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Running Before You Can Walk

south ferry subway station

Most likely it will be some time before the full effect of Hurricane Sandy is known. It’s been over 48 hours since the hurricane hit and what we do know is that it was as bad as predicted. What could not be predicted was the unprecedented damage to infrastructure. Residents of Zone A (which includes all five boroughs) have not been allowed to return to their homes. Power is still off below 34th street in Manhattan and across all boroughs. NYC schools will be closed all week. The subways will start running (in a limited fashion) this morning while some stations are still being pumped out. There are sections of New York City (and certainly New Jersey) that are simply gone. Hospitals are still being evacuated. Human lives have been lost.

Yet the decision has been made to hold a marathon across these five boroughs in 72 hours. The NYC marathon is a huge event and brings money, tourists and international attention to the city. It draws resources, particularly those of first responders and congests traffic and walkways. No doubt many of the runners had flown in (to train on American soil) before the hurricane hit. The airports are slowly opening again, so perhaps the remaining can still get here. Those hotels not filled with evacuees, hospital, city and media staff are probably open. But for the love of decency is this really the time to have such a spectacle?

The runners start their journey on Staten Island which might just be the hardest hit area of the city. The ferry is still not running and the south ferry subway station is probably still under water. Even if they all can get there, should they? People have lost everything and are living (in the cold) without power or telephones. How will they feel seeing police and firefighters shepherding elite (and amateur) runners past their devastated homes? Will there be thousands of spectators offering cups of water to runners throughout the boroughs? Where will the water come from? Will it be trucked in and labeled “for runners only?”

High Occupancy Vehicle rules are in effect for the bridges and tunnels into Manhattan. Drivers (perhaps without access to electricity and/or information) will be turned away if there are not 3 people in the car. This restriction is necessary as without full subway service it is next to impossible to move through the streets of Manhattan. (The reason the President of the United States did not just bop on over from his visit with New Jersey is that he would have had to been airlifted into Manhattan. There are no spare traffic lanes for emergency vehicles let alone a motorcade.) But by all means, bring in more people and close streets for the runners.

The runners finish in Central Park, no doubt that section was given first priority in the clean-up efforts. Scaffolding and bleachers need to be built for the marathon. Parks employees and firefighters are needed to create that structure. It has been suggested (by non-city dwellers) that the marathon is a “sign of recovery” or a “welcome diversion.” Perhaps from a bird’s eye view this is the case. But down here in the decimated nest it feels terribly insensitive and disrespectful.

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2012 in Cultural Critique

 

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