By now you probably know about the huge explosion that rocked the East Village on March 26th, claiming the lives of two people and injuring several others, not to mention the destruction of three buildings.
Preliminary reports point to plumbing without a proper permit resulting in reckless safety measures and a gas explosion.
Could this tragedy have been avoided? Sure. But that would take a series of policy changes this city has yet to address even under the esteemed former Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure.
Many NYC buildings are over fifty or sixty years old or more, and are patched together every day by less than professional or approved workers, just to keep the building functioning. Landlords charge exorbitant rents to their tenants, both residential and commercial, but refuse to update outdated infrastructure with the profits. The city in turn collects enormous taxes from these landlords and commercial tenants via real estate taxes and spends those funds elsewhere. The monies could be used to enforce stricter measures against these landlords to ensure that all buildings are up to date and following all safety codes.
Since the implementation of the food grading system, tens of millions of dollars are collected from hard working small businesses each year. These monies could be used to make sure that restaurants are safe too.
But like a dam which sprouts a small splinter in its wall, the city puts its thumb on it, then a pinky, until it has run out of fingers or viable means of plugging up the leaks. The result is Happyland, The Fire last year in East Harlem, or the current tragedy that has decimated East 7th Street and Second Avenue.
Rather than employ more inspectors, or use the collected taxes to do something about New York City’s failing infrastructure, tomorrow will be business as usual.
A restaurant owner is not an expert in plumbing, or gas pipes,nor holds a degree in engineering. The fire department comes to inspect the system once, signs off on it and that’s it. A restaurant owner enters into a lease assuming the building’s infrastructure is sound, safe, and up to code. Much to anyone’s surprise, this is often not the case. And to top that off when a business owner calls for help, the chance that the contractor is actually qualified is 50/50.
It can only be called fortunate that these type of tragedies have not occurred more frequently, or claimed the lives of more people.
If not for the courageous acts of firefighters and residents involved in the disaster, many more lives could have been at risk.
It is time for priorities to be set for safety first, above profit, greed and any other agenda.
Let us pray for all those affected, and help keep the East Village alive by supporting the community in any way we can.