Resilience in Lieu of Recovery

In case you haven’t heard, New York City (as well as much of the northeast, the tri-state area in particular) took a severe beating by Hurricane Sandy this week. Whole neighborhoods were flooded and torn apart, NYU Langone Medical Center lost power and had to evacuate, Breezy Point, Queens was burned to the ground. Many residents lucky enough to not be flooded out of their homes are still without power, and the damage to the public transit system has left many walking several miles to work or to get relief. Just look at some of these pictures and you’ll get the idea.  The city has responded with what could be called its typical resilience as subways have already begun to come back into operation and public servants are working around the clock to bring things back to normal.

Oh, and the NYC Marathon is going to go ahead as scheduled.

The ING New York City Marathon has been re-branded as the Race to Recover, donating $1 million to relief efforts and urging participants to donate as well. NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg stated that New York is a city “where we have to go on” and cited resilience above all else. In addition to arguing for a return to normalcy, he also argued that the monetary benefits from runners coming into the city would contribute to helping the city recover.

But can you really begin the return to normalcy with a grand event when everything “normal” about life – shelter, food, electricity, transportation – is still missing? And can you really use money from sponsors and participants as a primary argument for relief efforts? He might as well tell hurricane victims to go to the mall and spend their way into a regional recovery, a la George W. Bush. Regardless, the marathon organizers and the mayor have decided to plod on towards mile marker 26.2.

Let’s take a second and think about what the costs are of running a functional marathon would be:

  • In a city with public transit in minimal operation and with streets packed with taxis and buses, you will need to close a lot of roads to accommodate the marathon route.
  • In a city where first responders are still dealing with catastrophic effects of the disaster, you will need police to block those roads and ensure runners’ health and safety.
  • In a city where food and water are scarce and in dire need, where people are going without food or water due to a host of issues (no electricity means food stamp cards don’t work, the storm flooded some stores, difficulty to travel makes going shopping harder, non-functioning elevators makes leaving tall buildings even more difficult, etc.), you will need to divert some of those supplies to the runners (running a marathon, after all, is taxing on the body).
  • In a city where some hotels have stepped up and allowed displaced New Yorkers to relocate from homes that are flooded, burned down, or without power, marathon runners will be flying in and need a place to stay. (At least one hotel owner has decided to do the opposite).
  • In a city where infrastructure has taken a hit and electricity, subways, and rails are below optimal levels, prioritizing an event that could be postponed distracts resources that could go towards people in need.
  • Apparently, resources are already being drained from potential relief efforts as volunteers and NYPD officers work to set up barricades, tents, generators, and food trucks for Sunday. I don’t see how that doesn’t interfere with relief efforts.

But at least New York will be back to normal on Sunday.

Update: I posted this, and immediately found out that the marathon was cancelled. This is definitely the right decision, but it’s also definitely a late one. It was an unnecessary debate, and there are already a number of runners arriving in NYC. Hopefully relief efforts will take precedence over any other big ticket events, and we can return to real normalcy soon.

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