A Calculated Gamble for Coney Island

By Ezra Doueck [Read more…]

Can Staten Island Wheel in Tourists?

By Trudy Knockless

When tourists take a free ride on the Staten Island Ferry to get a close-up look at New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty, most of them turn right back around and get on the next boat to Lower Manhattan.

Staten Island officials and business owners are hoping this will change after a 60-story tall Ferris wheel and an outlet mall are opened in 2016.

“This project will contribute to Staten Island not being the forgotten borough again,” said City Councilwoman Debi Rose of Staten Island (though the borough does have a zoo, museums, parks, lovely beaches and some of the oldest homes in New York City).

Proposed plan of the Staten Island Ferris Wheel By New York Wheel LLC

Some day the New York Wheel on Staten Island might look like this.
Rendering provided by New York Wheel LLC

On Oct. 30, the City Council gave final approval to the project and its New York Wheel, which will be the largest Ferris wheel in the world. “It is a great example of smart development that helps bring in jobs,” said Rose. Union workers lined the steps of City Hall on Oct. 30, distributing flyers that read, “Staten Island wins when you vote yes on the St. George Wheel and the Empire Outlets.”

Not all Staten Island residents are so sure of the benefits, expressing doubts about increased traffic and crime and how many of the jobs created will be low-pay or part-time work.

“A lot of people are opposed because a lot of small business owners think larger businesses will take away from them,” said Jessica Hull, 29, though she said she thought small businesses would benefit from the increased number of visitors. Keisha Scott, 26, who has been living in Staten Island for 12 years, said, “I don’t think it’s going to benefit Staten Island too much; I don’t think Staten Island needs another mall. There may be a few more jobs with the mall, but I’m not sure how to feel about the wheel.”

New York Wheel, the company responsible for the development of the wheel, which is expected to cost more than $200 million to build, said 600 permanent jobs are estimated to arise out of ticket sales, maintenance and operations. Construction of the wheel – which should begin in 2014 and is expected to last until 2016 – would create an approximate 350 additional temporary jobs, according to the company’s website.

Modeled after other successful wheels, such as the London Eye, the New York Wheel anticipates that as many as 30,000 visitors a day will come for a ride, according to newyorkwheel.com. A ride will take about 38 minutes and cost between $25 and $30, the company said, and the wheel can accommodate up to 1,440 people per ride. A spokesman for the company said it expected to operate in the black from its opening and to pay off its debt within five years.

The outlet mall will offer 350,000 square feet of leasable space, with a mix of fashion, food, and entertainment, as well as  a 200-room hotel, according to empireoutletsnyc.com.

Helen Settles, a retired schoolteacher and resident of Staten Island, said she had faith in Councilwoman Rose and believed the $700,000 in the budget to rebuild Cromwell Center, Staten Island’s largest community center, would be used to benefit children of the North Shore neighborhood.  “I think she did well in making sure that there was going to be jobs for Staten Islanders, and particularly neighborhoods of color, in which there is great amount of unemployment, and this is good, and this is going to be sustainable in career jobs and not just something temporary,” Settles said.

Bobby Digi, president of the North Shore Business Association, said the development would be good for the Staten Island community, which he said has been the least recognized of all the New York boroughs.

It will “bring jobs to the neighborhood,” which has been “underserved for many years and has the highest rate of unemployment in the city,” he said. Digi also said the community would  benefit from “real infrastructural development” — roads, lights and sewage systems.  These costs have been allocated in the budget and it is “a perfect opportunity to get certain sections of the community improved,” he said.

Rick Marin, president and CEO of the New York Wheel By Trudy Knockless

Richard Marin, president and CEO of the New York Wheel
By Trudy Knockless

According to Richard Marin, president and CEO of the New York Wheel, the wheel is sited where the city wanted it, and the company signed a 99-year lease with the city for the land. “We wanted to have a giant observation wheel on the harbor, they wanted us to put it in this location, they own this land, it was perfectly situated so that we can get the perfect view of the wheel from anywhere in the harbor,” he said.

Marin said the company had about a dozen investors. He compared the New York Wheel to the Eiffel Tower, noting, “You can’t think of Paris without thinking of the Eiffel Tower.”  He added that it’s the same with the London Eye.

