Saturday, November 17, 2012

Rebuilding NYC, NJ coasts could challenge ideas about volunteerism

There has been a surge in volunteerism among more affluent New Yorkers, but their involvement in helping hurricane victims has sometimes been spotty or voyeuristic, sometimes judgmental, and sometimes brings back Maoist ideas of class justice.  At least, that seems to come out of the article “Helping Hands Also Expose a New York Divide”, in the New York Times Saturday November 17, 2012 m by Sarah Maslin Nir, link here.

In one case, a manager in a financial firm wanted his Ivy League yuppies to get their hands dirty and take their turns with manual labor, according to the article.  That sounds like the way my father used to preach.
In another case, a woman wanted to get poorer women help in lactation. 

However, it seems as though many New Yorkers had been largely oblivious of life in the projects, or in the blue collar coastal areas like the Rockaways. 

When I lived in NYC from 1974-1978, I used to take the A Train to the end of the line, and ride a bus through a Rockaway community about a mile to Riis Park.  I went to Staten Island a few times.  But I never really thought about the danger from hurricanes or severe coastal storms. 

But upscale New Yorkers in some luxury high rises in lower Manhattan are still displaced because of severe damage to infrastructure.  Surely a lot can be done to prevent such damage in the future. 

But will personal volunteerism -- "karma yoga" -- really get these seaside communities rebuilt?  Will church groups and Habitat for Humanity get together to rebuild homes?  Would I go on such a trip later?  How would I stay connected if I did (and that can be a big upcoming problem to talk about soon). 
It does seem to me that building codes in seaside will have to be made much stricter.  This would be a job for professionals, and engineers – maybe a source of first jobs for some engineering college graduates.   Large construction and home building companies, needing work, can probably be much more efficient at rebuilding with new codes than can ad hoc volunteers (who can do these things for social capital).  That could result in a lot of premanufactured home pieces and standardization, but it will help people.  And unfortunately it’s going to be a stress on the federal and state governments over and above what insurance companies can do.  Maybe, this is an area for national service (as could be power restoration), a shocking thought.
Again – it’s all about infrastructure.
And it is, in a broad sense, about social justice.  And all that presents a challenge to modern ideas about individualism, which social structures and shared goals seem more important than ever for sustainability.

It seems that only a few years ago we were all in lockstep with the typical "libertarian" solution: tell people not to live too close to the ocean (or in earthquake zones or in wildfire-prone areas); tell people not to have families and babies until they can make enough money to support them, tell people not to borrow more money for a house than they can afford.  Get it?
Wikipedia attribution link for NASA photo showing area power outages Nov. 1 

Update: Monday November 19:

Some students from an evangelical high school in Colorado traveled to Toms River NJ (10 miles from the ocean) on their homecoming weekend to help residents.  The girls tore down drywall, the boys cut trees.  Any concern about building codes yet?

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