Hurricane Sandy Was New York's "Self-Inflicted Calamity"

New York City has been turning tidal wetlands into urban development for centuries. In his new book Gotham Unbound, Ted Steinberg says Hurricane Sandy showed the peril of ignoring the city's true ecological footprint.

Beginning on Oct. 29, 2012, the sea paid a little visit to New York. In the space of just a few hours, Hurricane Sandy threw history into reverse, sabotaging several hundred years’ worth of hard-won and fabulously expensive reclamation.

An hour southeast of Manhattan, Jones Beach, a once-swampy strip of barrier island raised 10 feet by urban planner Robert Moses in the ’20s, took a terrible beating. Crashing waves reduced the wooden boardwalk to splinters. Lifeguard shacks were tossed around like toys. Metal highway signs snapped, underpasses flooded. The storm left such a powerful statement in its wake that even Donald Trump sat up and took notice. Hurricane Sandy put the kibosh on his plan for 86,000 square feet of development on the beach. Trump on the Ocean became Trump in the Ocean.

Next door at Long Beach, water surged over the sand dunes holding back the sea and rose 5 to 10 feet high in the streets. Houses burned, and basements filled with sewage.