Hurricane Sandy devastated Hoboken three short years ago. Homes were destroyed, property was lost, and thousands of lives were interrupted. Many of us lost electricity and heat for weeks. I witnessed a friend in her 80s lose her garden level home and everything that was in it. In more than fifty years in her home, she had never flooded. Most of her possessions, including many of the possessions and memories of her husband whom had passed away, were destroyed forever. Many families were forced to rebuild their lives almost from scratch.
After Hurricane Sandy, Mayor Dawn Zimmer dedicated herself to ensuring that our city would not be susceptible to another disastrous storm surge. She raised her voice so loudly as to gain the attention of the federal government. When the Department of Housing and Urban Development created an innovative design competition, Rebuild by Design, to award over one billion dollars in federal funding to help areas protect themselves from future events like Hurricane Sandy, Mayor Zimmer grasped the opportunity. Hoboken was soon awarded $230 million to help fix its flooding problems, giving us an opportunity that most communities can only dream of.
On Monday, the City held an open house for the community to view five alternate concepts proposed by the Rebuild by Design teams. It was with disappointment that I witnessed the actions of a self-serving few that attended Monday night’s community meeting at the Hoboken Historical Museum. Some residents, untouched by Sandy flooding, were incensed at the idea of putting flood protections in their neighborhood. One woman stated that her block was one of the most “desirable” in Hoboken, and she couldn’t imagine sharing it with flood protection measures.
To those residents concerned only for their property values: nothing will hurt your property values more than another Hurricane Sandy destroying 80 percent of our city once again. New residents will stop buying into a town that does nothing to protect itself against monumental flooding, especially one that throws away a golden opportunity such as this.
But of course not all uptown residents are acting out of line. Many attended the previous community meeting to respectfully express their concerns over certain aspects of the Rebuild by Design plans and to advocate for the options they thought made the most sense for the whole community. Many of the attendees on Monday would most likely have engaged in a similar respectful fashion had the event not been hijacked by the hysterics of an overly reactionary few.
Hoboken is so often a warm, familial community. That’s why I’ve lived here for over a decade, and that’s why my wife and I are planning to raise a family here. The uptown community must embrace this debate, not fight it. Your voices can help shape the solution. Let’s show the rest of Hoboken that we care as much about the future of their neighborhoods as our own, and work to ensure that all of us have a safe, resilient Hoboken to leave to our children and grandchildren.
Note: Bryan is the former chief of staff to Mayor Dawn Zimmer