“There’s something about the circle,” he said, it has “a certain purity to it, because it’s perfection in a sort of geometrical sense.”

The New York Harbor “is the gateway to America,” said Marin. “It faces the Statue of Liberty, and we thought that framing the gateway to America with a wheel was a perfect symbol for the next 99 years of both the beauty of the location of New York Harbor, the significance of the spot …where all the cruise ships and all the immigrants sort of passed through.”

“We’ve picked a spot where the public transportation is perfect, the views are perfect, the totality of the harbor experience is perfect and quite frankly, with the kind of lighting we’re gonna do on it at night, facing the harbor, it’s gonna be a magnificent addition to the skyline of New York,” Marin said.

Crowds Sow Discontent in SoHo

By Rebecca Ungarino [Read more…]

The Parking Crunch in Forest Hills

By Thomas Seubert

 Most New Yorkers will tell you that it’s crazy to drive into Manhattan because of traffic congestion and tight parking, but in the outer boroughs, some neighborhoods’ parking situations rival Manhattan’s.

Like Fordham Road in the Bronx and Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, the Austin Street area of Forest Hills, a shopping district, also has a shortage of parking. An abundance of cars traveling on the commercial stretch coupled with city-regulated parking makes the area a particularly difficult place to find parking.

Some areas of Forest Hills are private communities and only residents of them may park there. Photo by Thomas Seubert.

Some areas of Forest Hills are private communities and only residents of them may park there.
Photo by Thomas Seubert.

To the south of Austin Street, roads become private, and while nonresidents can drive through, only members of a Forest Hills gated community can park there. To the north, the multi-lane Queens Boulevard distances Austin Street’s patrons, commuters and business owners from any additional parking spaces. And most  streets in the area are posted with alternate-side parking signs.

The scarcity of parking on Austin Street causes some people to just double-park their cars and trucks, causing traffic back-ups.

“One day a truck needed to unload and had nowhere to pull in,” said Eric Isaac, who works in the area. “Cars in that lane didn’t move for seven light changes. Surprisingly, people only started beeping after the third light change.”

According to Isaac, who lives in Forest Hills, the few who do find parking spaces on or around Austin Street aren’t finished fighting the parking battle.

“People are always out running to refill meters or switch their cars to the other side of the street on alternate-side parking days,” he said. “That’s just how it works here.”

Will Niklaus, a commuter, drives into Forest Hills to park and then continue on to Manhattan by mass transit. Like most commuters, Niklaus cannot park at meters with one- or two-hour limits and is forced to search alternate-side parking streets for spaces.

“I have to leave earlier when it’s an alternate-side parking day,” Niklaus said. “I spend more time searching for a spot, and I end up three blocks further from where I want to be.”

He said he understood the logic of alternate-side parking—no parking on one said allows the streets to be cleaned—but thought the city should amend when these regulations are put into affect. “The city should change the times of alternate-side parking to nights or early evenings so it won’t affect commuters trying to get to school or work,” he said.

The city’s Department of Transportation doesn’t view alternate-side parking as a hindrance. A 2008 study conducted by the DOT in Park Slope, Brooklyn, determined that “parking saturation” is the same no matter the status of alternate-side parking, and that almost 50 percent of New Yorkers feel parking is equally difficult whether alternate-side rules are suspended or implemented.

In Forest Hills, where many factors affect parking, local government bodies are guarded when it comes to discussing the parking situation faced by commuters, residents and visitors. Frank Galluscio, the district manager of Queens Community Board 6, meets with the local police and fire captains every month to discuss various issues in the community.

Heavy traffic and double-parking create huge delays in the neighborhood. Photo by Thomas Seubert.

Heavy traffic and double-parking create huge delays in the neighborhood.
Photo by Thomas Seubert.

“Parking is always on our agenda,” Galluscio said. “We monitor ticket statistics compiled by the police department.” Though crime and moving-violation statistics are available on the 112th precinct’s website, parking summonses are not currently public record. “We take this issue very seriously,” Galluscio added.

The community board tries to work with business owners when parking interferes with their daily operations.

