No Place BUT Home: Part 6 - The Tunnel at the End of the Light

It seems appropriate that the USS Comfort shoved off and left New York Harbor a hero and forever a part of the New York legend. It was also right that she left us in the damp, misty fog that engulfed the harbor and the city that day. She did leave behind a black swan, which she could not do anything more about. That is left up to us. Rain or shine, the Pandemic is still very much walking my streets and riding my beloved Q train like a hungry ghost and mass murderer who seems ready to appear at any moment in any household, apartment or CVS checkout line to devour.

Today, Sunday, is a spectacular day. But another strange one. There was no church and even God seems to be at home trying to figure it out. But I believe the governor of New York and the mayor of New York City when they say that the steady decline in new COVID cases and deaths has not happened because this virus is tiring. On the 64th day after the City of New York hung a “Closed for Business” sign, 789 new cases entered our hospitals and 280 New Yorkers died. And as the USS Comfort cuts through smoother waters on her way back to home port, the long trailer serving as a morgue in nearby Lennox Hospital is still double-parked right there. Alternate side of the street rules are not in effect.


Yet as sun shines, the horrific news is better. A forceful act of civic compliance and individuals’ wills acting as one is felt. The forcefulness of making ourselves stir crazy at home – which is harder to do than you think, folks, even with broadband and even in New York – is paying off. Unlike Wuhan, where the hand of the State was far more muscular, our journey to the other side has come after our community leaders persuaded us of something that our friend Ema Hsieh of ICF Taiwan also reminded us of in her recent “No Place BUT Home” video: you do it for the other person.

To paraphrase Governor Andrew Cuomo, New Yorkers have taken the curve with their hands and bent it downward through their actions. Communication has been good. We accepted the facts and did it for other New Yorkers, especially our healthcare workers, EMS teams, our cops, firemen and food store and pharmacy store workers. We took one for Fresh Direct y’all.

It is Spring and my chiropractor, Dr. Louis Calvano, is exploring his other passion, photography, to stay sane.

As I walk around the neighborhood on this perfect Sunday, I project a little bit of a “bounce.” But for this city, it is a choppy one. There is fear and evidence of….what? On every other street I notice a discarded mask lying in the gutter or on the sidewalk. Weeks ago, masks were scarce. This is a place where personal protective equipment for doctors and nurses had to be found overseas because no company in the USA seemed able to make it. A seven-state consortium has been formed to make sure that doesn’t happen when this thing comes back in the Fall.

Joggers are in abundance heading west toward Central Park. Some wear masks. The streets are filling up again, mostly with younger people, and they mostly wear masks. Lines snake around the block at the Target store on Third Avenue as well as at Grace’s Italian market at the base of my building. Mozzarella and basil with olive oil are comfort food to a lot of us. Doormen from buildings nod from behind their masks. I am an inveterate friend of doormen. I talk to all of them. They tell me sadly that they miss the interaction with the tenants for whom they are family. But we all read the memo: do not get too close to them for THEIR sake.

But masks are hard to wear in nice weather when all I want to do is breathe the air of Spring and walk to my favorite bakery and smell freshly made bread.

I tell my wife, in a burst of grief, “I want my goddamn life back! Where is MY city??”

It is a question loaded like a gun and one of the issues that we started to explore this week with urban planners and designers from Toronto, as well as with Arup Group’s Risk and Resilience Leader, Ibrahim Almufti in our new series, “The New Abnormal.” We asked, “When will we trust density again?” We are trusting one another, kind of, as we swerve to avoid them. But the trust of the urban space is a much larger item with economic consequences that will extend as far as the Long Island Expressway.

Will the orchestra ever play again?

We are going to need to rethink how we return to normal.

Will our transit systems be able to accommodate social distance? Our theaters tightly packed fans? Restaurants? Streets? Office buildings? What will be the impact on work? Spiritually, what will families do when the call to temple on Sabbath stays muted? Where is the release point back into the stream of life? Can physical retrofits accommodate this kind of psychic pounding? I know, I know, broadband is this and it is that. But it is not all of it.

We will keep on discussing this issue in an upcoming “No Place BUT Home” video to be recorded on May 6th on the future of co-existence.

It is the start of Mental Health Month here and much of mental health is remembering and healing. When the USS Comfort with her large red cross sailed into the city weeks ago, I had the same feeling I had on the afternoon of September 11th. While on my way to give blood after the attacks on the Trade Centers, I looked up and rather than seeing airplanes and helicopters overhead, I saw two F-16 fighters patrolling New York. Even though they were there to shoot down a commercial airliner had another one deliberately or mistakenly entered our airspace, it was comforting to see them.

TBH, I do not yet see real light at the end of this tunnel. A fog is the only thing that is clear. Even as Spring, the clearing season, arrives. Our community’s intent is to keep bending the curve. To break it. But the talk about the future bends us in odd shapes. Some fear the erosion of rights, as medical data becomes a cornerstone of resilience. Others talk about a collapse of the commercial real estate markets and the airlines but see a flowering of the countryside.

“Innovation is proportional to the way an event alters society,” Kuma Mehta wrote in Forbes Magazine last month. If so, then Intelligent Communities and the ICF Method may finally have met their moment. We do know how to steer through the broken parts.

Right now, though, the best I can do is stand at the edge of the pier and bow in gratitude that the Comfort heads out of town and not toward it.

Other “No Place BUT Home” Blog Posts:

Louis Zacharilla
Co-Founder of the Intelligent Community Forum. Louis Zacharilla helped found the Intelligent Community movement. He is the developer of the Intelligent Community Awards program. He is a frequent keynote speaker and a moderator at conferences and events.
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