Thursday, April 29, 2010

Activity 9 - Zachary is "[a] running Jeremiad on the vestiges of Old New York as they are steamrolled under or threatened by the currently ruthless real estate market and the City Fathers' disregard for Gotham's historical and cultural fabric." Cool.
As it turns out, while about half of the posts on this blog are, in fact, savage laments over the effects big business has on New York, the other half consists of interesting photographs of weird things. For instance, one post displays an interesting sign hanging outside a now-abandoned liquor store, another shows a weird sign found in a laundromat, and plenty of fascinating store-fronts. Granted, there are also the requisite rants about Bloomberg and gentrification, but the best part of this blog is its ability to express those problems through photographs of found objects and out-of-the way oddities. There's something touching about condemning the growth of out-of-town franchise stores in New York by posting a picture of a "Staples Now Open!" sign hung over an old clock. Ephemeral New York's mission is "chronicling an ever-changing city through faded and forgotten artifacts." It offers micro-histories of places and buildings in New York. In this sense, it's the opposite of the blog we've created. Whereas Ephemeral New York focuses on the hidden past of New York, barely protruding into the present in the form of old advertisements painted on buildings or dates carved into buildings, our blog focuses on the New York of the present. "a.k.a. The Book of Lamentations:
a bitterly nostalgic look at a city in the process of going extinct" is a combination news aggregator (excellent links!) and photo blog. It angrily laments gentrification in New York, with a focus over specific political and community conflicts over changes in the urban landscape. Reading it made me feel like a jerk for moving here. is a politics blog about the MTA. Recent topics include: budget cuts, protests over budget cuts, business deals between the MTA and other entities, the oddities of New York local politics etc. It's pretty standard so far as politics blogs go, except that it's notably well-researched. It bears little resemblance to our blog. This is a blog about pizza in New York. It has a single purpose: showing off awesome pizza joints. There's no history of New York, no commentary on local politics....just pizza. I like this blog a lot. It bears no similarity to our blog except that it's about a facet of New York life.

The comments I left on these blogs were, I'm sad to say, a bit too close to spam for me to not feel dirty leaving them. It felt wrong, but I did it anyway. My expectation is that they will be deleted quickly. Maybe there is a subtle and polite way to link someone to your blog in a comment you leave on theirs, but it's beyond my creative capacities to figure out how.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Activity five - Zachary

I attended a Manhattan Community Board 5. CB 5 represents midtown from 3rd to 8th avenues and from 14th to 59th street. The CB 5 website says that it "encompasses the midtown central business district as well as world-class cultural institutions and tourist destinations, retail flagships, major industries, famed districts, and a growing residential population." The website lists three major interests in midtown: "business and retail, residential and tourism." Midtown contains or borders the three largest regional transit hubs: Grand Central Terminal, Penn Station, and the Port Authority.
In the 2010 district needs statement the issues addressed by CB 5 include: the economic downturn, growth and development, traffic and congestion, noise pollution, homelessness, security/terrorism, police enforcement of city codes, road maintenance, park maintenance, school construction (CB 5 has a growing population and not a single school within its geographic boundaries), and library funding. CB 5, along with the other CBs, plays an advisory role to local government. From my observations at the meeting, I understand this to mean that a community board is an institution that collects and synthesizes information about its district and then, on the basis of that information, passes on recommendations to relevant government institutions. In actual practice it is unclear to me where CB 5 might fall on the ladder of citizen participation, but based on the fact that it lacks any real authority or veto power I would certainly argue that it is characteristic of some kind of tokenism.
The meeting itself was held at 127 West 27th street at the First Alliance Church. Why this location was chosen is entirely unclear to me, but I can speculate. First, the First Alliance Church is able to provide adequate space. Second, it is located in midtown in a relatively central location. Third, it is clean, modern, well-lit, and sleek in its interior design and generally has an atmosphere that appears to me more adequate to the business-style atmosphere that one might expect from one of the largest commercial districts on earth than a church.
The vast majority of the people who attended the meeting were white and, based on their style of dress and speech, affluent and well-educated. The meeting was perhaps disproportionately male, though only slightly. According to, in 2000 CB 5 was 72.3 percent white, 4.4 percent black, 14 percent Asian or Pacific Islander, and 6.7 percent Hispanic. Based on my highly unscientific estimation, I believe that the composition of people at the CB meeting were perhaps slightly skewed white based on these statistics. However, the skew appeared very slight and could easily be the result of the small number of people in the room.
The meeting began with members of the public taking 2 minutes each to weigh in on the resolutions under consideration. People were made to sign up to speak. Most of the resolutions in question were not contentious and were primarily related to liquor licenses. Two issues are noteworthy.
First, a representative from the NYPD was present to give details and, it seemed to me, offer an apology of sorts for the Easter Sunday shootings in Times Square. The facts of the case are these: For the last ten years there have been fights in Time Square on Easter Sunday. This year, however, was particularly violent relative to the minor skirmishes of past years. In two separate incidents, four people were shot and received non-life threatening wounds. Thus far, the investigation of these shootings have yielded one arrest and the execution of several search warrants. Additionally, 50 adults and 10 juveniles were arrested on Easter in connection to street fights.
The officer said that, based on information gathered during arrests on Easter, it appeared as though a great many of the people in Time Square that night were from outer boroughs. While admitting that there was no conclusive evidence, the officer did insinuate that the crimes were likely gang-related.
Contrary to what was apparently reported by a number of papers, the officer stated that the NYPD was aware of the likelihood of street fights on Easter and consequently deployed 250 officers to the area. Both shootings were committed while an officer was on the same block as the shooter.
This was the only part of the meeting where everyone in the room was totally silent and attentive. Throughout the rest of the meeting people had side conversations, walked in and out of the room, studied their phones, and stared off into space. Aside from this brief portion of the meeting, the entire thing was very informal and filled with bad jokes. However, the topic of violence added a serious tone to the meeting that didn't dissipate until the officer left the room.
The second item of interest, which absolutely dominated the meeting, was the proposed construction by Vornado Realty Trust of a massive (1,200 feet high, 2.83 million square feet) office building at 15 Penn Plaza. The construction of this tower would require special permits allowing Vornado to circumvent various zoning laws. If constructed, the tower would be the second tallest in New York City after the Empire State building.
A slew of speakers argued in favor of the construction project. They represented interests as diverse as Vornado and associated firms, business associations, construction workers, academics from Columbia and CUNY, local business owners, and non-profits. The main argument in favor of the project was related to transit. Located near Penn Station the construction of the tower would be fully in line with what, according to everyone who spoke at the meeting, a fundamental principle of urban planning: that high density development should be located near transit hubs (Penn station, as the largest transit hub in the western hemisphere, would of course be ideal). Additionally, as compensation to the community for permission to circumvent zoning laws, Vornado plans to reopen the Gimbel's Passageway in Penn Station to relieve pedestrian traffic headed north and east. This 16 foot wide corridor would include shops and art to (attempt to) make the Penn Station experience more pleasant for commuters. Other arguments in favor of the project were: that it would bring business to surrounding retail stores and restaurants, that it would provide jobs for construction workers, that it would create high-income office jobs in midtown, and that the building would make a beautiful addition to the skyline (it wouldn't).
The Land Use and Zoning Committee, which had previously met to discuss the project, retorted with a unanimous rejection of the project. They argued, in essence, that reopening Gimbel's Passageway was insufficient either to compensate the community or to relieve crowding at Penn Station. Though they rejected the idea of being "extortionist" with the developer by placing explicit demands on it, the committee, by my estimation, was simply waiting for more concessions for the developer before giving the project a go-ahead. There were no substantive arguments made against the project, just arguments made condemning the inadequacy of public-use improvements to be made by the developer. The board ultimately voted in favor of the resolution rejecting the proposal to allow the developer to circumvent zoning laws and go ahead with the project. The boards report will now be sent to relevant local agencies.
CB 5 is weird. I have no better way of describing it. Everyone except everyone seemed to be represented there, by which I mean that a multitude of business interests were able to weigh in on the issues up for discussion but literally no mention was made of the interests of residents of CB5, of homeless folks in CB5, or any other common form of humanity. This was precisely what I expected. Midtown is a commercial district first and foremost and it would be strange to see it adopting an agenda concerned with human development. In the District Needs statement, even cultural development is justified on the grounds of profit and business. I would not say I witnessed democracy at its finest, but I certainly had an interesting evening.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

