When I first moved to New York City, I lived smack-dab in the center of midtown, under the shadow of the Empire State Building. I spent my days searching for a job and exploring my new city. One warm fall day, I dressed in a cute flowy skirt and went for a walk down Broadway. It felt very iconic, strolling down the avenue, passing shops and restaurants, seeing fashionable business-men and women. I boldly made eye contact with good-looking men as they walked by. Here in New York City of all places, these mysterious men regarded me with interest. I felt powerful, beautiful, and strong. How wonderful to be considered attractive by a stranger! Continue reading “Trapped”
As an adult, I lost that God. He does not exist to me now. There is no one watching, listening, guiding, or even judging. He no longer serves as an explanation for everything I cannot understand. There is no room for God behind the last known star in the sky.
I don’t want it to be this way but it’s just the truth. Sometimes I miss praying. More often, I miss the security of Knowing. The loss is deep. Continue reading “Earth god, Sky God”
In 1994, Nelson Mandela became the first black president to lead the nation of South Africa. His election marked the end of the racist Apartheid system, and his party was the African National Congress, the ANC. In the years since, the ANC has never lost the presidency, though power has been passed down to 4 different men over that time. For many South Africans, the ANC is synonymous with freedom from apartheid, and they will support it unwaveringly for life. To them, the choice at the voting booth is not between one party or another in a free South Africa, but between their liberators and Someone Else, and that is really not a choice at all. Continue reading “Young People, Short Memories”
When you move to a large city like New York, you join millions of others who make it their home. Whether you know it or not, you are affirming their choice to live there and they are validating you right back. Your collective presence is evidence that you’ve selected a desirable location, and that means something. Continue reading “Defiance”
The mathematical symbol for change is a neat little triangle Δ. I can remember drawing it on my notebook with a pencil and wondering why my pencil ended up back where it started. That pretty shape is little more than shorthand for futility, like a dog chasing its tail. There has to be something better.
And yet, I have to admit that the clean little package contains an uncomfortable reminder that most attempts to change actually don’t result in much of anything new at all. How many times does a person have to quit something before they actually quit it? For every last cigarette, every for-real-this-time break-up, every “give it over to god”, there are 500 re-runs of the old bad habits. The cold truth is that most attempts to change revert back to uncomfortably familiar territory. Continue reading “CH@NGE”
If I had a transcription machine tied to my brain, it would document my thoughts. I could shuffle through the pages it generated and review my internal dialogue. I would probably laugh at a few bits, underline certain insights and skip over the inane fluff. And then, like a diligent paralegal, I would redact every instance of the word “should,” crossing it out with a fat black magic marker. I can imagine how the pages would look, heavy with back ink bleeding through the sheets of paper, rendered impure by that pervasive insidious word. Continue reading “Should: The Ultimate Obscenity”
Every so often, I get sad.
I let it happen because I am human and alive and that’s part of the deal.
Sadness is a natural variation in the spectrum of human experience, it happens. And when it does, that doesn’t mean it defines you. It is part of you but it is not you. Black stripes on white.
For some though, sadness is something more. So familiar it isn’t noticed, so suppressed is it obscured from view. It is the baseline on which everything else is layered. White stripes on black.
When I feel it, I wonder:
How far down does my sadness go- is it who I am or what I feel now?
and if it runs deep, with black underneath, then can I change it anyhow?
When I was in 7th grade, I got in a fight with my Math teacher about infinity. We were learning about decimals at the time, and he taught my class that, there was an infinity of numbers between 0 and 1. Even though one minus zero is one and that is finite, decimals can go on forever and it is not possible to get to the end of possible numbers between 0 and 1. Ok, I’m with you. Then he went on to say that there is also an infinity of numbers between 0 and 0.5. Now wait just a minute. I got what he was saying, but I couldn’t accept that there one infinity could be bigger than another. I disrupted the class with my arguments until he threatened to make me stick my nose against the blackboard for the rest of class and I finally capitulated.
I am no less frustrated by this concept now than I was then, though I’ve learned to accept it. What choice do I have? It is true. Infinity doesn’t include Everything. Continue reading “Infinity”
When I was a freshman in college, there were the boys I met during the day and the boys I met at night. Often they were the same people altogether but in one case they saw me as a face and in the other as a body.
Like a somber “talking-to” from a family doctor, Superstorm Sandy forced New Yorkers to face an uncomfortable reality: the irresponsible lifestyle we have lived for so long has put us at risk, and we must take significant measures to preserve our health going forward. It will take a dual approach of both sustainability and resilience to prevent and respond to the threats of climate change. These issues are as important as they are complex, so let’s borrow some familiar concepts from medicine to understand what they mean for the health of our city.
