Writing New York: Posts from the Boroughs and Beyond — 2008-2011 Rotating Header Image

“Boulevard of Death” Gives Community New Life

Canal Street has four of them. Houston has six. Interstate 9, better known as the West Side Highway, can have as many as 10, but that still pales in comparison to another New York City native. With a whopping 16 lanes at its peak, Queens Boulevard dwarfs these trails and still has room to spare.

But size isn’t everything, and it’s not always a good thing. The standard 12-lane span for this behemoth means confusion and distraction for drivers. Pedestrians end up crossing the street as if they were playing Frogger, and cyclists risk their lives with every intersection. Unfortunately, injury or fatality happens often enough that the road has been dubbed “The Boulevard of Death.” It’s even prompted the city to post a warning at one intersection that reads, “A pedestrian was killed crossing here.”

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The Battle At Coney Island

A few small families slowly wander towards the Coney Island boardwalk, stopping intermittently to take pictures of each other. One mother points out the FOR LEASE signs and closed businesses– the games and arcades, the aquarium a short walking distance away– to her children and explains what each of them do when they operate in the summer.

“No, I don’t think they’re open in November,” she says to them. “I think they open in May. May, until September.”

If it was May, Coney Island would be a dazzle of blinking lights and blaring music, warmed by smells of hot dogs and cotton candy. On this bitter cold afternoon in late November, however, the area’s entertainment sector lies dormant. Yet even though the rides are all closed and an autumn chill whips across the shuttered storefronts, people are still coming here. Bundled in warm jackets, their hands in their pockets, they walk up and down the boardwalk, past colorfully painted buildings that now bear the signs SAVE CONEY ISLAND.

Barely a month earlier, at a time when most people were preparing themselves for the colder weather, 10 businesses on the Coney Island boardwalk– some with a history dating back 70 years– were awaiting to hear their fate on the South Brooklyn strip near the beach that has become the source of their livelihoods. Central Amusement International LLC. (CAI), the company that gained ownership of and reopened Luna Park, had also gained the rights to these business’ leases, and announced that by the end of the month, they would decide which of these establishments would stay in business. On Oct 31., CAI announced that only two of the businesses would stay on the boardwalk– the remaining eight businesses were told to leave.

The eight businesses were supposed to evacuate their buildings by mid-November. But instead of disappearing from the boardwalk, the businesses– which include boardwalk staples such as Paul’s Daughter and Ruby’s Bar & Grill, dive bar Cha Cha’s of Coney Island, and carnival game Shoot the Freak– announced that they were joining forces and suing CAI.

The Grill House, boardwalk server of hot dogs and other beach-friendly foods, is one of the establishments that had been asked to leave, but for employee Octavio Hernandez on this Saturday afternoon, it’s business as usual.

Friendly and easygoing, Hernandez prepares freshly cooked hot dogs for a thin but unceasing line of customers, many of whom he seems to be familiar with. “Magnificent cooking,” one patron remarks about the hot dogs, joking that it’s a “heck of a lot better” than his ex-wife’s culinary skills. Another customer, decked out from head to toe in faded denim, asks Mr. Hernandez to change the radio station from its current classic rock station, and Hernandez casually complies (after the new station plays a stream of syrupy Top 40 songs, the same man later asks him to change it back).

While the establishment’s owner is in Florida with his family, Hernandez is in charge of The Grill House. Working alone behind the counter, amidst the recent turn of events for the business, he is left to make most of the managerial decisions by himself. He explains, for example, that he hadn’t been planning on opening the eatery today but changed his mind because he knew that the cadre of regulars who come by every day would be hanging around there, faithfully waiting for their beers.

Hernandez, who says he has a second job, is nonplussed about the potential loss of this one and is not afraid to speak candidly. When he found out that the eight businesses were getting evicted, he says he was not surprised. “I just didn’t understand why they got such a short notice.”

 

Hernandez says suspects that the two boardwalk businesses that did not get evicted, popular hot dog joint Nathan’s and souvenir shop Lola Star are staying in business because they are chains (Nathan’s has another shop on Stillwell Ave., while Lola Star has a second location in the Coney Island-Stillwell Ave. subway station) and thus have more power, while the other eight businesses are getting kicked out because they are smaller fish. “It’s a monopoly game. It’s a checkmate, you know?”

If the eight businesses don’t win the lawsuit and do in fact have to leave the boardwalk forever, Hernandez thinks they’ll be replaced by other chains, the likes of Shake Shack. “It’s a thing about big money versus small money.”

 

As for whether the businesses will win the lawsuit or not… “That depends on how good their lawyer is, ” he says objectively.

Barely a minute’s walk from The Grill House stands Ruby’s Old Time Bar & Grill, a family-run bar and restaurant that has been on the boardwalk since the Thirties. The day has come to an end, and bartender and co-owner Michael Sarell is walking out of the bar alongside the last customers.

Unlike Hernandez, the news of Ruby’s eviction hit Sarell on a personal level. “I was angry. Angry, sad. A lot of different emotions,“ he said, later adding, “It’s family. This place is Ruby’s. Ruby’s was my father in law. So it’s like somebody’s telling you that they want to take away your family.”
While Sarell closes up the bar for the day, a man approaches him and express his support for Ruby’s. “I’ve been here in the past,” he says. “Good luck with the court case.”

“Thank you, I appreciate your support,” Sarrel responds warmly.
“Yeah, we just stopped by to have what might have been our last drink here,” the man said. “I guess we missed it.” There is what sounds like a trace of disappointment in his voice.

After the man leaves, Sarell reflects on the legacy of Ruby’s. “See there, there’s the interesting thing… it’s amazing how many different people that this place has touched, so it’s not just a place of business for making money, it’s a place for people to come and have a good time. So I think that’s the sad part. That’s the sad part, to lose a place where people come to have a good time. ”

Customers at Ruby’s share in Sarell’s sadness. “I think that the idea of renewing Coney Island is a good one, but not at the expense of stripping away its authenticity,” said Eric Safyan, 36, a Coney Island resident and regular at Ruby’s.

“It’s been here since 1934,” says Yana Feldman, 33, who initially started coming to Ruby’s at the suggestion of boyfriend Safyan. “You know, like what are they gonna put in? Bennigans, or like TGI Fridays, or something. So, I thought it was sad because it’s a loss of New York’s history.”
Jake Rockowitz, 36, thinks shutting down Ruby’s will leave a void that cannot be filled. “Ruby’s was the bar of Coney Island. It’s like I don’t think there’s any other bar that’s been here that long or has that many locals going to it. Now there won’t be a really local bar in Coney Island. And it’ll be a shame.”

Sarell feels that an underlying reason behind the evictions is a plan by New York City to refresh the boardwalk by clearing out what it sees as old, shabby and derelict. “I mean, if you look at all the businesses,” he says, “if you looked at them one by one, I mean, they’re all in need of repair…And the city thought that the best way of doing it, instead of each individual person doing it, is to get like one entity or two entities just to do it all.”

Ruby’s and the other businesses that have joined together call themselves the Coney 8. “We believe that our best chance for survival is as a group. Instead of being separate and them picking us off one by one, he’s got to take all eight of us down together. And we’re hoping that– you know the expression “there’s strength in numbers”? We’re hoping it’s true.”

The Coney 8 have been getting an outpouring of support from the community and politicians. At the time of the interview, there were 7,000 names on their petitions, and Senator Carl Kruger paid a visit to Coney Island and said he’ll see what he can do about brokering a deal to keep the businesses operating.

The owners of Ruby’s want their bar to serve customers for decades to come. “Well, what we’re trying to achieve is to keep the tradition alive. I mean, the place has been here since 1934. That’s 76 years. So, we’re trying to pass along that tradition to the next generation and the generation after that, and the generation after that, so, that’s what we’re hoping for.” (Representatives from Central Amusement International could not be reached for comment.)

Despite his fighting spirit, Sarell has some doubts about whether they will win the lawsuit. “I’m not confident at all. I mean, I think I’m about 80 percent confident that…” he pauses, and his voice shifts as if he’s holding back tears, “we’re just buying time.”

“I look at this place,” he continues, “sort of, you know, right now… Ruby’s is in a coma. Okay, and Ruby’s is on life support. And it’s got equipment that’s keeping it alive, you know? And, you know, I believe eventually that the equipment won’t be enough to keep it working, and it’s just gonna go.”

Almost instantly, however, his voice becomes positive and upbeat again, and the fighting resolve seems to return. “But, one never knows, you know? There’s amazing recoveries that happen with people and businesses.”

Urban Neighborhood Services

With a large church and a flashy Chase bank sitting close by, the unpretentious building on Mermaid Ave. that houses the headquarters of Urban Neighborhood Services (UNS) seems modest in comparison. Inside, the office is equally no-nonsense: comfortably worn-in chairs line one wall, and a large array of encouraging pamphlets and notices about everything from English classes and health resources to an anti-gang message from the District Attorney, are on display near a window.

Urban Neighborhood Services (UNS) is a local, non-profit organization that targets issues in Coney Island which affect education, family, health and other aspects of living in an inner-city area. Since UNS’ formation at the very end of 2004, it has been the definition of local and grassroots: it wasn’t until 2008 that the organization got its own office.