“The Chamber of Commerce offers merchants deals when it comes to parking, sometimes in the form of parking permits,” said Galluscio. “Our goal is to keep things running smoothly…We just look to realistically communicate that parking is tight here.”

In addition to parking permits, private lots work out deals with business owners who need to come and go as they please. The district manager cites a concert held last summer as an example of exemplary communication with local businesses and the public.

Mumford & Sons, a British rock/folk band, performed at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, a few blocks from Austin Street, drawing an estimated 16,000 people to the area. Streets were closed to traffic, and a lot of parking was reserved for concert personnel.

“People were told parking would be a premium and wouldn’t be available that night,” Galluscio said. “Concert tickets were labeled ‘Green Event’ and encouraged people to take the MTA or LIRR trains to the show,” referring to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Long Island Rail Road.

Local businesses welcomed the influx of people coming into Forest Hills even though it meant less parking was available. One Forest Hills business owner said:  “Businesses just need accessibility. As long as people can get here…that’s most important.”

On the day of the concert, Station House, a bar that sits between the tennis stadium and Austin Street, was packed. Paolo Chioni, a server at the restaurant was working the night of the concert and recalled, “We definitely were not affected negatively by the concert. A lot of people came into the bar after the show ended,” adding, “Even regularly, it seems a lack of parking doesn’t really hurt us. People either walk here or just look for parking…a little further away.”

Patrons of the local businesses—who have to drive to get to the area—feel they are the ones left out of the situation. In addition to commuting into Forest Hills, Niklaus enjoys going to restaurants and shops in the area but often opts not to visit his favorite hangouts.

“If I’m looking for something quick, easy or convenient, I won’t go over to Austin Street. Parking is too tough,” Niklaus said.

For Galluscio and Community Board 6, protecting the parking spots on Austin Street and open, realistic communication with the public are the keys to the situation.

“Right now we don’t want to lose any more parking spots than we already have…People understand parking is something they have to contend with,” Galluscio said. “They don’t love it, but they understand it.”

Bad Neighbors Hog Parking Spots

By Crystal Simbudyal

Shanel Mendonca, a mother from Queens Village who works full time, sometimes until late in the evening, often arrives home to find a neon orange cone blocking the pavement in front of her neighbor’s home. Sometimes, it’s a garbage can that blocks her way. But the purpose is always the same: to reserve a parking space. Her neighbors’ driveways remains empty most of the time.

“It is ridiculous that people hold parking spaces,” said Mendonca. “To avoid conflicts with my neighbors, I just park a few blocks up and take a walk several minutes to and from my car.”

Street parking, a first-come, first-serve aspect of life in New York City, has become a source of strife in Queens Village. Block after block, orange traffic cones and garbage cans stand in the street, rankling relationships among neighbors who jockey over scarce parking spaces.

Cones and garbage cans often mean "don't park here" in Queens Village Photo by Crystal Simbudyal

Cones and garbage cans often mean “don’t park here” in Queens Village
Photo by Crystal Simbudyal

Mendonca, a Queens Village resident of 17 years, faces this problem everyday, as her next door neighbors hold a parking space every time they leave their home. Mendonca’s family often needs to park more than one car, so if her driveway is full, she has to park on the street. The situation, she said, “has become frustrating.”

Among the 7,588 households in Queens Village, 46 percent own at least two cars and another 38 percent own one car, according to the 2013, Queens Village Census Data & Community Profile.

Police officers say it is often difficult to determine whether a cone has been legally placed or not. Cones can indicate a range of issues “from temporary construction or a dumpster drop across the street from a house that is going under construction,” said a local police officer who asked not to be identified.

While reserving a private spot on a public street is illegal, the Police Department seems to have little appetite for enforcement, judging by the widespread use of cones and garbage cans to save spots.

Mendonca said she had called 311 on several occasions to report her concern about parking spots being held but has never gotten a positive response. “Cops do not do anything about this,” she said. “They hardly ever pass through this block anyway, and a few blocks over orange cones take over the road.” She notes that people prefer to park curbside instead of in their driveways because it is often harder to navigate in and out of a driveway.

Mendonca recalled an instance when her sister moved a garbage can out of the street so that she could park. Her neighbor waited patiently for her to get out of her car. He then told her that she was in his spot.

