Life

Five Years After Sandy, Artists and Activists Still See ‘A Really Big Problem’


A rendering of Sen. Schumer inside the warehouse. Photo by Diego Lynch.

With the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy happening this Sunday, artists and activists are preparing for the “Sandy 5,” a rally to urge New York’s elected officials to promote renewable energy, deal with unresolved damage, and prepare the boroughs for future storms.

Yesterday, about two dozen people gathered in a parking lot off the Gowanus Canal to build signs and other art pieces for this Saturday’s march from Cadman Plaza to the Alfred E. Smith Houses.

Yes, five years out, recovery from the storm is ongoing. In April of 2019, the city will shut down the L train for 15 months in order to repair flooding damage; the next year, construction will begin on the Lower East Side’s $200 million flood mitigation plan (in the meantime, the neighborhood just got signs commemorating Sandy’s five-foot storm surge); and the state government has spent $122 million buying out homeowners in Staten Island’s waterfront communities. But activists say this isn’t enough.

“There are still people struggling to move back into their homes and people are still dealing with mold issues,” said Kim Fraczek, director of Sane Energy Project. “We are not equipped for resilience.”

Last month, the city council approved a rezoning of downtown Far Rockaway, in which the city will spend $126 million to attract investment to the storm-ravaged community. The rezoning will lead to over 1,000 affordable housing units and 250,000 square feet of commercial space being placed in an area that could be underwater by the end of the century, according to the Regional Plan Association.

Photo by Diego Lynch.

“The city definitely puts developers first, before communities,” said Fraczek. “We are thinking about redevelopment and rezoning and … this is a really big problem.”

In addition to local issues, the march will address the broader issue of climate-related catastrophes. “Hurricane Maria just hit Puerto Rico, and my family is all down there,” said Anjie Laura, who was volunteering at Sunday’s event. “Everybody is still doing pretty badly … my grandmother is up in the mountains.”

While she spoke, Anjie was screen printing plaques for people to hold during the march. Anjie is a cartoonist who interns in a screen-printing shop in Brooklyn, and got involved in the Sandy 5 march partially in response to Hurricane Maria.

The protest’s website has a list of demands for New York’s elected officials on the state and local level. Among other things, Mayor Bill de Blasio is being asked to halt waterfront development until “cohesive climate assessments can be integrated”; Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senator Charles Schumer are being asked to curtail the use of fossil fuels and switch the state and country to 100% renewable energy.

Photo by Diego Lynch

“There is a big gas pipeline coming into New York City right now,” said Fraczek as the Gowanus Canal emitted a petrol smell. “We don’t need any more fracked gas right now.” Fraczek was referring to a $926 million natural gas pipeline proposed for the Rockaways by Williams, an Oklahoma-based fracking company.

The activists’ supplies derive from a warehouse used by Build It Green, a company that salvages some of the tons of building materials which might otherwise find their way into landfills every year in New York City. In the rear of the warehouse, there was a considerable amount of artwork, including pieces deployed in the initial Occupy Wall Street protests. The artists working outside were all moved to add their voices to these piles of expression.

“A couple thousand years ago people did art about hunting animals, because that was crucial to them. Now climate change is crucial,” said Seth Tobacman, a cartoonist who teaches at the School of Visual Arts. “Art has always represented what people do for their survival.”



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