Founder Mathylde Frontus, a poised woman with a warm smile, works from a room not much larger than a cubicle and piled with papers. “Everyone has a different thing that they’re consumed by,” Frontus explained. For her, finding solutions to community problems is that thing.

Frontus first came up with the idea for an organization like UNS during her adolescence, growing up in Coney Island and witnessing issues that plagued the neighborhood– problems such as financial trouble, gang violence and urban decay.

UNS combats these issues by providing a wide range of services for the people of Coney Island. Their Financial Paths Project, for instance, teaches financial literacy through workshops and seminars. In their Community Health Information Access (CHIA) program, they distribute health information and pamphlets as well as condoms. UNS has also been known to help residents in the area look for jobs and housing by showing job listings and giving referrals to potential employers.

“The work that we do with our young people, I’m very proud of,” Frontus said, continuing, “We do a lot of SAT prep classes, which is a first [for an organization in the neighborhood].” UNS also offers academic assistance for students, and takes youths on trips to places like NYU and Harvard University. Their eight-week summer youth program teaches high school students leadership development and puts emphasis on community service.

UNS serves another special role in Coney Island: according to Frontus, they are the only organization that addresses the needs of the LGBT community. “Originally, we wanted to have a program—we called it Safe Zone—where we kind of had a support group for LGBT youth.” This plan turned out to be too risky, due to LGBT biases in the neighborhood, so UNS shifted gears: “We decided to offer training for organizations in the community on how they could serve LGBT youth,” Frontus said. This training includes helping organizations identify the needs of the LGBT community and teaching them to check personal prejudices.

On a more direct level, UNS helps LGBT youth find resources for help with their needs, with the aid of an extensive resource book on LGBT sources. If someone comes in, Frontus explained, the UNS is in a position to help them by telling them where they can go. The office also serves as a form of sanctuary for any LGBT youth facing danger.

Though UNS offers many different programs, Frontus feels like there is much more that can be done. “I would like to see our programs grow,” she said. “Right now, we’re kind of stunted by limited funding.” To pay for their multitude of programs, the UNS receives funding from various sponsors. Some of their city funding includes councilman Domenic Recchia, and before state funding was cut down due to financial deficit, they received funding from assemblymen and the State Senate. Corporations like the YMCA and businesses like banks and local pharmacies also provide funds for UNS.

“Many of our funding is program-specific,” Frontus explained. Their Going Green Program, for example– a year-long campaign of green education for businesses and families– was sponsored by Con Edison. Their Summer Youth Leadership Project receives funding from a number of sponsors each year: this past summer‘s sponsors included Luna Park, Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus, and four banks.

UNS also does a great deal of self-funding. “We do fundraisers. Every June we have an anniversary mixer, every December we have a holiday fundraiser.” Their most recent fundraising effort is a talent show that will be held at restaurant Peggy O’Neils on Nov 10th.

Frontus and the other members of UNS aren’t about to let a thing like lack of funding curtail the expansive vision they have for the program. “Our goal is to continue to grow, to serve more residents, make more of a difference in the lives of individuals,” she said. According to Frontus, any progress made with certain issues in Coney Island can serve as a case study for how to combat these issues in similar neighborhoods. “We view Coney Island as a microcosm of urban communities around the country, ” she said. “We see it as an opportunity to reflect on urban communities [across the United States]… kind of as a laboratory where we can learn best practices.”

Williamsburg Backgrounder

  • Bordered by Brooklyn Navy Yard, Queens, Bushwick, and Bedford Stuyvesant
  • 3,420 businesses recorded on reference in USA
  • Subway Service- Ranked 53rd busiest subway stop in NYC; approx. 7 million riders annually use this stop; 19550 riders on an average weekday;  65% of residents ride subway
  • Real estate- 3520 people per square mile; median household income= $40,836; 2% severe crowding rate
  • Race & Ethnicity- 29.8% foreign born;  Polish dominated
  • Education-  50% of children perform grade level readig; 61% children perform grade level math
  • Deaths- 42% of deaths from drugs, congenital lower respiratory disease, diabetes, accidents ;  15% cancer deaths ;  15% heart disease
  • Health- 1 in 5 adults smokes ;  alcohol and drug related  hospitalizations are 2 times the NYC rate ;  lead poisoning hospitalizations present
  • Safety- higher rate of homicides overall

From http://reference.allrefer.com/gazetteer/W/W03379-williamsburg.html :

Williamsburg , residential and industrial section of NW Brooklyn borough of N.Y. city, SE N.Y., on East R. (W) opposite Manhattan’s Lower East Side (linked by Williamsburg Bridge), S of Greenpoint, W of Bushwick, and N of Bedford-Stuyvesant; 40°43’N 73°57’W. A cent. ago, a major N.Y. city industrial center (distilleries, shipyards, potteries); mfg. has now declined greatly, but many workshops remain, esp. for metal- and woodworking, foods, and Brooklyn Beer. In the 19th cent., community was mostly Irish and Ger.; in early 20th cent., East Eur. Jewish immigrants began to arrive. By the 1920s, this area was the city’s most densely populated neighborhood. Today, the neighborhood is mostly Hispanic (esp. from P.R. and Central Amer.), but it is also home to many Hasidic Jewish sects, including the Satmar (South Williamsburg). Includes an old Ital. enclave. Burgeoning artist community in what is known as the Northside. Setting for Betty Smith’s novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Laid out in 1810, became part of Brooklyn in 1855.

 

 

 

Hipster Housing? Not in Greenpoint!

Real estate in New York sounds like an oxymoron for some hipsters in Williamsburg. In a 2001 New York Magazine article about the 11222, broker Penny Pear says, “This place is so hot — it’s sizzling! This is the best-kept secret in New York, I swear!”  The neighborhood has evolved from a dingy rat hole into a family neighborhood. In 2001, the neighborhood thrived on starving artist types renting tiny, mostly illegal rooms; almost a decade later, million dollar penthouses sprung up by the East River. The morph of Williamsburg is a curious one, and its zip code neighbor contributes to this as well.

For years, black, Hispanic, and Italian families owned homes and thrived in a mini-melting pot of cultures. They worked in the factories by the East River, enjoyed the almost abandoned L subway stop, and generally kept to themselves. Polish families mainly stayed in Greenpoint and worried about their unknown neighbor to the West: Williamsburg. The neighborhood was not safe, and the police had a hard time controlling the gang and drug situation that flourished there. Janina Narbutowicz recalls: “I worked in a clothing factory along Kent Street, by the water, and I would leave before it got dark. I would not risk walking home in the dark, it was too dangerous.” Eventually, the Hasidic community in Williamsburg decided to gut some of the factories and buy some homes off the original settlers. There are buildings popping up every day in Williamsburg, but there is still an unresolved issue: where do the hipsters go?

Although the neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Greenpoint are primarily Polish, the young urban professionals, or “yuppies” have moved into the neighborhoods at an alarming rate since 2001. As with many rapid cultural changes, they were not received well. Halina Siano, an older Polish lady with a thick accent and a 20 year Greenpoint resident says,” They sat on my stairs smoking marijuana and talking about art until the sun came up. Then, at 9:00 AM they would knock on my door and ask if I had a room for them to sleep.” Of course, like many longtime Polish residents, she did not offer them a place to stay. She explains, ”My neighbor rented an apartment to a couple of men for two weeks. One day, she awoke to smoke filling her apartment below. The men decided to burn their trash on the third floor fire escape.” Stories like this circulate among Greenpoint homeowners, warning them of the crazy yuppies. Izabela Nowak speaks about a renter who painted a feces mural before vanishing from her rented room. Klaudia Kowalska had a midnight doctor’s office in her first floor apartment. “How are we supposed to trust these people? They have proven how they can act,” says Siano.

Out of curiosity, I found my closest hipster friend, dressed in ripped leggings, a plaid shirt, and Ray-Bans, and inquired about some apartments for rent in the area. I was up first so I walked up to the home in question, chit chatted with the Polish homeowner in Polish, and was shown the apartment. She gave me a price of $1000 monthly for a one bedroom, one bathroom, kitchen, and living room apartment. Not too bad.  Two hours later my hipster friend did the same.  She was shown the apartment and told she could have it all for $2500 monthly. The huge discrepancy in rent speaks to the local homeowners’ bias against hipsters. We experienced the same results in three more open houses.

Polish people are not shy about their disgust at the behavior of yuppies. Janina called the police on a tenant who smoked marijuana in his apartment. Siano’s neighbor had to repaint the outside of her home from the fire damage. Nowak would not tell me how she removed the feces mural, for discretion. The women simply told me, “ we do not trust them.”

An interesting phenomenon that a visitor to Williamsburg will notice is that graffiti is an important way of letting your feelings be known. The neighborhood has memos written everywhere you look about hot issues such as gentrification, abortion, and the economy. In 1998, a stenciled phrase appeared on walls and sidewalks in Williamsburg saying, “YUPPIE GO HOME.”  The graffiti sparked interest and a loud response about it ran on notbored.org. A yuppie spoke out against the fear that people felt in renting apartments. He said, “Young, Upwardly-mobile Professionals have no home to go back to, no matter where they sleep and store their stuff. To be a yuppie is to be at home nowhere and to be a tourist everywhere.”