Kamey Tywarie, a Queens Village resident of 13 years, said the problem began about four years ago when more businesses opened in the neighborhood.

“There is a home health agency building up the road from me and employees and visitors come in the morning and take up parking,” said Tywarie.

Another problem, said Tywarie, are the commuters who take mass transit and park their vehicles near the subways when they go to work or school.

Once, Tywarie says, her car was scratched with a nail along the sides after she parked in front of a Queens Village home. It wasn’t until a year later that one of her neighbors warned her against parking in the area. “I never reported it because I didn’t have enough proof,” Tywarie said.




Portraits of the Homeless

Text and photos by Alok Chowdhury

For all the wealth of the United States, homelessness remains an acute problem, with more than 643,000 people homeless on any given night, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Roughly a third of the homeless are families and two-thirds are individuals, the organization estimates, and about 17 percent are “chronically homeless.” Many of these people have serious psychological issues or substance abuse problems; many of them have been in treatment programs in the past yet remain homeless.

Military veterans are among the homeless. The Departments of Veterans Affairs (and Housing and Urban Development in a 2010 report to Congress estimated that 76,000 veterans experience homelessness on any given night. They include people who have served in conflicts starting with World War II, though research indicates that those serving in Vietnam and post-Vietnam eras are at greatest risk of homelessness. Veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq often have severe disabilities that are known to be correlated with homelessness. Homeless women veterans are more common than in the past.

In New York City, each night more than 45,000 people — including 17,000 children — experience homelessness, according to Coalition for the Homeless. At least 41,200 homeless men, women, and children bed down each night in municipal homeless shelters, and thousands more sleep on the streets or in other forms of rough shelter.

Here are some of them, identified by given names or nicknames only.

The Dog-Bicycle Conflict in Central Park

By Owen Diaz

In Central Park, dog owners and bicyclists have been getting in each other’s way, and the problem seems to be getting worse.

Under park rules, dogs are allowed to play off leash in 23 specified areas in the morning before 9 a.m. and after 9 p.m. So many dog owners go to the park early — but so do cyclists, many of whom prefer the early hours because there is less traffic in the park, and they want to exercise before they go to work.

Dogs off leash will occasionally dart into the 6.1-mile Park Drive that cyclists travel on, sometimes causing accidents.

Linda Wintner, who leads morning rides in the park for the New York Cycle Club, says she has been in one accident, witnessed another and seen many near-misses. Wintner says she was lucky because her accident occurred during her final lap, as she was traveling slower to cool down. Cyclists are not always without fault. The roadway, or “loop” as it is known, has traffic lights and crosswalks that many cyclists ignore. Amanda Lee, who walks her dog Arthur for an hour in the park every morning, says, “I try to wait for a break in the bikers to cross, but sometimes I’m standing there for minutes and one never comes. Then I just have to pick the best moment I can find, and go, often getting yelled at by a biker for doing so.”

What makes this conflict odd is how many members of both groups seem to agree on a solution for it. Since dogs are not going to the park to play on the paved loop, and cyclists are not allowed on the pathways through the rest of the park, the space where the two interact is a tiny percentage of the park. If the rules required dogs to be on leash when crossing the roadway—right now it is only suggested they be leashed—and bikers heeded the stoplights when people need to cross, fewer accidents would be likely to occur.

When a Child’s Fears After 9/11 Linger Into Adulthood

By Rocco Schirripa

Dollars and Sense logoOn Sept. 11, 2001, I was in my sixth-grade Italian class at I.S. 7 on Staten Island. When the World Trade Center was attacked, my teachers decided it was best not to tell us what had happened. We were young — most of us sixth graders were 11 that fall. And because we were on Staten Island, we were considered to be safe.

At first, I couldn’t tell anything was wrong. But as I look back on that day, I realize that Mr. Iacono, my Italian teacher, was at a rare loss for words and seemed shaky. I remember the phone in the classroom ringing and, when he picked it up, he didn’t say anything, which seemed strange at the time considering Mr. Iacono was known for being outgoing.