ACTIVITY 8 - FIELD TRIP by Caitlin Butler

Activity 8 by Caitlin Butler

The first fieldtrip that we went to was St. Marks place. We met up at 1pm at Astor Place. We walked around St. Marks. It was amazing. The first thing that was so amazing about it was that it really felt like a small community, but yet so diverse. We walked past many shops, such as: tattoo parlors, piercing places, vintage clothing stores, and plenty of food places. We even stopped at a Tahini place. It was all Middle Eastern food. I had the chicken platter with rice and a salad. It was so good!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! At first I thought I would not like how it tasted, but once I did I was hooked right away! Our first real stop was at Tompkins Square Park, which was beautiful. I had never been there, but now I think it is my second favorite park now, beside Central Park. We stopped to look at the dog park there. There were little dogs, big dogs, and medium sized dogs. There must have been about 50 dogs there! It was amazing to watch them play with other dogs their own size of course. After that we went around 7th street and on. There we saw a couple of nice and colorful gardens. I thought to myself, how come my neighborhood isn’t as cool as this one is, with all its bright and colorful gardens and art all around. The look and feel to St. Marks was just so lively. As we walked for a long time, we also saw a Polish church. Johanna, who was our tour guide, told us that this church was very old. We then kept on walking, just observing the whole time. It was truly amazing. Another thing that was so nice about St. Marks was that everyone seemed friendly, standing the streets communicating with one another. It was just like Jane Jacobs pointed out in her book about how people in Boston were talking to one another in the streets and sidewalks. I am so going back there. Jacobs on page 30 also points out that the city streets are supposed to feel safe and to keep the city safe is a important task of a city’s streets and it’s sidewalks. I agree with Jane Jacobs. When we walked around St. Marks place and Dumbo, the streets to me felt completely safe. It made me want to just step out in the street and just stand there talking. You could actually do that where we were because the streets were very narrow at some parts and not many cars passed through it. It was overall just a really nice feeling. The use of sidewalks are a great way for having contact among people in general. Sidewalks I feel can almost be the new hangout spot sometimes. Jacobs says something very vital on page 140 that is important to point out. She says that cities, like anything else, succeed only by making the most of their assets. And that is exactly what our group did. We made the most out of the sidewalks and the streets. We used them the right way. That is the only true way that can give true strength to the cities, sidewalks and streets. Use them efficiently and well, and then it is guaranteed that the city will become stronger that way!
The next trip we went to was ours, to the Brooklyn Bridge. Maya was our tour guide for this. She told us that the building was built a long time ago and took about 4 or 5 years to finish it. It was built in the 1800’s. I have been to the bridge before. But the second time around, I really got to appreciate it more, because I actually took my time looking around, taking in the beautiful scenery in itself. We also took a nice group picture of all of us on the bridge. I love photos. They are just such nice memories. The bridge to me almost looks like an old castle. That is what I pictured the whole time. It looks old, because it is and just the way it was high up and stuff really made me think that way. The walk was very long, but at least it was a beautiful day out, where we could enjoy our walk. Then from there we walked to Dumbo, which was really nice, and had lots of cool art on the wall. The streets were very narrow and had stone pathways. I noticed that there were many photographers and video people doing work there. We must have seen about 4 people doing it. I was like wow; this place must be popular to shoot. Makes sense, it is really pretty and very urban looking. We ended up as our last and final stop at the Brooklyn waterfront Ice Cream place. The line was so long, I couldn’t believe it. The ice cream there is home made. I had the vanilla chocolate chip ice cream. It was so good!!! No wonder there was this long line that seemed to never end. We must have waited about 30 minutes before we got our ice cream. The building where the ice cream was, looked and reminded me of a lighthouse and a church at the same time. It was all white, red on the sides and some on top and green on the very top with green windows. It was really cute looking. Another thing I noticed was so many people from weddings came to this place to get their pictures taken. Even the newly engaged came too. The ice cream place is right near the water on the long flat wooden dock. So the scenery once again was amazing. We then ate our ice cream and just sat down by the dock talking and observing others. It was a really fun trip overall. I loved looking at everything, going to places I haven’t been before such as St. Marks and just hanging out with the two groups.