In healthcare, we recognize a need for both preventative care — avoiding problems before they arise — and curative care — anticipating problems that will come about despite our best efforts to prevent them. The health of the urban environment is no different. When it comes to climate change, sustainability means “reducing it” whereas resilience means “reducing its impacts.” In one case we are trying to prevent something from happening, in the other we are trying to mitigate the negative impact when it does. While the two issues are complementary, their differences are important. “Sustainability” and “resilience” are not synonyms, but rather complementary forces, a yin and yang, which must be tackled in equal measure.
“Resilience” is one of those terms that sprung from obscurity after the storm, suddenly popping up in mayoral speeches, campaign platforms and government-commissioned reports. As with many conceptually dense terms that abruptly enter the social consciousness, it is widely misunderstood. Resilience is often mistaken for another term that we’ve heard a lot about lately: sustainability. While many people fall into the trap of mistaking one for the other, it is actually easy to distinguish between them.
In a nutshell, resilience includes “adaptations to our environment to increase the ability to withstand and recover quickly from weather-related events.” Here in New York, it speaks to the need to protect the buildings, transportation, infrastructure and people from gradually rising sea levels and storm-induced surges. Meanwhile, sustainability is the never-ending pursuit of reduced environmental impact to limit climate change. It encompasses clean energy, waste and water management, and, in a city where 75% of greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings, energy efficiency.
Suppose you are the mayor facing a completely different social problem- an imminent flu epidemic, for example. The “sustainability” measures needed would include vaccination efforts and hygiene campaigns to limit the scale of the outbreak. The “resilience” measures you enact would include increasing access to medicines and enabling hospitals and clinics to handle the influx of patients to treat those who fall ill. Government leaders must understand the importance of both approaches or risk an anemic response.
Complicating matters is the fact that we are one of many players in a complex network in which the forces of climate change have already been set in motion. Global climate systems will wreak havoc on New York City despite our best efforts to prevent them. But we still must try. There is a social contract in effect that demands everyone’s participation and protection. When parents vaccinate their children, they do so first and foremost for their own child’s sake. Yet, in aggregate, their efforts lead to widespread impacts.
Through “herd immunity”, a society can effectively eliminate a threat that might have otherwise been a public health disaster. On the other hand, a high proportion of unvaccinated people can lead to broad negative impacts, where those who are too young, too poor, or too ill to be protected are put at risk. When it comes to severe weather, New York City is certainly among those most vulnerable, with its vast resources clustered so close to sea level. If we all participate, there can be real reduction in greenhouse gas levels, yet if enough cities or nations fail to participate, they will diminish the efforts of the others.
Here’s the good news: New York is on track to be a national and international leader on environmental issues. While we cannot hope to influence global climate trends on our own, we can be a positive force for increased sustainability that can make a tangible difference. In 2007, New York City adopted PlaNYC, a set of interrelated policies with a shared goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2013. One component of PlaNYC is a mandate that large buildings complete an annual energy benchmarking report (Local Law 84 of 2009). Similar legislation has now been passed in major cities around the county: Washington DC, San Francisco, Austin, Boston, Chicago and Seattle all have energy benchmarking laws aimed at improving building efficiency. Together, these cities make the whole herd safer. By taking the first step, New York has blazed a trail for sustainability with a widespread positive influence.
While the analogy is useful, climate change is not just a metaphorical health threat: extreme weather and other consequences of climate change can have life-threatening impacts. The challenges are daunting and the issues complex, but with greater understanding and sustained commitment, we can have a strong positive impact.
With a new mayor coming into office on January 1, 2014 New York City has the opportunity to build on the significant environmental efforts of Mayor Bloomberg. As of September 24, 2013 resilience was added to the scope of the Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability.Meanwhile, millions of dollars in federal aid remain to be spent on post-Sandy recovery and the City Council currently faces proposed legislation that covers broad environmental issues including plastic bag management, building heat retention, and flood management. Bill de Blasio has the power to sign or veto these bills, and, if they become law, his administration will have the responsibility to implement similarly progressive legislation.
Change happens whether we like it or not, but we are not helpless spectators. Sustainability efforts to lower greenhouse gas emissions can reduce the frequency and severity of extreme weather events. Resilience measures to buttress our defenses can diminish the consequences of what we fail to avoid. There cannot be one without the other. The health of this City depends on our ability to apply this lesson. Re-Sus-Citate New York!