As the day wore on, we heard announcements over the school loudspeaker telling tens of kids at a time that their parents were coming to pick them up. At one point, I went to the bathroom, and while I was walking down the hall I saw my father waiting with other parents to pick their children up early. I looked at him, and it was the only time I ever saw fear in his eyes. My dad works for the M.T.A. as a manager. What I didn’t find out until later was that he had spent the morning sending buses downtown to pick up passengers — most of them covered in ash — from near the Twin Towers.

All of this could have been pretty traumatizing for a little boy. But what really got to me was the nonstop media coverage. I saw the constant footage of the tallest buildings in New York being attacked, on fire and collapsing. I saw people screaming and crying, even jumping out of buildings. All of a sudden, it hit me. The people who died in downtown Manhattan didn’t deserve to die, and the people who attacked the buildings wouldn’t have cared if I had been one of them.

That night I experienced the worst nightmare of my life. I woke up in a cold sweat, screaming.

Of course, I was one of the lucky ones. People lost fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters that day. I consoled friends who had suddenly lost a parent. I sometimes felt that I spent my adolescence looking over my shoulder.

In fact, it was common for young New Yorkers, even those who did not lose a parent, to be traumatized by the events of 9/11. Twenty-nine percent of children in New York City public school developed some sort of mental disorder as a result of Sept. 11; most affected were girls and children in grades four and five, according to a study published in the Journal of General Psychology. Other studies suggest that children’s mental stress dissipated in the months after the disaster.

For me, the nightmares eventually subsided. As I grew into adulthood, 9/11 became a distant memory. That is, until I transferred from Rider University, in Lawrenceville, N.J., to Baruch College, in the fall of 2010. It was not too soon after my transfer that I watched a documentary about 9/11, a collection of home videos that people took in Lower Manhattan that morning. That documentary and the everyday commute into Manhattan brought the fears and images of 9/11 rushing back into my life.

I was frightened all over again. I realized that an attack could happen again at any time. While there are some people who fall asleep at night in some parts of the world wondering if it is their last, in America, we have long felt safe and comfortable. Maybe too comfortable. Now I wonder if that normalcy is something that we take for granted.

Fear is like a shadow. It comes in different forms and serves different purposes. It is something that is so real — sometimes there, just behind us — but we can never truly feel or touch it.

The thing is, I don’t think fear is a bad thing. Out of fear came brotherhood. After Sept. 11, New Yorkers actually came closer together and became friends. I never thought there would be a time in my life when my neighbors would leave their doors open to each other. The fear actually seemed to bring out the best in many of us.

The biggest problem with fear is that for some people fear can dictate their lives. Fear can cripple people to the point of radicalism or harden them to the point of fascism. It can make people jump to a dangerous any-means-to-an-end mindset.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” This is a lesson that I think we are all still learning. Every day that I walk through Manhattan I remember what I saw on TV all those years ago and the crying people who lost their loved ones for no reason. When I take the Staten Island Ferry back home, I can see the new skyline taking shape as the new World Trade Center begins to rise above Lower Manhattan, filling the void. I realize that, no matter what, for the rest of my life I will always be looking over my shoulder, worrying about another attack.

But, I refuse to let fear cripple me. I will walk down the streets of New York City with my held high as a symbol of the hope we have as a city and as a challenge to make sure that an attack here never happens again.

Gay Christians Find Home in Welcoming Churches

By Jhaneel Lockhart

When Juanita Kirton joined Riverside Church in the early 1980s, she was a single mother looking for a church that would accept her not just as a black woman but as a lesbian. There, she found comfort in the Inspirational Choir, and in Maranatha, the church’s LGBT ministry that is made up of openly gay members, as well as straight people allied with the cause.

“It took me about 10 years later before I even came out and felt comfortable in the church within my own skin,” says Kirton. “But Maranatha helped foster that and support me in that coming out process.”

Maranatha is one of a growing number of programs created by churches in New York City to provide a welcoming home for openly gay, lesbian and transgender Christians, defying a tradition in many houses of worship that shuns homosexuality.