Assignment 8- Field Trip Lorraine O'Connell

The field trip was an amazing experience. I wouldn’t think that a five hour day with people you don’t really know and in areas you aren’t familiar with would be so much fun. We started our field trip in St. Mark’s Place and Alphabet City. This place was beyond gorgeous; the streets were packed with people upon people. The streets were very busy with the many stands, the Sunday farmers markets and just because the weather was impeccable. Group 4, Soho Flauners took us on a tour of St. Mark’s place and Alphabet City. It was interesting because I had been there once before but I had never seen it the way I saw it today. The street poles were covered in a mosaic style which I found so absurd but in a good way. I thought to myself that if I would I would totally do that to my street poles but sadly I am not allowed. Another aspect that I loved about the neighborhood and the tour was when we went into Thomkin Square Park, I believe it was called. It was a pretty park that allowed for dog lovers, families, teenagers and every person to come to a safe place to enjoy life. The park was extremely full and it provided people with a sanction in the nice weather. What I found extremely interesting was the breakdown of the neighborhood. Each block was dedicated to a different culture; we saw Polish, Armenian, Thai, Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern and so much more. That was new to me, yes I live in Queens the most diverse part of the city but there aren’t streets of just one culture it would normally be neighborhoods. But this was a great experience I loved seeing the impact different cultures have on the creation and upkeep of a neighborhood and its impact it has on the people who live there. But it wasn’t all beauty, from what we learned a lot of restoration projects occurred within the area. They knocked down old buildings only to build large skyscrapers that towered over the other buildings, leaving it in an awkward place and sticking out within the neighborhood. I think this is what upset me the most about the area, that the government got the better of it and but skyscrapers within the area. We also saw Avenue C where what we were told to be the projects of the neighborhood was located. But the hopeful part of this area was the Community Garden they had, this one was a lot more advance and more elaborate then ones I have seen before and this was a great inspiration. Other aspects of the area that intrigued me was the art. Every street had a different story through the art that was placed on the buildings walls. It is terrible to think that these artists are sometimes suppressed from expressing themselves when they show so much promise in the art field. We ended this tour to have lunch at a Falafel place, which was amazing since it was my first time eating that food, I would totally eat it again!
Our second tour was my group’s trip and it started at the Brooklyn Bridge. We walked from the Manhattan part of the Brooklyn Bridge, walked across it to the opposite side which was Brooklyn. We took them to the DUMBO area of Brooklyn and toured the industrialized inspired streets to end up at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory on Old Fulton Street and Water Street I believe. It was a very nice walk across the Brooklyn Bridge especially since it was a few of the people’s first time across it so it was nice to see how they reacted. But once we got off the bridge we ended up in a very deserted area of DUMBO where all the old factories turned art studios were located. There was such a drastic difference between St. Marks Place and DUMBO. St. Marks Place was busy, cultured, up kept buildings and colorful while DUMBO was industrialized inspired, dull, parts of it were rundown, but it was cultured but not broken down in blocks. I love DUMBO honestly I think it has such history and unseen beauty. The walls are covered in graffiti, an art form I find inspiring. There were a lot of people doing photo shoots and filming within the area which also added interest to the area. We walked all the way to the Ice Cream Factory and waited in line for the Brooklyn famous ice cream which turned out to be very good. It was a very nice boardwalk like area. As we sat there observing the area a few of us realized the influence of urban studies in the way people were reacting. No one would stand in the middle of the shared area which we found extremely interesting and funny. So a few of us decided it to the perfect time to change things up and sit directly in the middle of the shared space, which did not go over well with some people. We sat there on the floor talking away as we watched people walk past us giving us weird and interested facial expressions. They were probably wondering what possessed us to sit in the middle well if any were to ask, which no one did, we would’ve said Urban Studies did.
The trip was amazing and an interesting experience that taught me a lot. The people were a great company and I couldn’t have asked for a better group to share my time with. We got to learn about one another, about urban studies, and about the city we all live in and share. The drastic difference in areas added extra fun to the adventure and it allowed us to see different city set ups in a matter of only five hours.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tania Damiano - Activity 8 - Field Trip of "Soho Fever"

The newly renamed group ¾ (clearly made up of groups 3 and 4) “Soho Fever” made a fun, exciting, and adventurous trip from Manhattan down to Brooklyn. We met at the Big Cube in Astor Place, Manhattan right off East 8th street to start the trip at 1pm on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. We had decided earlier that group 4 was going to lead us first and then we were going to lead them. We have a crazy afternoon well planned.

From Astor Place, we walked down St. Mark’s. It is going to be almost ten years in the country, yet I have yet to see so many places! There is beautiful art everywhere, even in restaurants

St Mark’s was one of those amazing spots that I ask myself why I have never been there before. A incredibly community full of life and colors attracts any person walking down the street; many restaurants and shops for every taste and like, many churches of different religious and countries. We also passed by Cooper Union. We wanted to enter at first, but it said that the area was closed to the public.

Our first actual stop was Tompkins Square Park.

