When they try to explain how historic Hurricane Sandy just was – like the closing of the stock market for two days – they always say that hasn’t happened in more than a century. What they are referring to is the Blizzard of 1888. That’s the big one and it motivated the city to change its infrastructure.
I think the past is repeating itself.
Over the course of two days in March of 1888, a blizzard dumped up to 50 inches of snow across the northeast. Sustained heavy winds created massive snow drifts – up to 52 feet in Brooklyn. Citizens were stranded in their homes for more than a week. Power lines (see photo) were broken and posed a hazard to anyone trying to walk in the street. City workers were impeded by wires while trying to clear the snow. The city had been brought to a halt and something had to be done.
After such an experience, City and State leadership were finally motivated to change our infrastructure. New York began placing its telegraph and telephone lines underground. And more than a generation after London had proven the technology viable; New York undertook an underground subway to replace the elevated trains. “There is no overstating the significant impact this tragedy had on the metropolis, especially on transportation. The resulting standstill on the elevated lines resulted in the city adopting a plan to build subways. This plan was formulated in 1894 and eventually construction on the subway began in 1900.” G. J. Christiano, nycsubway.org
Today we face a similar scenario. Changing weather patterns are once again making our old infrastructure obsolete. Two hurricanes in as many years? Rising sea levels? A city of 32 islands needs a better plan on how to protect ourselves from the water that surrounds us. Perhaps, once again, we are New Amsterdam?!?
As Governor Cuomo said today, “Anyone who thinks that there is not a dramatic change in weather patterns is denying reality.” “Going forward, I think we do have to anticipate these extreme types of weather patterns. And we have to start to think about how do we redesign the (infrastructure) system so this doesn’t happen again.”
I couldn’t agree more. A system designed for the horse and buggy age doesn’t match our contemporary needs in a information age with global weather change. The task ahead is enormous. But the possibilities that come with it are as great. Our old infrastructure helped to make New York City the economic power house of the world. What can our new infrastructure achieve?