, the Regional Planning Association's chief transportation policy planner. "That's where the concern lies. I think that this was a significant event, but there could be worse storms. This is in no way fearmongering. I'm not even sure we should print something like that."

Sommer Mathis is editor of The Atlantic Cities. Previously she spent five years editing and reporting on the D.C. metro area at DCist.com and TBD.com. All posts »

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