If they want to stay, perhaps these hip nomads will find ways to gain back the respect of their Polish neighbors.

New York City Bike Lanes: Safe Route or Danger Zone?

For some, riding a bike is a hobby, a method of relaxation; for others it is a daily, relied upon mode of transportation. With the rise in popularity of bike riding and the influx of bike lanes popping up around the city, inexperienced riders, unlawful riders, uninformed drivers, and unaware pedestrians have given rise to bicycle related injuries and deaths throughout the five boroughs.

Many advocacy groups have formed around the consensus that the number of riders in the city has increased, and that laws need to be created or enforced and cyclists, drivers, and walkers need to be educated on the safe and legal ways to share the road.

Hell’s Kitchen, a neighborhood in Manhattan, is known for having a diverse repertoire of exotic cuisines, from Argentinean to Ethiopian, from Moroccan to Cajun. And although the neighborhood boasts its rich ethnic background, this array of restaurants results in an overabundance of cyclists, namely delivery people.

The area includes two bike lanes – one on 8th Avenue and one along the Hudson River, each at the opposite extreme of Hell’s Kitchen’s Eastern and Western boundaries, respectively. Bicycle riders do not have a designated safe place to ride, and often end up breaking the law to get around. When cyclists break the law, it is dangerous for them, pedestrians, and motorists.

The lack of education about riding safely around the city is one of the chief problems. With bike riding growing extremely popular, inexperienced riders are taking to the streets to get to work, save money, and help the planet. However, without knowing how to get around safely, new unlawful riders pose a threat to everyone on the road, and most infractions are caused by the unawareness of the wrongdoer.

There are many opportunities for riders, experienced or not, to learn about cycling safety. Bike New York, a cycling advocacy group that hosts events such as bike rides where the streets are closed to cars, uses its proceeds to support their Bicycle Education Program, which was started in 2004. This program offers free classes and training, and their website, http://www.bikenewyork.org, says that you can “Be a better urban biker! Get to know your bike, learn basic repairs and adjustments, and ride safely and confidently in traffic.” These skills can greatly reduce the amount of and the severity of injuries that occur from bike accidents caused by ignorance to the laws.

Kellin Bliss, who has been biking in the city since he moved here three years ago, doesn’t use a bike as his typical method of transportation. He says, “I only really ride my bike for pleasure. In the summer however it is nice to avoid the occasional cab fare, so I will take longer bike rides.” Although Bliss rides his bike around the city, he says, “I do not know anything about the safe biking initiatives.” This statement rings true with many riders around New York. Although groups like Bike New York, among others, encourage riders to learn the proper ways of riding in an urban environment, many of these plans have not been sufficiently advertised for riders to use the programs to their full potential.

The New York City Department of Transportation and Mayor’s office released a pamphlet entitled, “Bike Smart: The Official Guide to Cycling in New York City,” last updated in Spring 2010. The brochure explains very clearly and accurately how to use New York City’s three types of bike facilities: bike paths, bike lanes, and shared lanes. In all three types, unless noted, riders should ride in the direction of traffic, a law that is too often ignored. Many cyclists in Hell’s Kitchen go the wrong way on the roads, cutting corners very close, and riding on the sidewalk. This is very harmful to local residents, as sidewalks in the area tend to be narrow, forcing pedestrians to step off the sidewalk into the street to let a cyclist pass, or causing hesitation when crossing the street because bikes come from every direction.

The installation of parking protected bike paths around the city has led to a decrease in accidents. According to the NYCDOT pamphlet, “In Manhattan, parking protected bike paths have deduced bicycle, pedestrian and vehicular injuries by up to 48%.” The brochure also explains the how to safely make turns, how to use bike boxes, how to signal to cars and pedestrians, how to lock your bike up, how to safely and properly wear a helmet, light, reflector, and bell. According to the document, “Seventy four percent of cyclist fatalities result from head injuries.” The literature also states that “45% of bicyclist fatalities in New York City happen in the dark,” stressing the importance of obeying the New York State law which states that cyclists must use white front lights and red tail lights on their bike when they ride at night.

Although bike lanes, in general, are an improvement to the city, they lose their effectiveness if they are allowing, potentially even increasing, danger. In New York City, it seems that the bike lanes are encouraging more riders, yet creating an even more dangerous environment for them. Bliss agrees, saying, “On the whole, I think bike lanes need to be severely improved. Separated bike lanes are very useful if there is a physical barrier separating the lane from the road. I feel that more often than not, there isn’t a physical barrier. I feel like that is pointless because cars just consider it apart of the road. The way most bike lanes are situated, you will often see cars double parked in the bike lane, forcing bicyclists to enter traffic.”

The NYCDOT has an enlarged section on their website, www.nyc.gov, about cycling education, bike lanes, and more. According to New York State law, bicycles are considered vehicles, and therefore must follow the rules that apply to motor vehicles. Riding on the sidewalk is prohibited, unless the rider is 12 years old or younger.

Riding on the sidewalks is a big problem in Hell’s Kitchen. Streets like West 55th Street, West 50th Street, and 10th Avenue have larger, wider sidewalks, and are ideal for a cyclist trying to zoom through traffic. The problem is establishments are not educating their employees on the importance of bike safety, not only for the rider but for everyone else who is using the road as well.

The Midtown North Police Precinct has generated flyers to put in restaurants and throughout the neighborhood reminding offenders about the dangers of unlawful riding and of the fines that are issued to lawbreakers. At a Midtown North Community Council meeting in October, a representative of the Midtown North Precinct said that they are aware of the problem, and that they are working hard to reduce the number of occasions where unlawful riding takes place. Better enforcement is one way in which the precinct is trying to dissuade these criminals from breaking the law over and over again.

Many riders are outraged by the lack of enforcement regarding bicycle laws, designed to protect riders, just as they are about the lanes that are designed to protect them. Bliss says, “I feel like more enforced penalties and fines for drivers who violate the rules for bike lanes would be appropriate. More physically separate bike lanes are a must in my opinion; there should be no way for cars to enter a bike lane and vice versa.”

Although there are many separated bike lanes, cars can still enter them, and often police cars, marked and unmarked, idle in the lanes or drive through them to avoid traffic. “Law enforcement is using this space for their own personal driveway,” says Erica Breslow, a native Hell’s Kitchen resident and cycling enthusiast. “This forces cyclists to ride in traffic. Nothing irks me more than seeing a police car in a bike lane. They’re supposed to be protecting us, but instead they’re making the roads more dangerous for bike riders, drivers, and pedestrians alike. And the cyclists on the sidewalk? Well, they’re just being as reckless as possible. There is no reason to ride on the sidewalk. People come out of buildings and you don’t see them, children often play on the streets. Riding on the sidewalk is just asking for an accident,” she adds.

Although law enforcement is working to increase public awareness of bicycle traffic violation problems, some citizens don’t believe they are doing enough. Jack Brown, who runs the Coalition Against Rogue Riders, said in an email interview, “Responsible enforcement promotes responsible cycling.” Brown supports the increase in awareness and law enforcement regarding dangerous cycling habits, but feels that the NYPD has missed their chance to prepare for the increase in riders and the dangers being posed. Brown, via email, says the problem is now in the “Misjudgment of the attitudes unleashed and enabled by the extended lack of enforcement.”

Brown is also dissatisfied with the way Transportation Alternatives, another cycling advocacy group, has been handling the issue of dangerous riding. In the same interview, Brown said, “The city and T.A. have done a poor job of education, preparation, and enforcement.” He believes the group is the “acknowledged brain child of the Dept. of Transportation.” Although the Coalition Against Rogue Riding and Transportation Alternatives are both cycling activist groups in New York City, their views of the proper way to approach the problem vary, causing animosity between the groups.

Some bike safety groups in New York are doing a good job of promoting the proper education and implementation of safe riding. Fast’n’Fab, a New York based Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender bike club, holds weekly rides as well as special events and a monthly dinner hosted by members. “Our ride routes do not include sidewalks, or streets ridden in the wrong direction,” says club President, Gerry Oxford. The club plans to encourage safe riding, Oxford explains, “This year we hope to host workshops on how to ride safely, covering such topics as helmets, earwear, lights and road behavior.”

Oxford is dismayed by the outburst in dangerous riding in the city. He says, “As a longtime bike rider in NYC, most of the time in Manhattan, I have to say that I think this issue is being misrepresented in the press. I feel that the streets of the city have become considerably more dangerous in the past few years, for riders as well as pedestrians, not because all bike riders are behaving badly, but because [a] fast-growing segment of bike riders is doing so.” He continues to explain, “I’m talking about the delivery men, of course, who ride without lights, without respect for street direction, without stopping for lights, and who use the newly developed bike lanes as their own fiefdom, riding on them in whatever direction suits them.”

With his own experiences haunting him, Oxford has had personal experience with the dangers of riding in the city. “I’ve had two minor accidents in the past six months, both due to the reckless riding of delivery men.” Delivery riders are a big issue in Hell’s Kitchen, and in the city. There have been plans to license the bikes, and to place obvious logos or insignias representing where they are working, so that if an incident occurs, the proper people are contacted, and so that when unlawful riding is witnessed, a fine can be charged to the restaurant as well as the rider.

