2013-09-20 / Columnists

Commentary On Things Present

In the Year 2113
By Peter Stubben

Long, long ago during the summer made famous by 'Woodstock', this song was a big hit...

In the year 2525
If man is still alive
If woman can survive
They may find
In the year 3535
Ain't gonna need to tell the truth,
tell no lies
Everything you think, do, and say
Is in the pill you took today.

Now it's been 10,000 years
Man has cried a billion tears
For what he never knew
Now man's reign is through
But through eternal night
The twinkling of starlight
So very far away
Maybe it's only yesterday.
Dennis Zager & Richard
Evans - July 12, 1969

In the year 2113 a brutal storm, they say a hundred-year storm, struck our tri-coastal city of Newark, New York & Nassau (NNN) with wind gusts up to 120 MPH; with 35- foot surf pounding the shorelines, and with the dreaded high-tide surge - the great plague of these tempests - climaxing at over 18 feet above sealevel. Remarkably, NNN sustained minimal damage...only in the millions, not billions, of Hamiltonians... and with no loss of life.

Our wondrous city's good fortune rests on the broad back of tragedies that struck from 200 years ago. At 5:12 a.m. on April 12th, 1906 a great earthquake rocked San Francisco, toppling buildings and sparking awful fires. Thousands died and 80% of the city was destroyed. Out of that chaos decades of development wedded the twin engineering talents of building design and geology...how the earth shook, and how high-rise buildings responded. Building codes were radically revised and structures - it was theorized - became more resilient to the terra not-so-firma. Baseball served as a proving ground 83 years later. A powerful earthquake again struck San Francisco at 5:04 p.m. during a world series game at which some 60,000 spectators were in the stadium, and yet nobody was hurt...the reinforced concrete held. Subsequently, building codes around the world - in earthquake-prone zones - adapted to California's standards.

Later and moving into the twentyfirst century, on October 29th, 2012 an unexpectedly powerful climactic event rolled up America's east coast and hit Newark, New York City, and Nassau County dead-on. The region was paralyzed for weeks and even months, 49 lives were lost in New York City alone, 6-alarm fires raged and $70 billion of damage was done. The dollars of destruction were equivalent - at that time - to the entire and combined gross national productions of Bolivia, Salvador and Estonia...and all lost in one horrible night!

Out of that chaos decades of development wedded the triple engineering talents of coastal engineering, hydrology and oceanography...how tides surged, and how coastlines responded. Architects, engineers and oceanographers rejuvenated our waterfronts and reconstructed great swaths of Manhattan Island. Reefs, groins, and dunes reinforced our beautiful but vulnerable coastlines; waterfronts boomed back to life not with stevedores and tri-masted sailing ships, but with parks and schools; while Manhattan Island's huge Battery Park City on the lower west end was co-joined on the lower east end by the magnificent Hawkeye Housing Hamlet to shore-up the nation's financial center.

Thanks to these remarkable developments of science and industry 10 decades ago, today we are safe & secure in our present-day megalopolis, NNN.

But these improvements from the 2010's did not come easily, nor were they self-evident!

Then, in the aftermath of 'savage Sandy' as it was called, coastal engineering and tidal flows were not inextricably linked to municipal planning and development. City Planners and City Engineers were quite willing to rebuild what was lost...but nothing more. It took the outcry of locals and the insistence of oceanographers and hydrologists - engineers and scientists - to cajole and convince the bureaucrats.

'Look at history,' they implored of the city planners, 'building codes were upgraded after the great earthquakes of the 20th century, and these new and costly codes saved California! Look further, my dear planning friends, at the aftermath of the great 2010 earthquakes: Port-Au-Prince - a city that did not upgrade to the strengthened building codes - was completely devastated in January 2010; while Santiago - which did upgrade - went unaffected and resilient just 30 days later. This too for us - here and now!'

The City Planners ultimately listened, learned and adapted.

It's very hard in these turbulent times of the 22nd Century, as we now face huge shortages of silica and manganese, to recall the 1960's of one hundred and fifty years ago - but in those ole times the youth were filled with insecurity and betrayal and paranoia and hopelessness (the drug culture), hence the big hit 'The Year 2525' and the lyrics of a disastrous denouement.

They were wrong of course, as we've learned to look, listen, live and learn.

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