In Sandy’s Wake, New York’s Landscape of Inequity Revealed
BY MICHELLE CHEN,inthesetimes.com - The shock of Sandy is still rippling across the northeastern United States. But in the microcosm of New York City, we can already see who’s going to bear the brunt of the damage. As Hurricane Katrina demonstrated, floodwaters have a way of exposing the race and class divisions that stratify our cities.
Though some bus and subway service is returning, many neighborhoods dependent on public transportation remain functionally shuttered. Not surprisingly, recent surveys show that Metropolitan Transit Authority ridership consists mostly of people of color, nearly half living on less than $50,000 a year in one of the world’s most expensive cities.
It’s true that Sandy’s path of destruction was to some extent an equal opportunity assault, pummeling the trendiest downtown enclaves and blighted neighborhoods alike. But residents’ levels of resilience to the storm–the capacity to absorb trauma–will likely follow the sharp peaks and valleys of the city’s economic landscape.
Even before the storm, inequities arose in the city’s disaster preparations. Many public-housing residents who stayed behind in evacuation zones were preemptively blacked out, left without elevators, heat or hot water. Meanwhile, once again, in a repeat of Hurricane Irene, the city was criticized for shamelessly denying the incarcerated at Rikers Island an adequate evacuation plan.
Now, floodwaters have ravaged the Lower East Side–a historical bastion of immigant social movements and a dense community of low-income people of color, mostly of Latino and Asian descent. Hundreds have taken shelter at a local school, community service organizations are struggling to stabilize neighborhoods, and some Chinatown activists have reported ugly run-ins with the police during their relief efforts.
Endemic social tensions may intensify as households and communities across lower Manhattan and the outer boroughs face both a transportation shutdown and large-scale displacement: public schools closed, battered storefronts practically abandoned. Many struggling residents will be depending on emergency food rations. In outlying areas such as Far Rockaway, seniors and people with disabilities are especially endangered by power outages combined with physical isolation. In old neighborhoods such as the historic Coney Island district, workers and local small businesses are further hobbled by a lack of insurance. More…