3:57 pm Feb. 14, 2013
Mayor Michael Bloomberg made it abundantly clear during his final State of the City address this afternoon that he is not, in the end, OK with the idea of retreating from the waterfront.
“We will not cut our city off from the natural asset that has made us great," he said, speaking to elected officials and reporters at Barclays Center, where the Nets now play basketball, in downtown Brooklyn. "That was the mistake that Robert Moses made, and one that we have been working so hard for decades to undo."
Redeveloping the city's waterfront and making it accessible to New Yorkers has been one of Bloomberg's signature goals as mayor. During his 11-year tenure, skyscrapers have sprouted up on the Long Island City and Williamsburg coastlines, Brooklyn Bridge Park has taken shape, and greenways now run up and down both sides of Manhattan.
But the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy on residences in low-lying waterfront neighborhoods in the city caused something of a rethinking from officials including Andrew Cuomo, and from some residents themselves, about the wisdom of rebuilding rather than relocating.
In the age of climate change, some academics, notably Columbia University's Klaus Jacob, have argued that the only form of mitigation that will prevent similar devastation from recurring involves relocating New Yorkers away from low-lying, flood-prone neighborhoods, some of which, in the case of lower Manhattan, is built on landfill anyway.
In parts of Staten Island, including Fox Beach, residents are asking the administration to help them get federally funded buyouts, so they don't have to rebuild homes in neighborhoods they consider unsafe.
Today, Bloomberg took what he construed as a principled stand against the very notion that any sort of waterfront retreat was a good idea.
“We will build back stronger," he said today. "We will build back safer. We will build back more sustainably. But we will build back here."
His remarks were somewhat broad, but Councilman James Oddo of Staten Island, who has has been pushing the administration to support the buy-out idea, and also to consider something like a Louisiana Land Trust, thinks he knows what the mayor meant.
"The mayor and I have a different definition of giving up on the waterfront," he told me, following the mayor's speech. "I think redefining the waterfront a few blocks in from where it is now is not a capitulation and is not a surrender of the waterfront. A strategic use of acquisition is a must."
"I wish he would be as feisty and animated on Sandy recovery as he is on guns and immigration and stop-and-frisk," said Oddo, a Republican. "That's what I want."
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