New York, the Good Neighbor City
The most important defense against the next natural disaster is caring for one another
May the October 29 New York Times Science/Health section piece "Natural Allies for the Next Sandy" remind us of other natural but too little tried allies, such as reported on John Hockenberry's radio show I providentially happened to catch. The Times piece spoke of barrier reefs as potential allies; indeed the bulk of superstorm Sandy's first anniversary coverage was about physical ways to mitigate the damage of future storms.
But multi-award winning journalist and broadcaster Hockenberry rejoiced in the neighborliness which grew out of this devastating natural disaster. The storm brought his Sandy Hook, New Jersey homeowners and nearby housing project tenants together. When the projects lost power, the homeowners rushed with supplies and other aid, especially needed by those stranded on upper floors. Some were dependent on wheel chairs and others were too frail to do stairs.
Endless stairs were climbed not only to bring tangible supplies but hope and an intergenerational neighborliness often missing in elder tenants' lives. Thankfully, that's not unusual in perilous times, but what is unusual is for this neighborliness, especially the intergenerational kind, to continue after the storm. But it has, and Hockenberry rejoiced about having a real community now ? no longer separated by race, income or age. They are neighbors in more than name only.
It helps that Hockenberry knows the disabled experience, being wheel-chair-dependent since age 19, when a traffic crash severed his spinal cord, And he overcome diversity to become a renowned journalist who covered world news in a wheelchair. In great measure, he said in accepting the International Center for the Disabled's Human Spirit award, it was because of his mother and father's unstinting love and support. Another message that needs to get out there: this is what most parents do.
But to stay with the good neighborliness Rx, Brainerd, Minnesota kindred lament its loss in small towns and especially between generations. "The elders may feel it most, but children with working parents and no nearby extended family desperately need more responsible adults in their lives."
To our inestimable loss, nobody picked up on Minnesota Senator Hubert H. Humphrey's core belief that "The impersonal hand of government can never replace the caring hand of a neighbor."
Nor can most "hired hands," but some "hired hands" often become great and maybe the only neighborliness source. For example, in high-rise apartment houses, the building staff and especially the doormen's daily greetings and exchanges with tenants create a neighborliness not often found between residents, especially between generations.
"You expect that in the projects where I live," said a health care aide for elder persons, "but not in co-ops and condos where usually there's nothing to fear from your neighbors." Well, neighbor noise is a fear too little shared, except perhaps with trusted doormen who, incidentally, could write volumes about neighbor relations or their absence.
But creating helpful, non-intrusive neighborliness is not a concern of most co-op and condo boards and managements. Even as the population ages, lack of interest caused The Council of New York Cooperatives to drop its annual conference workshop on "Caring for Special Needs Tenants."
And please consider, especially, you policymakers, who often live in co-op and condos, that there'd likely be fewer "special needs" tenants, indeed fewer people-made disasters in general, if neighborliness were the rule not the exception. So let's make New York the Good Neighbor City already. And here's smiling at you, neighbor, especially you kids, and don't scowl, when I dare to remind you that, "acknowledging neighbors should be the rule, not the exception."
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