Many think this is a good idea, including Oxford, who says, “Personally I think that the city should look to licensing delivery bikers, with a system in place to ensure that any restaurant whose delivery bikes break the law more than a couple of times loses the right to have delivery bikes.” These plans, however, have not yet come to fruition.

Pedestrians are not strictly victims in bicycle related crimes. Many times, bike-pedestrian accidents are caused because the pedestrians aren’t obeying the rules of the road. “Pedestrians think they can cross the street wherever they like, because they have the ‘right of way,’ Breslow explains. “But having the ‘right of way’ does not make it okay for you to walk into a bike lane, hail a cab, wait for traffic to pass to cross, or do anything for that matter. The bike lane is for cyclists – not motorists, not pedestrians, not police officers, cyclists.” Oxford agrees, saying, “And then of course there’s the appalling behavior of pedestrians, who frequently treat cyclists as if they didn’t exist, even when [cyclists] have the right of way.”

Bike safety is a problem throughout New York City, and in an area like Hell’s Kitchen, which is filled with restaurants, and delivery people on bikes, there needs to be a better solution to education and enforcement of the laws created to protect everyone who shares the road. Advocacy groups, who seem to share a common goal, disagree about the best path to follow. Many argue that education and enforcement would lower the risk of injury and death by cycling accidents, if only the cause were more widespread and publicized. At Unfortunately, pedestrians, motorists, and cyclists have yet to find a way to coexist safely.

Co-Ops, Condos, and Community

For six decades Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village has been a renter’s paradise, boasting low prices and a secluded tract of prime Manhattan real estate. But the recent shuffle in ownership has shaken a traditionally steady neighborhood.

Financing the construction itself in the 1940’s, The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company owned the complex for the vast majority of its existence until auctioning off the property to Tishman Speyer in 2006 for a record $5.4 billion. Due in large part to the economy, the value of ST/PCV plummeted to around half of what Tishman paid for it. It only took a few years before Tishman had defaulted on its massive loans.

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College Point: City Vs. Wild

In the neighborhood of College Point in northern Queens,  a small conflict  is flying under the radar.  Known as a quiet and secluded sector of Queens,  over the last decade or so, the culture of the neighborhood has changed, slowly but gradually. College Point has always been known for its quaint and unassuming residential homes, coupled with a lot of natural beauty and an amazing view of Manhattan’s skyline. The big change that has come over the neighborhood has been the rapid construction of high-priced condominiums. Estates like Powell Cove Estates, Riviera Court, Bay Bridge Estates, and Edgewater Estates, according to many locals, have taken away from the natural beauty that was the main staple and attraction of the neighborhood.
Residents like Annie Lee lived in College point way before all of the condominiums were even built. A 20-year resident, she has seen the gradual evolution of the neighborhood. “I guess it’s easy to say that I’m biased. I’ve lived in the same house for over 20 years now and I hate all of these new condos. I can barely see the Manhattan skyline anymore,” says Lee. Like Lee, a lot of people in the neighborhood are enraged over the loss of their clear cut views of the Manhattan skyline. “ I mean…. it’s beautiful….. it was always one of the perks of living in this neighborhood. The schools aren’t particularly great and the roads are horrendous, but at least we had that view,” says Lee.

In 2005 the Department of City Planning approved the rezoning of homes in College Point Queens. The City rezoned the area to build more residential homes and bring back the quiet and residential feel of the neighborhood. However, even with these zoning changes, not much has changed. In 2010 Powell Cove Estates finished construction on their new condominiums. For an area that was supposed to dig back into its roots, it doesn’t seem like much has changed from the rezoning.

Not everyone in the neighborhood is angry over the building of these homes. Jonathan Baek, a tenant of one of these brand new homes in Powell Coves, doesn’t understand all the uproar. “ The condo I just moved into is awesome. What is there to complain about? Don’t these condos just help local businesses and large businesses like Target and Old Navy? Who cares if I have to pay for the view that I get? It’s definitely worth it,” says Baek. It is true that due to the rise in population in the neighborhood, large chain businesses like BJ’s Wholesale and Target have seen business boom. Local malls like the one on 20th Avenue in College Point are extremely busy and packed with shoppers throughout the week.
It is actually these shoppers who are adding fuel to the fire to those who oppose the added condos in the neighborhood. Due to the rise in population in the neighborhood, traffic and parking have become major issues. College Point was always  notorious for its narrow roads and high number of one-way streets. Due to the added amount of cars and tenants in the neighborhood, it is now close to impossible to ever find parking after eight at night. This is unheard of  for a neighborhood that is supposed to be known as “secluded.”  “ How is it possible that I come home at 7:30 and I can’t find a single parking spot anywhere near my house? I used to know every car that was parked on this block, and now I have no idea who these people are,” says Richard Tam, another long-time resident of College Point. “ Not only has College Point become super congested, but just look around. These condos have just ruined a lot of the natural beauty we used to have here. And with all these people moving into the neighborhood, why don’t they build some more parks or at least expand the ones we have?” says Tam.  Tam’s point is well taken. There definitely aren’t as many trees now and a lot of the wild life has begun to disappear, replaced by a large number of raccoons that lurk around the neighborhood prowling for garbage. The parks have also become a topic of discussion. While the number of children in the neighborhood has gone up exponentially, nothing has been altered in the park and there are currently no plans to build another one.

Although there are many complaints and many disgruntled residents, many feel that there really isn’t anything that the people of College Point can do. “ I think the neighborhood just needs to accept the fact that College Point is growing. I can understand that people really loved nature, but its not like the whole view of the skyline is gone and the park is still jam-packed with huge trees. Honestly, I only see the condos as positive additions to the neighborhood,” says Jonathan Baek.

Whether or not the people of College Point will ever adapt to these changes is hard to predict.  Still, the sad truth is that a lot of residents will have to accept the fact that their old beloved College Point will never be the same again.

A Man with No Plan

He has been nominated for an Oscar as well as the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has written for the New York Times and the Rolling Stone. He has worked with Spike Lee and Philip Kaufman. He is the Fall 2010, Harman Writer-in-Residence at Baruch College.

Richard Price stands in front of a packed conference room at Baruch College, just the same as you or I would. Perhaps a bit nervous, Price makes several jokes and sarcastic remarks to begin the evening in a Richard Price kind of way. “Okay, they said to read for one minute, and open it up to the floor for fifty-nine,” quips Price. After a bellowing response from the crowd, Price gets into the thick of it.

Price is very passionate for the Lower East Side portion of New York City and it is the focus of his newest novel, Lush Life. Price began the night by explaining why Lush Life was centered around the Lower East Side. “I have always had a sentimental spot for it until I got to know it, and then I realized what a nightmare it was,” said Price.

There wasn’t anything poetic or genius spoken by Price, he seems to be just as normal and everyday as anyone else. Perhaps this is how he wants to be portrayed. In an interview with Robert Birnbaum from Identity Theory–a literary website–Price claims to not be so structured and identifiable of a writer as many other writers are. “I don’t write meta-fiction, I don’t write deconstructionist…I’m not into a novel as a philosophical inquiry into language and stuff like that. I’m basically a story teller and always will be,” said Price. This quote sums up Richard Price in a nutshell. He carries the notion of being distant and aloof from his passion, yet extremely aware and to a “T” with details.

Being such a distinguished and accomplished writer–suffering from writers block and other such hindrances–surprisingly, is very common for Price. Writing isn’t easy, not even for Price. “It depends if I’m under a deadline, it’s easier when I’m under a deadline. If I’m writing a screenplay, there is a whole bunch of people that are waiting for the god damned thing, and you know they get stressed waiting for it.”

Reaching the conclusion of the evening, Price continues to be very dry and sarcastic in response. “I have to write this other book because I’m broke. I made a deal with a publisher to write a book under a pen name, that’s what I’m doing. It’s not going to be of the highest literary quality, it’s an open pen name,” said Price. Price will begin in the early months of 2011 by writing under the pen name of Jay Morris. He has agreed to write a series of detective novels for Henry Holt. Whether or not Price has agreed to this deal for monetary concerns, it seems to fit right in line with the rest of Price’s career. He is very sporadic in his work. From working on a screenplay to writing a novel, dabbling in a short story while professing at a University–you never exactly know what Price will end up doing next. And I’d put my money on it that neither does he.

RICHARD PRICE. Credit: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Bedford-Atlantic Armory Homeless Gym

As it stands now, the Bedford-Atlantic Armory presents a conflict within Crown Heights. However, if New York City has its way, it may become a bigger conflict in the community.

The Armory is a single-male, homeless shelter located on the corner of Atlantic and Bedford Avenue in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. It is a well known fact that the people of Crown Heights shy away from having to walk in front of the armory–in fear of being harassed by one of the men. The shelter has been described as more of a prison, than a shelter. Perhaps one cause of the problem is that people are unaware of the conditions inside the armory. “I feel curious more than anything else. I pass the massive building almost everyday and don’t know anything about what goes on inside, can’t see through a window, no doors are left open, it’s literally a fortress separating me from them,” said local Crown Heights resident Tokunbo Anifalaje.

