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Save the Seaport: A Tidal Wave of #SoLocal Emotion
Posted on December 7th 2012
“If you got off the train at Fulton, why would you want to come this way anymore?”
This remark from a Lower Manhattan street vendor, captured in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy by blogger Sarah Jacob, reflects the bleak sentiment now looming over New York City’s ravaged South Street Seaport—ranked the 26th most visited sightseer attraction in the world by Travel and Leisure.
Exacerbating the Seaport’s recovery—thousands of its residents, many of whom also are local employees, have been displaced from their flooded out buildings, with dates for return delayed or still uncertain, while others are now unemployed. The neighborhood’s eclectic mix of corporations and residents, in combination with the dynamic and reliable influx of tourists, once constituted huge patronage of local businesses. Today it has all but evaporated. And while some Seaport area merchants and restaurants have vowed to rebuild, others question the value of risking another climate change event. Many local businesses do not qualify for FEMA relief, and others facing the prohibitive costs of flood and other insurance are reconsidering their future in Lower Manhattan.
At the Seaport, the long queues for scenic harbor tours and the excess of pushcart vendors on the Pier and waterfront promenade have disappeared. To draw attention to the economic impact on this once teeming commercial district, Fortune Magazine has launched a #savetheseaport social media campaign, encouraging people to visit and post their pictures on Fortune’s Facebook wall. And not to be forgotten: Kudos to Occupy Sandy—the new social heroes of climate change—which has set new precedent for first responder disaster relief.
Our NetBase Save the Seaport social tracker paints a dark picture of the neighborhood in which I reside, and which has left many residents in state of suspended reality. With Superstorm Sandy’s climate change event at our doors, a “new normal” has awakened in us—brought home 24 hours a day, seven days a week by the constant drone of emergency trucks, disaster relief trailers, and generator rigs now inhabiting the pedestrian streets on which we once strolled without noise.
As revealed by the social conversations culled from almost 2,000 posts since October 28—which generated almost 5.7 million impressions—there is a decidedly somber sentiment hanging over the South Street Seaport. This year the immensely popular traditional holiday festivities have been supplanted by the stench of buildings boarded-up since October 29th. Neighborhood mood is captured in social sound bytes like “shed tear,” “lingering worry,” “reveal terrifying reality,” “insecure,” “struggle to get up” and “shamble.”
There is also the unmistakable smell of mildew emanating everywhere, from the sidewalks to the buildings—from which I reeled this week as I crossed one of my local streets. While some buildings have reopened on a “soft” basis, they still are without telephone or Internet services, and interior air quality is being monitored continuously for contamination. While these buildings are allowing employees to enter, there is something incongruous about the scene—with emergency workers cloaked head to toe in white suits and hazmat masks working simultaneously at these and nearby buildings still flooded with oily petrol-laden seawater.
The trending themes in our social Save the Seaport tracker create a stark visual reminder of the countless number of lives impacted by Superstorm Sandy and how those of us who live and work in the Seaport and FiDi neighborhoods feel intrinsically connected to each other in our devastated surrounds, which include the Lower East Side, Red Hook, Coney Island, Staten Island and the Rockaways. If ever social and local were evidenced on the same playing field, Sandy gave rise to a new #solocal way of connecting and staying connected.
While it may be precipitous to speculate whether the South Street Seaport and FiDi neighborhoods will experience a gradual population migration similar to other global storm ravaged areas, financial considerations in combination with the “new normal” mindset undoubtedly will mitigate against recovery reinvestment—even dampen prospects for new commercial and residential development.