Through its LGBT ministry, Riverside Church, just north of Columbia University on the western edge of Harlem, focuses on the needs of its gay members by hosting events like an annual Christmas party and participating in the New York City Pride Parade each year. By preaching a message of inclusion for all, churches like Riverside help gay members feel that they are a part of God’s family, though many of them have heard the complete opposite for much of their lives.

At the Park Avenue Christian Church, at East 85th Street and Park Avenue, the message of the day is diversity. It’s posted by the signature bright red doors at the church’s entrance and on almost all the printed materials they hand out, from a brochure for the Couples Ministry to an introductory pamphlet for new members.

“A phrase that we like to use is the ‘divinity of difference,’ that difference is not a deficit or deficiency, but it’s to be celebrated and embraced,” says Rev. Alvin Jackson, the pastor.

The Park, as it is often called, was one of the first churches in The Disciples of Christ denomination to call an openly gay pastor to service, according to Jackson. And in the late ’70s, the church passed a resolution that it would be open and affirming to all people, regardless of their sexual orientation.

“It’s not a matter of political correctness, but it’s theological correctness,” says Jackson, whose church has gay members in both the congregation and leadership positions and has performed several weddings.

Metro Baptist Church in midtown Manhattan has not married any same-sex couples, but the pastor, Tiffany Triplett Henkel, says this is not because it is unwilling to do so, but because their space is so small and the church doesn’t do a lot of weddings in general.

“I don’t think there has ever been a time when someone of any sexual background or sexual orientation would not have been welcome and affirmed here,” says Henkel. “But I think in the early ’90s, we became a little bit more intentional about presenting ourselves in that way, and even more than that, more intentional about saying ‘OK, we say we’re a church where all are welcome, we need to practice that in every way we can.'”

With that, Metro has taken several small steps toward promoting an image of openness. It has joined the growing number of churches that participate in the New York City Pride Parade each year, and there are gay members in the congregation and in leadership positions, according to Henkel.

“Our policy is that we are open to all, ‘a church for all’ is sort of the phrase that we use often times,” says Henkel. “Metro Baptist church, a church where all are welcome.”

Metro is in the minority of Baptist churches that do not condemn homosexuality. “This is the way that we understand what it means to be people of God, people living out the gospel of Jesus Christ and that is that our doors are supposed to be open and that we fully believe that those that walk through the door are created by God,” says Henkel. “And instead of trying to squelch them or change them in any way, we believe that we should actually encourage them to be more of who they are.”

Other churches see the issue as one that doesn’t need discussion.

“Honestly it’s just not even a dialogue,” said Mother Shelley McDade, pastor at the Church of the Ascension at West 11th Street. “We all know that we are open, it’s who we are, so coming together it really is much more about God and the music and worship. We just don’t segregate people out.”

There are no special committees or programming at the church, where more than half the congregation is gay, lesbian or transsexual, according to McDade.

Church of the Ascension, which was once called The Open Door, is part of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, which does not allow its bishops to perform same-sex marriages. But bishops can “bless” civil marriages, meaning they can hold a ceremony after the marriage has been performed by a government official.

Tricia Sheffield, an associate minister at Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village, remembers when the New York State Marriage Equality Act passed this summer.

“I thought we were all going to cry and laugh and scream; it was fantastic,” says Sheffield, whose church had been marrying gay couples long before the law passed, and had invested a lot of time and effort lobbying in support of the law. The week after it passed, three couples were married during Sunday service, drawing cheers from the entire congregation.

A thin strip of paper pasted on a bookshelf in Sheffield’s office reads, “You’ve been called by God to love people. That’s all,” giving insight into why the church supports people of all backgrounds and interests.

“I think it’s pretty clear,” says Sheffield. “How could we reject anybody? When you say you’re going to hurt someone, and to hate someone, and to reject someone, then you’re not living out the gospel of Jesus.”

It’s this kind of diversity and acceptance without distinction that Kirton, who met her wife at a routine Second Sunday meeting, appreciates most at Riverside.

“They’re accepting everyone, and when they said everyone, it meant that I could come in as a gay person and there’s no sign on my forehead,” says Kirton.

College and Debt or Chasing Dreams in Arts

Tommy Bracco, 21, is an actor, singer and dancer working in New York City.

