My ‘Outside’ Moment of the Year: The City and Hurricane Sandy
In a place built on selective ignorance, a storm forced everyone to stop and think
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Mitchell’s Broken Leg
New York City prides itself on being indomitable. Its residents often feel impervious to the natural world. There are umbrella men on the avenues for rain, and snowstorms are inconveniences that make you late for lunch but give car owners a reprieve from street cleaning rules. For a week, Hurricane Sandy put a stop to that chosen naivete, flooding subways, burning homes, knocking down cranes, turning out the lights and otherwise forcing the busiest city on earth to submit to nature. By literally thrusting the hard fact of our altered environment into the streets, the storm did what many activists and scientists couldn’t: reinsert climate change into the public conversation, with Mayor Bloomberg endorsing President Obama prior to the election due mostly to Mitt Romney’s wishy washy beliefs on global warming. The city has since resumed its fast churn—it always does—but the images of the dark skyline and the whitecaps in the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and the burned shells of houses in Breezy Point endure. It remains to be seen whether the newfound understanding of the city’s frailty will.