It was so incredibly beautiful and I loved being elsewhere than central park or small parks in my neighborhood. The greenery was great, the playgrounds looked fun, the people seemed friendly and about their own business. What I liked the most about it, since it was the most different, was the Tompkins Square Dog Run. It was a really big area where only people with dogs were allowed to enter. Dog-owners let their dogs run free and enjoy their time there. Many owners were socializing with others but always mindful of where their dog was and what it was doing. At the entrance there was a list of 13 rules down owners must follow. It also said that they were “financially and legally” responsible for anything that might occur to the dog.

As we left, we encountered two incredible community gardens. They were taken care of very well and I thought it was one of very few places where people KNOW how to share.

We also passed by many stunning churches, most of which were closed at that time. One to note was the “R.C St. Stanislaus” Polish Church that was observing the death of the Polish president. This is why there were many flower bouquets and sorts outside, and people crowding by the entrance.

We also went by a huge Ukrainian Cathedral that has spectacular art on it walls and big metal gates that prevented entrance to it (since it was closed at that time: around 1:30pm) since it is considered holy ground.

Before moving on, Soho Fever stopped for falafels at well known falafel restaurant. Let me point out that they also have AMAZINGGG BROWNIESS!!!

We walked back to the cube in Astor Place to take the downtown 6 train to the Brooklyn Bridge.

The massive bridge, surveilled by the NYPD was even more beautiful at eye level that it is passing by it in a car. I never wanted to cross it because I was ignorant enough to think that it would take about an hour to walk from one end to the other. But as I was toured by a group member, I enjoyed every step I took. This thing is hugeee!

We stopped right in the middle to take pictures of the mouth-dropping scenery and to learn some of the history of the bridge.

We continued walking as the group member , Maya, that was touring kept telling us many amazing facts about the bridge. When we arrived at the Brooklyn end of the bridge, I looked at the time and noticed that if we hadn’t stopped to talk and take pictures, it would have taken us 20 minutes to get across. So much for that hour!
As we continued walking through Brooklyn (our destination was the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory!), we encountered a lot of graffiti. I few of us discussed if graffiti was considered vandalisim or art. We agreed that it is beautiful to see on the streets, but would hate it if it was on our house wall. Also, we came across Golconda Playground that was completely deserted and abandon with a big “work zone” neon, orange sign on the gate. Before arriving to the waterfront, we had to pass right under the Brooklyn bridge that we had just crossed, I can’t help by repeating that: IT’S HUGE!

We finally arrived to the breathtaking waterfront. We stood in line for 15 minutes to get the best tasting home-made, natural ice cream out there. Totally worth it. When we got it, we sat down in one of the benches that was located on the sides of the waterfront. Enjoying my ice cream as I observed the water and the people there, I noticed that there was a big, empty space right in the middle. Everyone else was gathered on the sides, including us. I pointed it out to a few group members, and like crazy maniacs, we all got up at the same time and comfortably sat in the middle of the big open space. Everyone looked us like we were weird. But we were setting a trend, we were starting something. Like Whyte mentioned in his book and film, people find it awkward to be in the middle and I saw that live when at the Brooklyn ice cream factory waterfront.

If nothing at all, this trip was mind-opening time in which I was set out of my comfort zone of my expanded knowledge of Maspeth, and mostly Queens in general, as I was brought to the city and Brooklyn to experience a different people, a different air. The liberating experience of breaking the habit and being in the awkward point in the middle of a “plaza” was amazing and I want to thank “Soho fever” for making all this possible.

Tania Damiano - Activity 7 - Plaza Observation

It was a cold, windy and breezy early afternoon in March 26 at Paley Park. It had just hit 12 noon and there was no one at the plaza. Oh! Let me point out that I missed it while attempting to get there. Paley Park is a small plaza located off the corner of 53rd street and 5th avenue. If you are passing by in a hurry and certainly not looking for the park, you are at a very high chance of not seeing it. If you are walking by with little or no aim, you might just glance at it and smile at is beauty. And then, if you are like me, that has a small idea of what it looks like and knows exactly where it is, you might still miss it because it’s located so randomly. It is such a beautiful, comfortable, small space with the relaxing sound of the waterfall at the rear of the park. There are about 20 tables each with three movable chairs, and many trees, plants and sitting rock “benches.”
I figured by getting there, the park would be packed or at least with a lot of people since it was noon, most people’s lunch hour. Yet there was no one. I settled somewhere by the middle, took out my camera and my notebook and took down notes of everything I saw. Just like in Whyte’s film and book, many people passed by and smiled. Others stopped right at the middle of the entrance, pointed at the waterfall or other areas inside the park, and went on their day. They looked at the waterfall as if admiring something precious, amazed by it. At around 12:12pm, a lady wearing a long, blue coat comes in, walks towards the middle, left side of the park, put her bag on a chair and searches through it. She moves to the middles of the park, by the waterfall once she apparently fails to find whatever it was that she was looking for and leaves. A few minutes later, another woman comes in talking on the phone. She stands by the entrance of the park, up the steps, as if it was any less noisy there, “escaping” from the city street. Later, another woman comes in. She walks towards my side and sits on the “rock bench” to light up a cigarette, right under a sign that says refreshments.

It looked like she was having a bad day and smoking that one cigarette and the park was going to make it all better. I was confused by the “refreshments” sign so I approached her: “Do you come here often?” I popped the innocent question and she looked at me as if I was an undercover policeman about to arrest her for smoking or something. Who knows? She said occasionally, but yes. I asked her what the sign was about and she pointed at a big green door five steps away from her and told me that in the summer, there is a small food stand with sodas and some food (sandwiches, cafĂ© sort of)- it was closed now opening in late May. I thanked her for her help and walked back to where I was sitting. Not too long after I sat, a man that clearly knew that lady stood right next to her and lit up his own cigarette. They talked for a few minutes, exchanging smiles and comments and soon left. A man that caught my attention was one who was passing by the park, stopped, entered, and walked the pathway of the middle of the park that leads straight to the waterfall. Once he arrived at the waterfall, looks at it up and down, side to side, turns around, and walks back down the same path. Huh? Yes, he did just that. The lady that was on the phone all this time, hangs up, and approaches the waterfall. She sits down close by the waterfall and lights up a cigarette. She leaves ten minutes later when a man goes up the steps and calls for her.