By Andrea Kayda

When Tommy Bracco was 7 years old, he asked his aunt which career made the most money. She replied, “If you’re successful, an actor.” Little did his aunt know at the time, but those words would stick with him for the rest of his life.

Bracco is now a 21-year-old “triple threat” — an actor, singer and dancer — reveling in the success of his latest show, “Newsies,” which was recently picked up for a three-month run on Broadway.

Bracco’s path was not the traditional one. He attended the Fiorello H. LaGuardia Performing Arts High School for drama and was accepted into Marymount Manhattan College. After one semester, he dropped out. His course work wasn’t too demanding and he wasn’t discouraged by the hour-long commute from his home in Tottenville, Staten Island — he decided to follow his dream.

“College will always be there. The ability to dance and tumble will not. I took a leap of faith and jumped into the world of auditioning,” he said.

The grim economy facing young adults combined with a growing loan burden makes following one’s dreams not as risky as it once was. According to 2010 data from the Bureau of Labor statistics, individuals with higher levels of education earn more and are more likely than others to be employed. But some, like Bracco, have begun to reevaluate the risk in foregoing college in pursuit of an endeavor that doesn’t require a degree.

In October, Forbes Magazine and the Center for College Affordability & Productivity released a list of America’s most expensive colleges, using data from the National Center for Education. Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers topped the list at $58,334 (including room and board) per year, followed by University of Chicago at $57,590 and The New School at $57,199.

But private universities aren’t the only institutions raising tuitions; public university tuitions have also seen a swell of almost 130 percent, according to the College Board.

The rising tuition costs have, since 1988, been exceeding Americans’ incomes, according to latest IRS data. And while tuitions have increased, even at public universities, middle class incomes have stagnated. In order to afford the exorbitant price tags, many students resort to taking out student loans. According to FinAid.org, about two thirds of students graduating with four-year degrees did so with loans averaging $23,186.

Unlike Bracco who left college behind, others are adding degrees as they try to ride out the bad economy.

Michael Tylutki, 25, from Franklin Square, Long Island, is in his second year at Touro Law School. In 2010 he graduated from the University of South Florida in Tampa, where he accumulated approximately $40,000 in student loans, with a bachelor’s in finance. After moving back to New York, he applied to law school. “I knew the job market was horrible, so instead of sitting around and trying to find a job that wasn’t really there or take a job I didn’t want, I decided to go right back to school,” he said.

His J.D. will cost him another $120,000 ($40,000 a year) making his total debt after graduation approximately $160,000. “It’s not a great feeling knowing I have all this debt, but it’s something that is so common nowadays and something I had to take on in order to do what I wanted with my life. Just about all of my friends at school are in the same position so it’s not too bad, and they have all these kinds of pay-back programs, so all in all I think I made the right decision,” he said.

Among adults ages 18 to 34 who are not in school and do not have a bachelor’s degree, some 57 percent say they would rather work and make money and 48 percent say they simply can’t afford it, according to a 2011 report from the Pew Research Center.

But with college enrollment levels steadily increasing and growths projected as far as year 2020, many still consider attaining a degree to be the wisest choice.

In 2009, the College Board conducted study — a random national sample of high school seniors who registered to take the SAT — to understand the effects of the recession on the financial circumstances and college plans of high school seniors and families. The study found that the recession is having a considerable impact on two-thirds of these students and their families.

Results also suggest several expected shifts: more students will start to choose public institutions and community colleges; more will live at home and commute to college; and more will work part-time to pay for college.

Many students are willing to accept the financial hardships that college necessitates, expecting the money to come back to them in the long run. It was once reported that a college degree was worth $1 million, but according to The Wall Street Journal and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the net value of a U.S. college degree is now about $325,000.

And another College Board Trend Report, Education Pays 2010, found that by age 33, the typical college graduate made enough to compensate for not only four years out of the labor force, but also for average tuition and fee payments at a public four-year university funded fully by student loans.

But for now, Bracco is leaving his options open: “I plan on following the path that my heart, my dreams and my head take me on. Eventually I will have to hang up my dancing shoes, but that won’t stop me from being a character actor in shows. … I can go into casting. I can choreograph. I can even go to college! I don’t have a set plan but any one of those seem fulfilling to me.”