Some men are afraid of living there–knowing that theft and assault are very common problems within the shelter. This stands as a sizable issue on its own, so you would think the City would be doing something to mend the problem. That is precisely the opposite of what is happening though.

With ongoing discussions regarding renovating the already overpopulated shelter into New York City’s only Intake center, local Crown Heights residents are faced with an enormous burden.  There are countless reasons why this poses a threat to the neighborhood.

Not only is it bad for Crown Heights residents, it is bad for the homeless men who would be in need of a bed. The armory is located inconveniently away from public transportation. It is also very far away from the current intake center which would require these men to have to travel long distances by foot to apply for shelter. The health concerns alone are too much of a problem for the Department of Homeless Services to handle. The Department of Homeless Services (DHS) planned to improve the initial screening done for newly homeless men entering the shelter, but this only protects the people inside the armory.

Even though it has been described as a prison, it is not. Therefore, these men are allowed to roam the streets of the neighborhood–most likely relying on selling drugs to make a quick buck. Statistically speaking, the proposed Intake Center would mean that approximately 14,000 homeless men in and out of Crown Heights each year. Crown Heights (Community District 8 ) is already one of the most overfilled communities in Brooklyn in regards to social service beds. The Intake Center would exacerbate the issue of an overcrowded community, with a high demand for social services.

The most proactive group fighting the renovations of the armory is the Coalition for Bedford Atlantic Armory Reform (CBAAR). Unfortunately they seem to have little to no power with the city. “We are in contact with the new Commissioner about their plans. Until they make it clear they are moving forward, there is not much for us to do,” said a CBAAR representative. The group is very encouraging of Crown Height residents to be involved and take a stance on the issue. “We will inform the community when it is time to take action: protests,rallies, letter writing, phone banks, etcetera.”

New York City and the DHS took it one step further in creating a larger problem out of it. DHS proposed that it would offer a monetary contribution to a track and field/recreation center that would be located inside the armory. Parents don’t seem to be fond of the idea of sending their children off to the Armory for recreation though. Not to mention that it would only be a contribution and the community would have to fund approximately 10 million dollars on its own to proceed with the recreation center. “We are not bargaining with DHS for taking an intake center, we are opposed to it completely,” stated the CBAAR rep.

The Department of Homeless Services is well aware of the strain it would put on the community as well as surrounding neighborhoods, by moving the only intake center–which is currently located in Manhattan–into Crown Heights. Rather than offer a partial contribution for a recreation center, they are trying other ways to repair the problem. “DHS has agreed to keep an intake center for single homeless men in Manhattan when the current one closes, we do not know how big or where,” said a CBAAR rep.

How you can get involved:

Crow Hill Community Association Website

Revitalizing Crown Heights Website

The Atlantic-Bedford Armory. Photo Courtesy of Nathania Zavi- Brooklyn Ink

The Age-Old Question: Public or Private?

Get good grades, attend a prestigious college, have a successful career, the series of events leading up to the American dream are all determined by our performance in elementary and middle school.

“The early years set a pattern for future school behavior,” says Emily Di Martino, English Professor and former Chair of the Education Department at Baruch College. “In these elementary years, the type of setting needs to be a match for the child. Some kids need an academic setting and others need a Neo-Humanist setting, which is why parents and teachers need to work together to provide a loving environment for each child.”

Di Martino and several other experts agree that elementary and middle school are crucial years of development, and the teaching methods children are exposed to in these years can either positively or negatively affect their ability to learn. For this reason, several educational philosophies have emerged in private schools that disagree with the standard teachings of New York State public schools.

One such school is The Progressive School of Long Island in Merrick. For twenty-five years, Progressive School has been practicing Neo-Humanist education, a philosophy based on the belief that everyone in the world should be seen as your family, with animals, plants and elements included in this embrace. “Neo-Humanism affects the content, the method and the goal of our school,” says Eric Jacobsen, Founder and Director of Progressive School. “It’s not about grades and test scores. It’s about the people that we graduate. Our number one priority is graduating students with value.”

Jacobsen argues that due to regulations, public schools lack flexibility and programs at Progressive School, such as the student volunteer program, are a crucial part of interactive learning which are not found at public schools. “People have nine types of intelligence, but public schools only evaluate two types, the linguistic and the mathematical,” says Jacobsen. “The first thing that gets cut when there are budget problems  are those other types of intelligence, like the artistic or kinesthetic, which is related to sports,  and then the other types are just completely ignored.”

This theory seems to be confirmed by the North Merrick Union Free School District’s website, which states that extending the elementary mathematics program is one of the District Goals. However, the site does not mention the extension of any artistic or kinesthetic programs. Still, several parents insist that public schools present a larger variety of programs than private schools.

 “I prefer public schools,” says Bobbee Brancaccio, former physical education teacher at Long Island Lutheran High School. Brancaccio’s own children have been to both public and private middle schools and, despite teaching at a private school herself, she feels public schools have more to offer. “There are definitely more choices and academic programs. It gets kids more comfortable.”

According to Brancaccio, public schools provide a real world atmosphere due to their big classes, but Jacobsen disagrees. “They’re too big,” he says. “I think you lose a personal touch when you get above a certain size.”

Despite the problems he has with the public school system, Jacobsen says he’s not knocking the people that work there. “There’s too much emphasis on tests, which forces them to do a lot of preparation and I think they are unable to use the full potential of their teaching staff,” says Jacobsen.

With arguments to support both public and private, many parents say the deciding factor is the long-term effect on their children. For this reason, Jacobsen has compi1ed 150 interviews with graduates of Progressive School to explore the results of a private school education. Not only are several Progressive School graduates vegetarians, due to their love of animals, but many of them are still engaged in community service and have a life-long passion for learning. “They’re very broad-minded. They think of themselves as global citizens, not just as Americans,” says Jacobsen.

Through these interviews, Jacobsen hopes to spread the word about the positive effects of private schools and possibly change the way public schools approach education. “I think it’s good for the public schools to have schools like this around that can experiment,” he says. “It they were open-minded, they could learn from schools that have the freedom to experiment more.”

Local Museum on the Rise

www.archleague.org

The state of the art and industrial design of the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) scream SoHo.   However, the three red lanterns, and the string of Christmas lights that hang in the museum window makes MOCA seem a little more rugged, a little eclectic, and a little more like Chinatown.

The Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) is located at 215 Centre Street on the fringe of the Chinatown and SoHo neighborhoods in New York City.  MOCA maintains a Collections and Research Center at its old location in the heart of Chinatown at 70 Mulberry Street.

Block letters that spell MOCA sit atop a wood plank ceiling that extends outside from within the museum.  Floor to ceiling store front windows look in to an open and industrial space, with recess lighting. The entrance leads into the gift shop to the right lined with shelves of books, pictures, t-shirts, and memorabilia detailing the MOCA experience. The greeting counter sits front and center.  Hard oak wood floors lead the way to the exhibits that narrates the stories of Chinese immigrants and their journey to America. At the heart of the museum a skylight illuminates a make-shift courtyard.

www.joyen.net

The Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) started its operations 30 years ago as a community-based organization.  It serves as an educational resource to old and new Chinatown residents, and it helps bridge the gap between generations of Chinese Americans.

The current location of MOCA opened to the public in September of 2009.  Its

www.archleague.org

current venue quadrupled in size compared to its old venue standing at 14,000 square feet.  The renovation of 215 Centre Street, turning it from an old machinery mill to MOCA’s current green venue cost roughly $8 million. The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs funded $2.5 million for MOCA’s renovation.

As MOCA expanded in space, visitors from all walks of life were attracted as well.  “We get bigger groups of people visiting the museum now since we have more space. We hold bigger events, the exhibitions are further elaborated, and we have a much bigger museum store,” said Hui Zhen Liang, a summer intern.

Chinatown changed drastically over the years, and older generations of Chinese immigrants had a growing concern that their stories will be forgotten.  “Chinatown no long seems like “Chinatown.” Longtime residents are being pushed out, old buildings are being torn down, and new ones are erected,” said a resident of Chinatown, Keen Hung Lee.

MOCA serves as a springboard to help residents old and new of the community to understand that they’re all interconnected in one way or another.  “MOCA pieces together Chinatown’s history, the struggles of Chinese Americans, and ties our story together with the bigger picture of Asian Americans,” said Sunny Ng, a resident of Chinatown.

MOCA is slowly becoming a staple in Chinatown, because it’s not just a museum. It is also a place where people can come together and learn about their heritage.  “MOCA is a museum that likes to involve people living around it, it encourage the community to come out and interact with each other, and encourage young Chinese Americans to learn and be proud of their culture,”  said Hui Zhen Liang.

MOCA receives its funding from both private contributors and public agencies such as the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, Lower Manhattan Development Fund, NYC Council, September 11th Fund, as well as the Mayor’s office.

According to a New York Times article, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s proposed $65 billion budget for 2011 includes a 35% reduction in funding for arts programs.  The decrease in funding will make it harder for local museums such as MOCA to function on a daily basis.  “A budget cut to the arts means less funding to have free events, to host exhibitions, and less money to keep the cost of tickets down which might discourage people to visit,” said Hui Zhen Liang.

