“There is no storm, no fire, no terrorist act that can destroy the spirit of our city, and keep us from looking forward envisioning a better tomorrow.”
Um, that’s right Bloomberg.
Only lack of government preparedness before the storm, neglect for the city’s poorest residents, and a lack of shelters with running water and heat can destroy the spirit of our city… And only in the outer boroughs where your friends don’t live… in places that the majority of New Yorkers will never see.
Andrew Cuomo claims that Hurricane Sandy has wrought more destruction (measured, apparently, in business dollars and square miles) than Hurricane Katrina, setting off a collective slapping of foreheads. Oh my god, is that where he had to go to get money out of John Boehner? Blech. Politics.
Anyway, the good people at the NYTimes Cityroom created a side by side comparison of the two storms that you should check out by clicking right here.
By the numbers, Sandy is bigger and badder. But remember that New Orleans had a much smaller, poorer, population. The city had fewer politicians like Andrew Cuomo and Mike Bloomberg and Chris Christie who have the influence and visibility to effectively freak out and make life hell for people until they get justice in the form of federal dollars.
Going into Katrina New Orleans was a city that had long flirted with some sort combo of social/infrastructure collapse.
And practically no one got out of Katrina unscathed, while, let’s be perfectly honest, much of NYC is only dimly aware of just how bad things are for their fellow New Yorkers hidden out by the coast in the outer boroughs.
It’s an imperfect comparison, since Ed Blakely was chosen by Andrew Cuomo, not Mike Bloomberg, but if he has an influential voice on the commission it could set up an epic clash between politicians/planners and the local New Yorkers and the grassroots organizers who actually did all the work in the two weeks after the storm… you know, the people who have first hand dealings with what worked and what didn’t after Sandy swept in.
Why was Blakely picked to be on this commission? Because he did such a great job in New Orleans? He called Ray Nagin a hero and took the credit for a recovery that was driven by community organizers.
From the Time Picayune online (hat tip the the fabulous Bebe, a NOLA native with some very strong opinions on hurricanes):
"The city’s post-Katrina recovery director — deemed a failure by many New Orleanians despite his self-congratulatory book taking credit for the city’s rebound — has been appointed to a commission aimed at arming New York state for future disasters.
“In a post called “Ed Blakely to the rescue!,” Gambit Weekly reported Friday that Blakely told an Australian radio station about his appointment to the New York State Respond Commission, created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s massive damage.
"Blakely, who once famously forecast "cranes on the skyline" in New Orleans by September 2007, now directs an urban planning center at the University of Sydney in Australia.
"He has opined on various occasions that New Orleans "isn’t likely" to exist a century from now; recommended that the 9th Ward be left to wash away; compared former Mayor Ray Nagin to President Abraham Lincoln; and published a book about New Orleans with a photo of a flooded Slidell on the cover.
"The book, called "My Storm: Managing the Recovery of New Orleans in the Wake of Katrina" and published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, details how his work — not New Orleanians or community organizers — led to the city’s recovery. Blakely’s “target zone” recovery plan is considered by many a failure that accomplished little of what it set out to do.”
In an ideal world, Occupy Sandy’s relief effort would be so successful that there would be no need for Occupy Sandy.
This day, of course, still seems far away — one need look no further than Midland Beach, Staten Island to see that the place depends almost completely on grassroots volunteers and the Dept of Sanitation — it’s coming. You can hear it with every new radio address from Bloomberg. You can read it in the latest NYCHA press release. You can see it as people find permanent and semi-permanent places to live that have power and heat.
In the next few weeks there will be less and less room for the role that Occupy played so well: the massive distributor of goods and services that took the place of grocery stores, clinics, and shops.
Will Occupy be okay with that? For as horizontal in structure, as non-hierarchical as the group claims to be, it seems to feel that it owns this relief effort.
"I’ve yet to see these people doing anything productive with their time." says one Occupy organizer, gesturing to a National Guard truck. (The National Guard has been working 24 hours a day to remove pieces of boardwalk and toxic debris out of Bob’s yard, and has helped clean up tons of rubble in Staten Island, but no matter.)
"They shouldn’t be feeding the cops and the fire fighters," an Occupy organizer in Staten Island tells me, when I mention that the Hallowed Sons have been serving hot food to public workers. "They can take care of themselves. They have enough."
It’s intriguing, this sense of ownership… this sense that Occupy does it better… this sense that it’s alright to be completely disdainful of the efforts of the government, while espousing a philosophy of being sensitive to the needs of the residents in hard hit communities, many of whom are the very cops and firefighters Occupy might imply have just been wastes of space or who have enough. (“This is not charity, this is mutual aid and community building” is an oft heard phrase ‘round Occupy HQs in Brooklyn)…
An argument could be made that they indeed, already don’t own the recovery, that no one does. But what happens when it’s clear that what they do best — that massive distribution web — becomes less important? Would you want an Occupy Volunteer inspecting your house? An Occupy Volunteer doing your wiring? An Occupy Volunteer representing your legal rights as you work through the maze of FEMA/NYCHA/small business/insurance company paperwork?
What happens when people are finally given the services — with varying degrees of success — that only government can provide (heat, power, massive debris removal, building inspection, public transportation, safety in the streets)? What happens when people can go to stores? Make food at home? Do the laundry?
Occupy’s efforts have unquestionably been the driving force keeping people alive and safe after the storm. But I’m curious about what happens when other forces start to sustain New Yorkers. Will Occupy find a way to work with officials and big agencies as they step in? Will Occupy adapt to new roles? Recede into the background? Make snide remarks about how no one else does anything around here?
Will Occupy Sandy fight to own the recovery or find a way to be relevant?
November 16, 2012
1. Tell Bloomberg what’s what (via Occupy Sandy)
At Noon TODAY FRIDAY 11/16, in front of City Hall, nurses, doctors, EMTs, and other healthcare professionals will go to the mayor to demand more coordinated action to rebuild our city’s healthcare infrastructure and care for the thousands of people hurting after Hurricane Sandy.
Volunteers in the field urgently need supplies and greater help from the federal and city government. These life-saving volunteers have told us themselves that they can’t fill the place of a real community health network, and are asking us to help get clinics, pharmacies and hospitals re-opened. We’re taking a list of those medical needs to Mayor Bloomberg to ask for the City’s help.