NORTH OF GOTHAM -- Michael Bloomberg, New York City’s mayor, was uber-careful to stress the potential destructive power of a hurricane named Irene that seemed headed straight for Queens Boulevard. In the second-guessing that now follows what became a tropical storm, he is criticized for being too careful. Not possible to be too prepared. The beast that was could have paralyzed the five boroughs.
It also could have taken out my suburban area 20 miles north and the surrounding five counties, but authorities here, too, were on the horn warning people to be prepared, even to evacuate. Though there were deaths, major flooding, heavy power loss and much disruption, the storm was weathered.
How much it will all cost has to be totaled, certainly a figure far above the 2 percent budget caps imposed on schools and government by the governors of New York and New Jersey. You cannot put a price on safety, however.
The full damage from Irene, in the burbs as well as in Gotham, though not as great as feared but in the millions nonetheless, did not have to happen as scripted. The grief, the expense, was largely debt-due after decades of poor land-use planning, even greed and incompetence.
Filled-in floodplains, overbuilding by profit-seeking developers, weak construction codes, too much strip-shopping and its impermeable asphalt parking lots as well as maintenance neglect of storm drains, tunnels, transit and other infrastructure have overtaxed government’s ability to manage the quality of life on a sunny day, let alone a rainy one and almost never on a stormy day except by borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.
And that’s what will happen now as the tab for overtime and repair will mean cuts in basic government operation as well as added debt. The bill could have been less if municipalities, counties and states had long ago cooperated on proper building and code practice to seek “progress” sensibly and within reason.
Mayor Bloomberg was right to hit the airwaves and the Internet on storm preparation. So were the governors of New York and New Jersey. Will they now use their considerable voice to plan better for Irene’s sister? For our everyday quality of life? Will there at long last be sensible land-use planning?