The Department of Cultural Affairs budget for fiscal year 2011 includes $149.8 million for non-profit cultural organizations. Of the total, $28.9 million will be allotted to the Cultural Development Funds, $110.2 million will be used for the Cultural Institutions Group, and $5.8 million will be used for Cultural after School Adventures Program.

Some residents are flabbergasted by Mayor Bloomberg’s drastic budget cuts the the arts. “Mayor Bloomberg is actually one of the original supporters of MOCA who helped fund the new location,” said Hui Zhen Liang.

Residents fear that MOCA may not prosper without more funding from agencies.  “A local museum like MOCA may eventually fade into the background, and it is a very discouraging thought because MOCA is the only museum in New York that is dedicated to the history of Chinese Americans,” said Victoria Wong, a resident of Chinatown.

The Museum of Chinese in America vividly portrays what Chinese people went through when they first came to the country in the 19th Century.  MOCA shows new Chinese immigrants, what their predecessors went through to make a life in America.  “A lot of immigrants don’t understand English; they don’t like to watch American television and so they rely on these art programs to entertain themselves,” said Hui Zhen Liang.

Chinatown, New York is like an antique, every five floor walk-up apartment building has its story that dates back several decades.   “MOCA is an important resource of public information for locals as well as tourists to understand Chinatown from a historical perspective,” said Sunny Ng.

Not only is MOCA enriching for Chinese Americans, but people of all ethnicities can also learn from the exhibitions at MOCA, and realize that, despite all stereotypes, all immigrants who came to the United States suffered hardships in one form or another.  “Non-Chinese Americans can see what my ancestors have suffered through. It gives them a better understanding of how we connect to them. We are all living on the same Earth, and we have more in common with them then they really think,” said Victoria Wong.

Even Gracie Point Can’t Make Garbage Pretty

Gorgeous, well-kept parks, beautifully preserved landmarks, and nothing but the sound of cars passing on the East River Drive; this is the Upper East Side known to residents and visitors alike. Odors, noise, and sanitation trucks that line 91st street in parade formation; this is the Upper East Side after the expansion of the Marine Transfer Station.

The City of New York and Mayor Bloomberg have proposed to convert East 91st street, on the Upper East Side, into a site to build a very large facility that would handle about 5,280 tons of garbage per day. At this facility, both residential and commercial waste will be processed on a 24 hour, six days a week schedule. The operation of the garbage facility involves garbage trucks being lined up along York Avenue, then entering at 91st street, which cuts through the very well known Asphalt Green Park. These trucks dump the garbage onto a platform, which is then tipped into a container and placed on a barge that gets moved up and down along the East River. A former waste transfer station was shut down in the same location in 1999, which caused the community many of the same problems and issues that they may have to face once again.

The Gracie Point community, where the transfer station is set to be built and operated, is a heavily populated residential neighborhood. Around 13,500 people live within a quarter mile of the proposed transfer station site, including 1,850 children, and growing, and 1,622 senior citizens, according to Census data from 2000. The neighborhood is also home to numerous parks, historic landmarks, private and public housing, schools, religious institutions and shops.

One of the more obvious consequences of the transfer facility is the odor and noise that it will bring to the neighborhood and environment. According to a statement by the Gracie Point Community Council on their website, the operation of the facility would have “hundreds of garbage trucks rumbling through the streets of Gracie Point,” as well as the nearby neighborhood of Yorkville. In addition to the noise factor, the presence of odors from the facility is not to be looked over. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney stated in a press release from 2007 that, “people who lived in the area when the old marine transfer station was operating report that the stench was unbelievable and that it permeated the neighborhood.” In fact, Community Board 8 reported in its district needs statement for 2011 that the previous operation of the transfer station had caused many children to leave programs at summer camps because the noxious odors were making them sick.

The smells and constant rumble of trucks through these small communities is almost sure to diminish the quality of life in the areas. These consequences have now opened the door to a more serious issue that the community will have to face, public health.

Asphalt Green, the beautiful park and recreation center of the Upper East Side, will unfortunately fall victim to the Marine Transfer Station, if given the permission to operate. The recreation center is located between East 90th and 92nd Street, in which the Marine Transfer Station would bisect and operate right behind it. The entrance road to the transfer station would run alongside open playing fields on the south side of the park, and children’s playgrounds on the north side.

As one of the city’s largest recreation facilities, Asphalt Green is used by thousands of children, the disabled, and others who come from all over the city, including East Harlem. According to a statement by Liz Krueger, a New York State Senator, Asphalt Green gets 650,000 visitors annually, in which 110,000 of these visitors include local public school children who rely on the center for recess and after school programs. In addition to this, the center also operates day camps during the summer, as well as various youth and adult programs that run year round. With the transfer station being so close to the park, anyone who uses its amenities will be subject to the odors and noise, in this case it mostly being children. However, no one, no matter what age, deserves to be exposed to these harmful consequences which could lead to further complications.

With these more obvious problems associated with the Marine Transfer Station comes one that many people most likely don’t know about. According to the Office of Emergency Management for New York City, the proposed site for the transfer station is directly located in the middle of what is known as a “Hurricane Zone A.” This is identified as a location where the highest risk of flooding from a hurricane’s storm surge exists, with a 1 percent annual chance of flooding. If the site were to flood, it would pose a major risk to the neighborhood. In a resolution presented by Community Board 8, the members stated that “a significant storm that reaches the MTS could spread water-borne diseases and bacteria through the densely populated surrounding neighborhood.” The site is also located in close proximity to the 125th street fault line, making it susceptible to a possible earthquake of greater magnitude than the tremors that have previously occurred in the area.

With the chance of possible floods and earthquakes, the Marine Transfer Station would pose several safety concerns within the community. Furthermore, it would create an unacceptable emergency response risk due to fire, flood, earthquake, and the release of hazardous materials, which would result in thousands of residents being evacuated from the area.

The battle against the Marine Transfer Station is still in progress as no definite decision has yet been made. The Gracie Point Community Council and Community Board 8 continue to raise awareness of the issue and stand strong in their position of rejecting the city’s plans. Both Gracie Point and Community Board 8 have been aggressively working with the New York City Council, New York State Supreme Court, and New York State Legislature since 2005 to get the plans for the transfer station annulled. As of June 30, 2010, petitions from Manhattan and Albany that fought to overturn the issuing of five permits for the proposed transfer station were dismissed in the State Supreme Court.

Eleven years after the closing of the previous Marine Transfer Station, residents and community groups of this Upper East Side community are being reminded of a past that could drastically alter their future. The community remains relentless in the fight to get their voice heard and prevent the downfall of the place they call home.

Where Do the Youths Go?

In the Central Bronx, on nearly every street corner, large groups of youths can be seen and heard talking loudly, gambling, drinking, smoking, arguing and starting trouble. Starting from late afternoon throughout the night on weekdays and weekends, young men and women take to the violent, drug infested streets to pass the time.

At the Frederick Samuels Community Center, the sound of children screaming at the top of their lungs can be heard in the large hard wood gymnasium.
A father and single parent sits quietly on a black chair. An aged leather coat rests behind his seat and his brown wool hat is still on his head; Samuel Hughes watches enthusiastically as his 12-year-old son kicks and punches with accuracy and power. And with every kick, every push up and shout, the father’s smile widens more as he gazes at his proud son.

There is a question, which some parents, teachers and other concerned individuals ask about youths on the streets of the Bronx. Where do the youths go to get off the streets? “There’s a lot of young men out here going to jail, smoking weed and joining gangs because they have no place else to go,” said Samuel Hughes. “The only place they can go is the park and there is no one to watch them, to tell them what’s right and wrong.”

There are a number of centers in the Bronx that offer recreation programs in a variety of areas—defense classes, painting and drawing, swimming, dance, self-empowerment, and career training.  But many wonder if there are so many programs, why don’t they know about them? “The only programs I’ve heard about in the neighborhood are the programs in my son’s school, so I’m assuming there are other programs in some of the other public schools,” says Hughes.

Walking into the small after school office of P.S. 42, one immediately sees the bright sky blue walls.  Piles of papers are organized on a large rectangular table in front of the small  desk where the director sits. Grace Garcia, dressed in a light yellow blouse, gives a warm smile when speaking about the children of the Scan after-school program.

“It’s very important that the children get the benefits of being in an after school program,” says Garcia. “The parents like to look at the program like a day care center for their kids while they finish work, but we look at the program as a place of development to push them in the right direction.”
Garcia has worked with children for over a decade and several years as program director for the Scan after-school program in P.S. 42. As director, she has worked diligently with parents, teachers, staff as well as the students to ensure that the children get all they need while under their watch.

The after-school program oversees some 250 students per year, though Garcia believes more students could participate. “A number of times I have requested from my superiors and the DYCD to provide more space in order to allow more children, but have been turned down,” says Garcia, who also has the misfortune of telling more than 100 students and parents that there is no more space for the youths.

With no more space available for the number of children who didn’t sign up early for after-school, they have to wait almost a year before having another opportunity to apply. The parents also face the struggle of finding other means for after-school outlets while they’re finishing up at work.

