"We will rebuild!"
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, those words were repeated like a mantra by elected officials, who vowed that things would eventually return to normal for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who saw their neighborhoods ripped apart by the storm.
But those words are quickly becoming empty promises when it comes to rebuilding the five miles of boardwalk along the beach in the Rockaways.
More than a year ago, Sandy uprooted roughly two-thirds of the boardwalk, scattering it down the badly flooded streets of the peninsula. Left in its wake were three surviving segments and hundreds of concrete pilings that sat underneath the boardwalk, a Stonehenge monument to destruction.
Understandably, rebuilding the boardwalk was not the immediate priority of the city or of residents who were made homeless the storm. But a summer has come and gone – and city officials are now talking about not having the boardwalk fully replaced until the end of 2016. To give you some perspective, that means that more than four summers will have passed before we're back to normal on the peninsula.
While it doesn't house a single person or create many jobs, the boardwalk is the linchpin of the community, linking some of the wealthiest and poorest neighborhoods in the city. Running from Beach 20th to Beach 126th Streets, it is a crucial part of what makes the Rockaways such a draw to millions of New Yorkers who come to the beach every summer. No boardwalk for Rockaway is like Mardi Gras being cancelled in New Orleans.
Next door to Rockaway is Long Beach, a small Long Island community that was also badly devastated by the storm and also saw its boardwalk uprooted. But unlike Rockaway, Long Beach has somehow already rebuilt its 2.2 mile boardwalk, recognizing the importance of something that was the centerpiece of an entire town.
But unlike Long Beach, Rockaway is part of New York City, a vast empire with an immeasurable amount of resources but also a place where its easy for the emperors to forget about one of its provinces. It's a sad testament to the lack of Rockaway's political clout that nothing is getting done in a hurry.
Initially, there was talk of ground being broken on the storm's anniversary last month and having the boardwalk complete by next summer. Now, parks officials are kicking the can down the road – and leaving it in the uncertain hands of a new administration.
What is especially troubling is that a relatively small amount of work – just rebuilding five blocks of boardwalk – could link large two segments of the boardwalk that survived the storm. If another 14-block portion was rebuilt to connect two other segments, almost two-thirds of the original boardwalk would be restored.
This is something for the Bloomberg administration to consider as it walks out of City Hall for good next month. Does the mayor want to make good on his pledge to rebuild or instead leave behind a Stonehenge monument of destruction along a beach?