Though there were only a few people, Paley Park seems to be a high point of a meeting place and a big smoking area. Smoking appears to occur at the corners, meeting somewhere around the middle or by the steps. There was a girl that came in and sat in the first chair of the first table right off the entrance. She was on the phone and did not move until a few minutes later after she hung up, when her friend met her there and they left together. A couple of adults enter the park, marveled by it and sat in the table closest to the waterfall. The lady sat with her back to the entrance and then man moved his chair so that he was almost at her side but facing her from the front, if you understand what I mean. Similar to those sitting areas that Whyte describes as “fixed individual seats” that tell you “you sit here, and you sit there.”He says that they work very well for “lovers” but not for most people. But since it seems that this couple was married, the sitting arrangement worked just fine.

The public park is very public indeed. At least at the time that I was there, there only surveillance was that of a sanitation worker that swept up one or two papers (garbage) from the floor. But mostly, it is the people that sit there that do the surveillance and watching of the park. Also, there aren’t any signs that prohibit certain people from coming in and although there is a big gate that I assume eventually closes, there weren’t any signs that said operation hours of the park. Actually, the only sign I saw besides the ‘refreshments’ one, was plaque outside the park that read: “The park is set aside in memory of Samuel Paley, 1875-1963 for the enjoyment of the public.” Those last 6 words are pretty welcoming if you ask me. And as I said, the park is right off the street, it is almost impossible that if you have spare time while you pass by it, to not simply come in and enjoying it nice, comfortable, beautiful space.

I enjoyed my time there. Though it was very empty, watching people pass by and look in to the park was really fascinating and often funny. I kept remembering Whyte’s film and his observation of what people do at Paley. There were more people amazed by the park that passed by than the ones that were in the park. Many took pictures from the entrance; others stood by the entrance and had someone else take pictures of them with the park as a background. The waterfall was calming to me and the chairs quite comfortable. Sadly, it was really cold for me that day and did not take advantage of the park as much as I would have liked. I’m definitely going back in the summer

Activity 8 - Zachary

We all met up at this big cube thing by the Astor Place stop on the 6 line. Things were slow to get moving, but this activity turned out to be well worth the confusion that started it off.

Our wonderful tour guide Johanna started off by walking us down St. Mark's place. St. Mark's place is, to say the least, a lively street. There are numerous shops selling souvenirs, food, and smoking devices (for tobacco only!) and plenty of people camped out on the steps leading up or down to storefronts.

We followed it all the way to Tompkins Square park, which we walked around for awhile. This is where I realized that, even though I've only been in New York for a few months, the streets and parks are no longer so unfamiliar. I'd been to Tompkins Square park before for a previous activity and gone back once afterwards to walk around and enjoy the greenery. Returning yet again gave me a feeling of home that has so far been rare in this strange, massive city. I feel a real sense of continuity and place when I walk around certain neighborhoods and don't need to check a map every three blocks to make sure I'm going the right direction.
After we left the park we walked south and wandered around the area between 7th street, 5th street, 1st avenue and avenue B. There I took these interesting photographs of...

A wonderful community garden

This thing (whatever this thing is)

And this Polish church (over 100 years old, according to Johanna) which was observing the death of the Polish president by encouraging people to place flowers outside.

I further discovered that this neighborhood is home to large Polish and Ukrainian communities, as evidence by the churches, restaurants, and grocery stores. Overall, I thought this was a wonderful neighborhood. According to Johanna it used to be quite unsafe, but has in recent years become what it is now: a safe neighborhood with beautiful shops and a thriving street life. It was great to walk around!

Before our next trip we stopped for lunch....

Our other wonderful guide Maya took us the rest of the way. Guess where this sign can be found...


I had never walked across this breathtaking structure before. I have no idea why I waited so long. I lack words to do justice to the effect that standing for the first time on the Brooklyn Bridge, halfway between Manhattan and Brooklyn, has on a recent Texan. Strange phrases like "an ocean of buildings" kept popping into my head as I turned around in circles facing one and then the other borough.
After we walked across the bridge we wandered around an area called DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). I don't really know what streets we walked down, but I did photograph these things:

A totally empty playground

This awesome thing!

And woah, THIS THING!

Our trip ended on the waterfront for ice cream

I have no profound thoughts about urban planning theory. What I walked away with, which I feel like is at least as valuable, is a real sense of jubilation at the city I now live in. There are a lot of reasons to study cities. The majority of the American population lives in one, they are the site of some of the grossest displays of economic inequality, they mix together people who otherwise would not associate with one another, and they raise ecological questions that, in my opinion, will be the defining ones of our time. But they are more than that. Their meaning surpasses social, political, and administrative problems. They are also magnificent expressions of the human capacity to reshape the world we live in and of our collective creativity and energy. They are things we call home, they shape in innumerable ways our perception of the world, our conception of ourselves, our life experiences, and our aspirations. I walked away from this activity with a jubilant sense of place that I hadn't developed in New York yet.