Other after-school outlets such as St. Mary’s Recreation Center also offer outlets for children. However, in a New York Times article, journalist Javier C. Hernandez reported that Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed to increase the fees of recreation centers throughout the city. While these programs would still be free to children under the ages of 17-years old, the older youths 18-years and up would have to pay $100 to $150 per month, depending on what the recreational center offers. C.J. Hines, 32, a member of St. Mary’s Recreation Center told the Times that  if prices increased further he would go to a private gym. The problem is most youths in the neighborhood can’t afford to do that either.

Unfortunately, says Garcia, some parents leave the decisions of where their children spend their time to the children. Parents do not seem to be properly informed about  other programs outside of the school environment.

“Every start of the school year for the first two weeks, we post a number of fliers, posters as well as send letters home to the students to let the parents know of the programs offered and the importance of participation,” says Garcia who added, “The unfortunate thing about the children, when looking at the various programs for them, whether they are recreational or academic, is that as you get older these programs become more and more scarce.”

The activity in and outside of the office was obvious as children and staff walked in acknowledging the soft-spoken director with, “Good afternoon Mrs. Garcia, how was your day,” and happily awaiting a response and word on the plans for the evening.

The various after-school and recreational programs available in the Central Bronx area are open to youths at many age levels, but some parents, public school faculty and teachers as well as neighborhood teens wonder where the programs are if they exist. Research in the Department of Youth and Community Development or the DYCD website revealed there are quite a few programs open to many age groups.
So, is the issue at hand, not the lack of programs for children and adolescents, but the lack of communication among these individual programs?
“I think the big problem with after school programs in public schools is that there are no after-school outlets for the older kids, especially the ones no longer attending school for whatever reason,” said Vindenjea Samuel, Site Director for the after-school program at middle school 147.
“These programs aren’t designed for those who have stopped going to school, so what are they to do. They’re not allowed to participate in our programs unless enrolled in school, so they have to go to other facilities.” Many of the programs such as the after-school program SCAN receive funding through the DYCD.
However, other privately owned children’s facilities receive funding through donations, grants and fundraisers. “Programs in public schools often receive more money in grants and donations then private organizations, and not only that but we have a bit more security than private programs as far as financial cutbacks,” said Samuel.

Attempts were made to get in touch with the smaller private after-school programs as well as various members of city recreational parks and facilities—staff, coordinators, directors and assistants, but none returned emails or calls.

Some parents wonder, if many of these programs cater to the young children, how do the older teens take advantage of the same opportunities? A mother of three young boys and a teenage girl said, “It easy for my young ones to get into their school programs and the teachers talk about them like they’re mandatory.”

But mentioning how her eighteen-year-old daughter doesn’t go to school, a saddened look had fallen upon her face. She seemed to  lose her breath when speaking about the time her daughter spends at home or hanging out with other friends in the same predicament.

On the corner of 175th Street and Monroe Avenue at 9 o’clock in the evening, male teens between the ages of 15 to 19 years of age as well as young girls and older men gather in front of the local Chinese restaurant. On this corner, the lights of the fast food joint, as well as the lamps that hang from the corner of the apartment buildings across the street are all that illuminates the dark block.

“I had it rough coming up around here,” said Carlyle Grimes, an 18-year-old male who has lived in the neighborhood his whole life with his mother.
“My father was never around and there was nowhere for me to go chill other than the streets, so the streets is where I go.” The teen claims there were no programs available for him, as he grew besides the ones available to do homework and review for exams.

There are close to 10 recreation programs in the Central Bronx area, however only about six are in the immediate area and about three depend on the age of the youth.
“The programs that help us do work are cool, but what about sports or just a hangout spot where we don’t have to be on the streets,” said Grimes. Grimes believed school wasn’t for him, and no with no proper guidance or outlets to provide a more positive way of thinking; he dropped out at the age 16.

“My mom and I always argued about me leaving school, but I told her it wasn’t for me, school was just too boring,” says Grimes. “And since the after-school programs mainly focus on more school work, I didn’t go to them.”

The many programs offered in the public schools are heavily based around academics, but not some youths look for more to occupy their time. “If we could make our own recreational spot in the neighborhood, I would have a big lounge are with a bunch of couches, tables, candy machines, music and a television,” said Tamara Watson, a 17-year-old from the neighborhood.
Another teen and passionate player of basketball, Omar Larmont said, “The recreational center should definitely have a basketball court and stay open later. Can you imagine the number of guys who would stop hanging on the block if we could just play ball at night?”

They Give a Little to Those Who Give More

In the evening hours, on the second Tuesday of every month, children’s laughter and fast paced steps echo through the small cafeteria, with its white brick walls and waxed tile charcoal floors. Large rectangular tables are lined up parallel to one another. Parents sit, engaging in conversation amongst themselves, on the subjects of helping those troubled youths—hurt, abused, neglected and abandoned.
Families gather at P.S. 70, located on 1691 Weeks avenue in the Bronx for the cause of helping others. Children from broken homes, faced with many struggles and hardships, are taken into the care of foster parents.
Recognizing the challenges foster parents faced—lack of information on many topics as well as sitters to watch the children while the parent are at work, a program was initiated to help. The Concourse Village Foster/Adoptive Parent Support Group is a program that provides numerous services for foster parents.
The service provides information about after school activities, camps, awareness info in raising foster children and information on grants and scholarships to name a few. Organized by Grace Zarate, a foster care Coordinator at P.S. 70, as well as a neighborhood community board member, Zarate brought the program to the Bronx as an effort to give back to the parents that give to foster kids.
Zarate has taken in hundreds of foster children between the ages of 8-10 years old since the start of the program several years ago. She has organized a number of events and meetings to inform foster parent on a number of resources to help the children in school, at home or anywhere else.
“I don’t believe I’m faced with burdens in this program, there are only challenges that can be overcome,” said Zarate. “It’s the least I can do for the many parents that are constantly challenged with the tasks of taking care of these kids.”
Holding a Master’s degree in management, Zarate took up the task of carrying the name of this prestigious group in the Central Bronx area. “I put into a lot of work acquiring the skills to be a leader, the least I can do is put them to work,” said Zarate, who constantly engages in numerous activities where she has had to take charge.
The Parent Support Group was originated in Ohio, but with foster parents complaining there weren’t enough support groups, ACS or Administration for Childcare Services sent what Zarate called a fact finding team to gather information. The fact finders returned, and ACS began offering to fund these various programs throughout the city. Various leaders stepped forth, initiating over 13 of these community service programs in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island.
Two years after these support groups were established, Zarate took the steps to get the program started in the Bronx. “I started calling, emailing and writing various members of ACS to get this program into works,” said Zarate.
With the Bronx being one of the most poverty-stricken boroughs, and having the highest percentage of children in foster care, roughly 34% according to New York City statistics, this was a program that was called for by many parents.
Zarate said she found no struggle or real hardships in getting the Concourse Village Support Group started. “This was a service that was needed and demanded by the parents who stepped up for these kids, ACS couldn’t turn us down,” said Zarate. ACS offered to fund the support group completely for almost several years, but after the fall of the economy, Zarate said things took a turn for the worst.
“At first ACS were covering all of our expenses—food, training expenses to our teen sitters, salaries for our sitters and the small fees for supplies,” said Zarate. “But when the federal cutbacks hit the city, ACS withdrew and announced that they wouldn’t be able to fund many of the programs.”
With the cutbacks in effect, the 13 support groups that offered service to foster parents and children were downsized to a mere three, in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. “If I’m not mistaken, we here deal with probably 500 parents and children a year, so imagine what would happen to all the parents and children who were serviced in other boroughs and neighborhoods,” said Marilyn Pererra, one of many Anchor parents that facilitate the program at P.S. 70.
To prevent the program from being shutdown, Zarate negotiated with ACS to pay a portion of the expenses out of pocket, with ACS paying the rest. ACS agreed, Zarate was to pay roughly $350-$450 and ACS would cover the remaining $500-$600, totaling $800-$900 per month.
“I wasn’t the only one forced to come up with the expenses to keep the program going. I heard from other coordinators and Anchor parents in various groups that they also had to find ways to cover the regular expenses,” said both Zarate and Pererra. Coming out of pocket to pay the expenses of these programs didn’t stop these coordinators from bringing giving something to those who had nothing.
On the holidays the support group also held events as well as gave out gifts to foster children, donated by families as well as agencies and organizations. “My two kids love the program,” said foster mother Wilma Taverse. “The program provides so much for these kids, things that no one could or even try to provide for them, it would really hurt these kids if these programs vanish.”

Richard Price

Creator of some of the most realistic characters in today’s non-fiction world, author Richard Price is himself a character worthy of one of his novels. From his matching yellow socks and plaid shirt, to his witty remarks, Price’s down-to-earth persona caught everyone’s attention at his book reading held in the Newman Conference Center at Baruch College.

He immediately approached the podium with a joke. “They told me to read for one minute and answer questions for 59,” he said. After breaking the ice, the author quickly delved into the introduction of his most recent novel, Lush Life. His passion for the novel was evident as his voice slightly changed to mimic those of his characters while he brought them to life.

The audience was shocked by the authenticity of the characters in Price’s novel. “You have to be really into the people you’re writing about,” says Price. “You can’t just look at it as a problem that needs to be tackled.” Price’s screenplays have a similar tone to his novels, including The Wire, a television series which seems to be popular among Baruch students, who referred to the show as brilliant.

