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Parts Of New York, Flooded By Ida's Effects, Are Working To Recover


Even here, as we report on different stories on the other side of the world, it's been hard to miss the images of flooding in New York City, my former home. Hurricane Ida, you will recall, devastated much of Louisiana when it came ashore and then remarkably kept much of its destructive power, even after it moved far inland and passed over 1,000 miles of land before slamming New York. New York City Council member Justin Brannan represents part of Brooklyn and also chairs the city's Committee on Resiliency and Waterfronts, so we've called him. Council member, good morning.

JUSTIN BRANNAN: Good morning, Steve. Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: How's the recovery going in your district?

BRANNAN: What's interesting about my district is two of the main neighborhoods in my district are - have names that include elevation. You have Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights. And usually in storms like this, we are immune and stay pretty dry. But this time was different. I don't know that there was a house or a basement in my district that didn't take on water of some kind. So it's clear that we're dealing with a very new reality here.

INSKEEP: And when you say new reality, you mean, of course, that by climate change, there's likely to be more storms like this.

BRANNAN: Absolutely. And for those of us who have been sounding the alarm on this stuff for a long time, you know, we often feel like the boy who cried wolf. But now it's clear that, you know, the clock has run out, and the new climate reality is here. And like you said, I mean, the fact that we had a storm that, you know, devastated Louisiana and, you know, days later, also devastated New York City is just a very, very new reality that we need to prepare for and we need to prepare for very, very quickly.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that preparation because, as some people will know, New York has had devastating storms before. The city was trying to respond. The city has already been raising some of its shorelines. Now I guess we have to ask, are those existing and planned improvements enough?

BRANNAN: I think they are enough. I think the issue is that they're not happening fast enough. I think - it's not like we're staring at a blank page here where we don't know what to do and now today we have to figure out how to make our city more resilient. We know what to do. The problem is bureaucracy. You know, you have fights on city, state, federal level that often bottle up these projects that, frankly, we don't have time for. You know, this isn't the same as, you know, a new slide in a playground. You know, these are projects that, really, it's a matter of life and death. And everyone really needs to come together to push this stuff through because almost 10 years later now, I'm still visiting communities that are dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

So you have - you also have an equity issue here because you have primarily low-income communities of color who are really on the front lines of the climate crisis, whether they like it or not. So I think really what call - right now what's called for is partnership on every level of government to recognize that this is an emergency that's not coming soon. It's here right now. It's sitting on our couch with us drinking coffee, and we need to do something about it. But we know what to do; we just got to do it.

INSKEEP: Sitting on the couch with you, drinking coffee and perhaps feet in the water that's on the floor. How different does the city need to look in 10 or 20 years than it looks now?

BRANNAN: That's a great question. I mean, I think part of this is about sort of lifting that veil of exceptionalism, right? I mean, I love my city. I love my state. I love my country. But maybe we don't have all the answers. And if other places are doing things better than we are, I think we've got to be willing to listen and learn from what other cities or states or countries might be doing because, frankly, the cost of doing nothing at this point is far greater than the cost of doing something. And these storms clearly are only going to get worse. And there's a lot of us who have been saying this for a long time, and none of us take any satisfaction over, you know, what we've been warning finally being here. But that's what we're dealing with right now. The climate crisis is not at our doorstep. It's here. It's inside our homes.

INSKEEP: Can I just ask - New York, of course, is an archipelago. It's almost all on islands other than the Bronx. Can you imagine some parts of New York City being abandoned in the future?

BRANNAN: I mean, it's certainly possible. You saw that in parts of Staten Island after Hurricane Sandy. I think you're absolutely right, Steve. People forget that New York City is 520 miles of coastline. We have - four of the five boroughs are either islands or connected to one. So, you know, I don't know if people think of New York City as landlocked or some way. It's very much not so. Not only do we have a coastline; we have islands, and we're very, very vulnerable to these storms. We're one of the most active urban hurricane centers. So this is just - you know, it's new reality, but it's something that we've been warning, we've been sounding the alarm on for a long time. And it comes to a point where it's like, well, how many once-in-a-lifetime storms can I have in my lifetime? And it looks like we're all about to find out.

INSKEEP: Council member Brannan, it's a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

BRANNAN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Justin Brannan chairs New York City's Committee on Resiliency and Waterfronts. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.