Tania Damiano - Activity 6 - Sexualized/Gendered/Queer Spaces

Maspeth completely lacks resources for working parents. There are many clinics, dental offices and such that the latest they close is 7pm. What’s more, they open late too! At around 9am or so. A working parent is usually at work anytime between 8am and 10am and out by 6 or 7pm. Clearly, the offices around Maspeth do not work for them. I was very surprised to actually notice how many clinics there are in each block and in a 10-block radius from my house, only. Yet, they all close at basically the same time. What’s the use? Also, I notice that there are very few day-care centers and nursery schools in Maspeth. There is one down 69st and 53ave- it is a day-care center located in a big one-family house. It has a big sign outside and it is open for kids of 6 months to 12 years. However, there are quite a few schools that offer programs for pre-schoolers. I thought I was missing something completely obvious by not finding places, so I decided to google it. I was right, though! There aren’t enough day-care centers in Maspeth; barely any. There are many in the bordering neighborhood of Woodside, quite close to Maspeth, but not in Maspeth. I’ve been living in this neighborhood for the about two years and all this time I thought Maspeth was a “good neighborhood.” Dolores Hayden proved me really wrong when she defined one in page 145. My definition was that of the “usually” defined thought and not of what she describes as “additional social services for the working parent” which I see Maspeth provides very little of. It must be very frustrating for parents, since I’ve seen that many that live in the neighborhood work in it as well.If it is of any consolation, there are many 24-hour or open-till-late laundromats.

Now, finding and defining male/female/gay spaces in Maspeth was really hard. There are a ridiculous amount of hair salons in Maspeth, many which have gossip-y women or gay men. Yet, neither space is defined as one or the other, because all hair salons are unisex. There is this specific place, though, “The Red Chair Salon.”

I looked up reviews online and there are very few, yet those few are great reviews. But every time I pass by, there are two or three gay men just sitting there. It is usually empty. I have no idea how much a hair cut costs there and how many people even go there daily, but being that is a few blocks down the highway and hiding between houses, unless you are from the neighborhood, you don’t know about that small salon. Many nail spas also offer unisex services in Maspeth. Clearly, many are constantly full of women, but men come in now and then. Just the other day I was doing my nails, when a young man, maybe in his early twenties, comes in to get his eyebrows done. No one was shocked or surprised to see him there, although he looked slightly shy. So there you have it, hair salons and nail spas are no longer male or female spaces, although they are sometimes dominated by one gender. Now, to the bars. Universally considered “men spaces,” bars are tricky to define. Yes, it is men that go. Yes, it is men that drink the most. But most people that work there are women. My brother used to be the assistant manager to a bar that opened not so long in 69 street and 54 avenue- “NYC 69 Lounge.” He told me that there were girls working there, and many female costumers went every night. The bar right next to where I work in Grand Avenue (Burke’s Pub)- its filled with men! Yet all the bartenders and waitresses are females. It has me thinking, is it a men space because mostly guys go there, or does it become a female space invaded by guys because mostly girls work there? I, then, consider Maspeth and “non-sexist city,” that is, masculine spaces open for women and vice versa. I also realized that there aren’t any “night clubs” here; many Pubs, bars and open-late restaurants, but not any specifically-designated-for-parties sort of areas. Maspeth seems to wake up early and sleep early.

I Googled “gay map of New York” and an extensive list of bars and clubs showed up in every link I clicked. I found maybe three areas that were in Maspeth, none of which are very known or visible. Many are in neighboring cities, but very, very few in Maspeth. A huge amount of these gay bars are located in the city and in Flushing, with others scattered here and there in Queens and Brooklyn. I think gays choose specific and designated areas everywhere, because they need a space where they can express themselves and be who they are. I don’t mean to sound corny, but let’s be real, gays are not fully accepted in NY, so many hide who they are in public, but are who they are when they are surrounded by other gays and lesbians.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Tania Damiano - Activity 5 - Community Board Visit

The Community Board 2 in Queens represents Sunnyside, Woodside, Long Island City and West Maspeth. This zone consists of mostly one and two family houses as well as a large number of apartments. These four neighborhoods are a rapidly expanding residential district, large commercial, industrial and manufacturing areas. Many subways lines and buses run through them as well as many highways, bridges, the Queens Midtown Tunnel and the BQE. The land area is about 5.2 square miles and as of the 2000 Census it has a population of 109,924. A majority of the population is White (mostly Irish, Polish, Italian), with a second largest population of Asians or Pacific Islanders.
The meeting was located in the Sunnyside Community Services Center at 43-22 50th Street in Sunnyside, NY. It meets every first Thursday of the month at 7pm. I was surprised and shocked to find out that the meeting was here since I took SAT classes in this same building for two years. I knew many activities occurred here since it is a community center, but I never imagined that the board meetings were there, even more so since I was there on Thursdays at around that time in the top floor taking classes. Anyways, I went to the site, had to sign in at the front entrance and then again when I arrived to the hall where the board meeting was to happen. The lady that was at the main table (with the agenda, flyers, etc) was very nice and kindly welcomed me and asked me if I was going to be speaking to please sign up. I said “No, I’m just here to watch.” She smiled at me and pointed me to please take the agenda and any other flyers that catch my attention. I think I grabbed every single flyer on the table, just for the fun of it. They wasted paper already anyways. I wanted to sit towards the front once I was set. But there were printed signs in almost all the tables saying “reserved for board members only.” Oh, okay. So I went and sat all the way in the back and center- not too far from the speakers anyways. It was past seven already and not everyone had made it yet.
It started with the pledge of allegiance as costume goes. The agenda written and what actually happened did not coincide and I kept getting lost on what was going on. Three out of Six committees didn’t even show up. How responsible. Aren’t they supposed to say they are not going at least? Moving on…It actually started off with public comments. Persons that signed up had a strictly timed 3 minutes to present their case. The first man that stepped up was highly upset that his now 6-month-old petition has had no response whatsoever. He simply asked for reliability on civil service and had had no answer. He claimed that government officials such as firefighters were not ready to work when called upon and many civilians were getting hurt. The only response he received right away from the board was “Go to the councilman.” He stepped out of the stage frustrated and disappointed, and left the meeting in a flash. Another man, Justin Park, confused me greatly with his claim and petition. I think he was talking about flower shops that are right in front of a supermarket that are not really part of the supermarket- that they are just renting the space and not legally allowed to work there. I didn’t get it. The city council’s response was “we are working on it.” Mr. Park was not satisfied either. Another citizen stepped up and said that the department of transit had put up signs changing the street flow that prevent people from exiting his building. He also mentioned that parking was very limited and restricted. The public comments were very useless; the city council didn’t really care. They paid more attention the board members and this is what I really want to mention: the issue that took up the most time- The PS 1 Project. A 16-foot concrete wall is being built up in LIC’s best-know museum. The Community Board has granted PS 1 $186,000 to build this wall but it now regretting it. They claim that the wall is dividing the community and giving it a worse feeling that of the “prison on Van Dam St.” The council was getting highly upset and claimed that it was their money being wasted on something that will not contribute to the community at all. The said to the PS 1 representatives that they must construct big windows or something that will allow the public to see to the inside of the museum from the outside like it always has been. The council said that unless they did something about that wall, they would have to move somewhere else to grant that area to build a school again. It was a very heated argument that ended in yells and curses. The council mocked the PS1 representatives greatly.
Also, there were many institutions and groups wanting to be represented and taking donations and asking for help. For example, the Boy Scouts of Astoria, Academy of Medicine, Child Care of NY, Home-owners Association, Troop 65. I actually spoke to a nice lady that sat at the table where I was sitting- she was from the Home-owners association and she told me she was there because she once belongs to the community board members but decided to leave. She told me some general info about the meetings. She claimed them to be “interesting” –which they were- and that it was just a meeting to discuss issues in the community. She said it would all be very organized and time- all she said was true. Oh, and surprise surprise- she graduated from Hunter and took Urban Studies as a course!
I was quietly sitting in the back and wanted to yell at the CB members many times! They were being so useless and rude! I hated how they mocked the PS1 people. I don’t even care much about the wall. I mean, I know how important PS1 is to the community and I think the wall is a stupid thing to do, but the attitude of the member was so rude, so unprofessional, so annoying. There was a guy sitting at the table in front of me that wanted to voice a simple opinion about the topic, so he raised his hand. The chairman bluntly said “I’m sorry young man, but public comments are closed. This discussion is only for public officials.” The young man response was: “I just want to say something quick.” The chairman said “I’m sorry young man, but public comments are closed. This discussion is only for public officials.” And seriously prohibited him from talking. Although the meeting was overall interesting, I find them so useless since nothing ever seems to get resolved anyways.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Activity 7- Plaza Observation