Despite his several accomplishments, Price remains modest about his talent. “As long as I’m on the perimeter of plausibility, it’s all made up after that,” he says. Students look forward to hearing more from Price, who will be teaching at Baruch College as part of the Fall 2010 Sidney Harman Writer-in-Residence-program.

Joe Gould: Joseph Mitchell’s Secret

I found the book to be a rare find. It was as awkward and strange as Joe Gould himself. The writing was very artful, and showed Joseph Mitchell’s skills. The beginning of the book was what left a big impression on me. The way that Mitchell described Gould painted a vivid picture of the character. His living conditions, obsessions, and his style of dress were things that caught my attention. I enjoyed the fact that Mitchell chose such an obscure person to research. I liked how Gould was carved into an awkward kind of celebrity.

Hipsters, Housing, and Homicide

When Richard Price talks about his book, Lush Life, a smile rarely crosses his face. Some may say he is so passionate while talking about the novel, that his description takes all his concentration. To a New Yorker, it is obvious that he is using the ubiquitous New York sarcasm. There is something charming about Price, even though it seems like you are wasting his time when you ask him a question. He is a writer with a distinct voice that cannot be mistaken. His style is harsh, straightforward, and sounds like street talk.

Price has an interesting writing style. He researches by hanging out in hole-in-the-wall places and learning from drug dealers and bartenders facts that the police would be embarrassed to admit. In a recent interview, Price commented on writing by saying, “I’d rather do anything than write. That’s why you call it researching, or in the field.”  He calls writing, “like being stuck in a phone booth with yourself.” I like Price’s way of treating writing like a hobby. It is refreshing to see someone who can approach writing a story like it is a homework assignment he can get to later.

Luckily, Price decided to join our Baruch community for a semester. He will be teaching a select few students who will work together with him and learn from him. In Lush Life , Price lends his views on the gentrification of the Lower East Side and brings us into the multiple layers of the complex region. Following a small shooting in the LES, Price goes on a journey that includes him in the many social niches of the area. His commentary on hipsters, housing, and homicide seems to all fall into place in Lush Life.

Should Children be Named in the News?

The decision to publish the names of children in the news is a difficult one. In certain instances, such as murder cases, I feel it is necessary to publish names regardless of the person’s age. However, in the article where the Times published the names of two children, ages 4 and 5, that hit an 87-year-old woman while riding their bikes, I think it was wrong to include the children’s names.

The cause of the woman’s death was undetermined, and it is likely that she had other medical problems due to her old age. Since it cannot be proved that her death was a direct cause of the injuries she obtained from being hit by the bikes, it is not necessary to say who the children are. By simply stating their ages, the journalist can still fulfill his responsibility to inform the public without ruining the lives of the children.

You Have Herpes. Now What?

At lunch, a teenager on the cusp of adulthood listens to her friends talk about sex and contraceptives, keeping quiet since she doesn’t know anything about those subjects.  In sexual education class, she learns about sex, sexually transmitted diseases and infections, abstinence, and contraceptives.  At home, her mind is spinning with unanswered questions, but she can’t ask her parents about sex because it would be uncomfortable to say the least, and an inappropriate conversation.

This is where the Teen Resource Center (TRC) located at 125 Walker Street in Chinatown, New York comes into play.  The TRC strives to educate adolescents about the topics of abstinence, contraceptives, sexually transmitted infections and diseases, nutrition and science, acne, the dangers of drugs, alcohol, and smoking.

Emerging adults in Chinatown say that the topic of sex was never brought up during dinner table conversation if at all.  “My parents do not think I am that type of girl, and I do not express myself in that way for them to ever question or to think I am engaged in sexual activity. Chinese parents do not want to think about this.  The topic of sex to them should not even exist at this age,” said Anna Wu an emerging adult.

While many parents in the community of Chinatown ignore the topic of sex; a new breed of parents are emerging, and their views of sex are drastically different from the older generation of parents, Leticia Chiu a parent said, “I do not think it’s smart because sex is perfectly normal; teens should be aware of sex and know what to do when the time comes.”

Even if parents choose to ignore the topic of sex, it is still very much embedded in our society today where sex shows up in television shows, movies, and commercials, teenagers are still very much exposed to it. “A lot of media today such as TV shows, music videos, and movies portray a lot of sex,” and constant need for sex in media only serves to devalue the importance of sex, “we don’t think of sex as such a huge deal,” said Anna Wu.

Ignoring sex largely may be due to cultural differences says, Dr. Carolyn Chang of the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center, “I think it’s definitely cultural differences, but a lot of parents even if they’re not Chinese parents they’re uncomfortable with talking to their children about sex.”

Parents fear sexual activity will deter their children from becoming successful individuals. As Kevin Tse, a TRC Teen Health Educator said, “The topic of sex education is not widely talked upon in our Asian community, because parents do not want their teens to be sexually active at a young age.  They may be afraid that once their child learns how to protect themselves from getting STI’s, and getting pregnant than they will have sex at a young age. Many Asian families want their children to be successful in the future, and having an early pregnancy is not accepted in the Asian community.”

There are parents who are open-minded about the topic of sex, and sexual health. “I would teach my son about contraceptives. I would tell him that he should always wear condoms, and be protected. And if I don’t feel comfortable talking to him about the subject, then I’ll buy a book about it and make him read it,” said Leticia Chiu.

The TRC offers various ways to educate teens from ages 13 to 21 years old about the topic of sex and sexual health. “As a Teen Health Educator, my role within TRC is to educate patients within the clinic.  We offer teens one on one session’s and workshops to discuss any questions they may have in regards to sex, sexual health, and other topics such as nutritional health and stress management,” said Kevin Tse.

It is often easier for teenagers to talk to a friend or a complete stranger like a Teen Health Educator about the topics of sex and sexual health because they will not feel uncomfortable.  “Some kids might not be comfortable in opening up their sexual lives to their parents; they might open up to a total stranger, because they’re not likely to judge or tell anyone else,” said Leticia Chiu.

Every teenager should have an outlet for information.  If they feel that they do not have anyone to talk to they can go to TRC to seek information, “We inform all teens who come in for a one on one educational session, we inform them about abstinence, birth control options, protection, sexual transmitted infections, and sexually transmitted diseases. If teens are younger, our educators will inform them about the materials in a way that teens are most comfortable,” said Kevin Tse.

Aside from providing education sessions to teens, “TRC hosts various programs and activities such as an annual basketball tournament, a handball tournament, and a talent show over this past summer.  Another program that TRC host is the Teen Pregnancy Experience; a program in which a group of teens get to experience taking of a robotic baby,” said Kevin Tse.

For parents who may brave the unknown Dr. Carolyn Chang offers some insights as to how to approach the sensitive topic of sex.  “It’s important to just to start with a very non- accusatory tone to talk to them, and ask if they have any questions,” said Dr. Carolyn Chang.   Another method that Dr. Chang offers in talking to teens about sex is, “keep the conversation open ended, and allow the teen direct the way the conversation flows.”

Parents should also try to approach the topic of sex and sexual health with their teens around the age of 10.  “If they start talking about sex at a tender age, teens wouldn’t feel awkward about the subject later on. It’s all about early communication. Teens might even be so comfortable with their parents later on that they even update their parents about their boyfriends and girlfriends,” said Kevin Tse.

Knowledge is always power, and if teens are educated on the topic of sex and sexual health than, “hopefully it’ll cut down the number of sexually transmitted disease and infections, cut down the number of unwanted pregnancies, and just give young adults the sense that they don’t necessarily have to feel pressured into having sex or do anything else they may not be ready for,” said Dr. Chang.

Teenagers, who aren’t even thinking about having sex, should be informed of the topics of sex and sexual health since it’ll certainly impact their lives in one way or another.  “If teenagers feel that the sexual health information is irrelevant to them, because they are not sexually active, knowing this information can help them make decisions if they choose to have sex in the future. They can also relate this information to their friends who are sexually active,” said Kevin Tse.

TRC has an impact on the community of Chinatown immensely, “it has definitely benefited the community, because at least teenagers have some sort of access to information.  It may not be necessary for them to see a doctor and all that entails, but they may feel more comfortable to talk about the topics of sex to someone closer to them in age,” said Dr. Chang.

With the many services TRC provides for adolescents ranging from nutritional health to sexual health it’s a shame that not many teenagers are utilizing these educational services.  “Very rare would we see a teen walk in to TRC, and ask for information about birth control, sexually transmitted diseases and infections. Usually teenagers come to the TRC because they want be involved with our programs and get community service hours. Sometimes teenagers will come to TRC to get condoms, and if they had unprotected sex the night before they would seek our services to get emergency contraceptives,” said Kevin Tse.

Emerging adults need to be informed about sex and sexual health, because when someone contracts a sexually transmitted disease or infection, or has an unplanned pregnancy it not only affects the individuals but the families as well. “It is very discerning when a woman who comes into my office and has had sex, but haven’t been tested.  When their boyfriends don’t want to use a condom or get tested they think that it’s acceptable.  They’re putting themselves into these risky situations and not knowing the consequences,” said Dr. Chang.

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