Sandy aftermath: Lessons from an earthquake town

    Outside the Golden Gate Bridge visitor’s center is a small, metal model of the bridge. Yesterday, I watched kids bang into the model, shake it and smack it. In return, the model mimicked how the real bridge moves in response different kinds of forces, without breaking.

    At 75 years old, the 7,650-ft. suspension bridge is still an architectural marvel, and still a project of hope that, despite being on the San Andreas fault line, this bridge is strong enough to survive. The city of San Francisco is an example of that, too. Houses are stacked on top of each other, built into the sides of nearly straight up hills. A friend joked that she was just waiting for the next earthquake so that home prices would dip low enough for her to buy.

    As a die hard east coaster, I found the whole thing strange. After the Earthquake of 1906, who in their right mind would say “yes, let’s rebuild an entire city that was destroyed by an earthquake, right on the same spot?”

    Rebuilding the Jersey Shore

    The same question is being asked about the Jersey Shore right now. In towns where homes are lost to the ocean, and a roller coaster is in the water, is it right to rebuild? 

    I don’t have an answer. I love our Jersey Shore, and understand that attachment that people have to their properties, even if they are not their primary homes (as my friend Kevin said, he’s spent more time in his family’s summer house on LBI than any other place he’s lived). Telling someone that you can’t go back? You’ll destroy them, even when we all must confront the reality that climate change is producing more intense storms every year.

    Which brings me back to San Francisco. They know there’s going to be another earthquake, but they do what they can and hope it’s enough to prepapre.

    We’re going to rebuild the Jersey Shore. It’s already happening. So even if it’s not in the shape is was three weeks ago, just like the shore we knew this summer didn’t look like the shore before the Storm of ’62, there will still be a beach and houses and Bennies and Shoobies (and locals complaining about both) and nights of way too many drinks at the Carousel in Sea Isle City, which made it through the storm with little damage, and Donovan’s in Sea Bright, which was destroyed but whose owners have already pledged to rebuild.

    My hope is that this rebuild is smart, and that our small coastal towns work together to engineer their beaches, taking lessons from those who fared on the better end of the damage, places like Midway Beach with its 20 foot dunes, or West Wildwood, with it’s raised houses.

    The work together thing isn’t always easy to do in N.J., where towns can act as their own fiefdoms (LBI is 18 miles long with six municipalities, for example).

    My hope is that our shore communities can push that tradition aside and work together to build the equivalent of that bridge that can sustain an earthquake, and serve as hope that we’ll get through the next big one.

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