by Caitlin Butler

The place that I was supposed to go to observe was Chase Manhattan Plaza, but when I got there, I could not observe it because it was under construction, just my luck. So, I then decided to go observe the other plaza that was right across the street from the Chase Manhattan Plaza. It was right on the Brown Brothers Harriman building, located 140 Broadway to be exact. This particular plaza was being used mostly for sitting, eating, and talking to others. I saw this one man who sat up on the actually plaza platform where the trees where planted in. I do not know why he just didn’t sit on the bench that was there, but hey to each it’s own! Every type of person was there, but it was mostly business men and women in business suits who were using this plaza to sit and eat their lunch I noticed. They were also using the plaza for smoking, to talk on the phone, to do their work, or to just people watch. The people there were using this plaza as the plaza was intended to be used, but the one thing that I noticed that was not right was people littered near the trees and put some of their garbage there, instead of putting it in the regular garbage. The plaza is surrounded literally by this big tall black shiny building called Brown Brothers Harriman. This building is right in the middle of two other large buildings. The building is also surrounded by all food venders such as, Halal food, smoothies, hot dog stands, etc. To the left of this building, there is this big red cube looking piece of art that had a hole right in the middle of it. There is also a lot of construction that was going on here with buildings. Bank of America, HSBC bank, and Chase bank all surround the plaza as well. There is plenty of sitting place at the plaza. To be exact, there is 4 big black shiny marble looking benches for people to sit down on. It was very clean as well. You can tell that it is very well kept. There are 28 trees lined up all along the plaza. This I think makes people feel more at ease and feel like they are surrounded by nature. You cannot just have all buildings around. That would be just too depressing to look at all day during break or lunch hour. The plaza itself is kept very clean, because I saw a man who cleans it up, that is his job there, which is always nice. This makes people want to be there more I would think. The building itself inside had security man there, so that if you went inside this building, the security guy would ask where you were going. This is good because it’s a way to keep out the undesirables. That is vital, especially in such a high end business spot such as Wall Street. There are also surveillance cameras all inside the building, but I did not see any outside. For all I know, the camera could be hidden outside too, but maybe I did not look hard enough or maybe they just hid it really really well. This plaza spot was very public to the outside world. Anyone could sit there on the benches. There was a lot of room. I felt very relaxed and calm when I just sat there observing the people. I also took in the fresh air of the trees around me and the fresh smell of Wall Street. I just felt really special, sitting in such a money power place. I mean after all, Wall Street is where rich business men in suites come to work and make the big money. I also noticed that there was light hitting the building from up above, which like in the video we watched, the man said that light is vital from buildings, because even if you do not get light coming down from straight above you, the light that is bouncing off the building also helps. Any light will do! The plaza I felt was like it’s own little community that had diverse people there. I also noticed lots of school and regular tours going around the plaza and walking around it. Overall, I enjoyed doing this project very much. It was my first time going down to Wall Street. I thought that people were busy, but overall nice. It was very easy getting directions there from people too. That is probably because there are lots of tourists there that need directions. I noticed it was filled with tourists there all walking around with their cameras in their hands taking a lot of pictures of Wall Street. I also stopped by and did some cheap jewelry shopping there. I figured I might as well enjoy myself there, while I was doing a school assignment. I also went to get some lunch as well. All I have to say is, thank God is what such a nice day outside.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Plaza - Zachary

The plaza outside of the Brooklyn Public Library is beautiful. Around the edges are low walls and ledges that are the perfect height for sitting on. After noon it is mostly shaded, but the day I went was warm and I found the shade to be very pleasant. Probably as a result, I saw a diversity of people engaged in all sorts of activities. Several people stand, pace, or sit and talk on phones. People sit on or lean against the outer walls of the plaza and watch the street. At any given time at least one man stands next to the doors to the library. Several mothers play with their children. Two women stop to eat lunch.
One thing that I noticed about the plaza is that people gravitate towards the edges. This struck me because Whyte writes that: "People didn't move out of the main pedestrian flow. They stayed in it or moved into it, and the great bulk of the conversations were smack in the center of the flow". Not a single person sat on the steps to the library. Only two people stood in the flow of traffic, one of them smoked a cigarette and the other talked on a phone, both of which tend to lend themselves to pacing.
Whyte writes that "[t]he area where the street and plaza or open space meet is a key to success or failure. Ideally, the transition should be such that it's hard to tell where on ends and the other begins." The Brooklyn Public Library plaza is a pleasant one, I think, almost entirely as a result of its wonderful relation to the street. The three staircases that lead up to the library are inviting. They have low steps and offer plaza-goers a nice view of one of the entrances to Prospect Park, traffic passing by, and the Civil War monuments across the street. They blend in with the street such that it makes sense to walk through the plaza as a shortcut around the corner (something I saw several people do). Even though the street is readily visible, the low walls and planters that form the outer edge of the plaza provide some shelter from the street.
Another key aspect mentioned by Whyte ("What attracts people most, it would appear, is other people.") that makes this plaza a nice one is that the library itself draws a constant stream of people going in and out, providing people sitting in the plaza with something interesting to watch. In fact, I noticed several plaza-goers doing nothing but watching other people. One man, however, seemed disturbed by the idea of people-watching. When he noticed me counting people in the plaza he stood up, mean-mugged me, and walked away.
Two mysteries presented themselves to me during my stay at the plaza. First, there was an incredibly high turnover. By my estimation, 80 percent or more of people stayed no more than ten minutes. The rest stayed no more than fifteen. I saw several entire generations of people come and go in my hour-long observation. Why no one stays longer is unclear. It might, however, have something to do with the number of lone individuals that I observed. The demographics of the plaza are distinctly tilted towards lone women, weirdly contradicting Whyte's observation that a successful plaza tends to have women and groups. By this standard, it is entirely unclear whether this is a successful plaza or not (although the constant presence of at least some people seems to indicate that it is a success).
Second, distinctly more people sat on the right side of the plaza (if one had one's back to the doors to the library). This is inexplicable. The only guess I can venture is that the right side offers a better view of traffic and people at the nearby monuments.
Three other features of note. First, the plaza has no food or water and very few trees. These features would very likely improve its attendance (it never reached maximum occupancy). Second, there were two security cameras that were ultimately not very intrusive given how high up they were (they are pictured below). Third, I went to Prospect Park immediately afterward and found, relative to the space, vastly more people. I think competition with the park probably decreases the use of the plaza.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Activity 7- Seagram Building Plaza

Lorraine O’Connell
Urban Studies
Assignment # 7- Plaza Observation

I went to the 77 Water Street Plaza on a Saturday and it was an amazing place. It was located at 375 Park Avenue, between 52nd Street and 53rd Street in Midtown Manhattan. It was busy and hectic, all my observations were extremely similar to the video we watched in class and relates to studies I’ve been doing in Sociology. The trip was an interesting because I didn’t go people watching by myself but instead brought a friend, which made the experience even more elaborate and I saw things through him that I would not otherwise see. The plaza was being used for a variety of activities; people were sitting and talking, eating, playing, sleeping, and most interesting sun bathing.
People watching is extremely fun, and it is a popular activity at the plaza. There were a lot of people there because the weather was extremely gorgeous, and I was definitely not the only person people watching so it made for an interesting time, since I controlled what I was doing and wanted to know why they were people watching and what they got from the experience. There were a lot of people who seemed to be tourists, and then you had your business people on their lunch break, the ordinary people taking a rest, and what seemed to be homeless people there. In the movie William Whyte talked about this Plaza in great depth, but the in the movie it seemed to be more populated and busier then what I examined it to be. Yes, the study William Whyte did was very similar to what I saw in the Plaza myself, but I did not feel that he truly thought the Plaza would become what it has. It is center for eating, talking, and sitting, scenery looking and just hanging out. The people there were of all culture all religions and of all backgrounds, each person had their own purpose for being there and I could only guess why they were there.
William Whyte talked about the usefulness for corners which proved to be very true, people walked around the entire plaza in search of a corner seat, or a seat next to the water or in the shade. All these aspects and behavioral moves were covered in the movie. But what William Whyte didn’t cover was the little habits each gender had for finding a seat or sitting. I watched as both men and women seeked out a seat. When women looked for a seat they’d look for one in the sun and near empty areas (which Whyte covered) but they did before the sat was different from men, they would clean the step before sitting, wiping it off with there hand. Out of the large group I watched at least 80 % of them did that and men only about 30% or so wiped the seat. It was pretty funny because it was a little quirk I picked up on and found it very interesting because then I caught myself doing little things like that.
There were food carts surrounding the plaza making it easy for people to eat and enjoy themselves. There were trees in certain areas but the majority of the plaza was open to sun since the only seating spaces were stairs. Never did the stairs get crowed to the point people were unable to get past. No one was patrolling the area but I quickly picked up on the security guards within the building watching the people and keeping a close eye on those who seemed to be a threat. It was a very active area that had shifts in the groups of people. The art piece within the plaza caused a lot of attention and questioning. People stood around it and looked at it with amazement and intrigued face which I found to be very funny because it was a very tourist thing to do and yet everyone was doing it.
People are an interesting species to examine and its done everyday without notice so this project helped me elaborate on how I feel about little habits and quirks people have, whether it is consciously or sub consciously people are interesting. This project proved to be similar in what Whyte examined but it’s only elaborated since the years the study was done.