Monthly Archives: March 2014

Lisa K: Abundance vs. Access

I live in the small upstate community of Greenfield Center, New York; which is just a few miles outside of the city of Saratoga Springs. Greenfield is a small rural town of 8,000 residents with a small infrastructure of a town hall, post office, and a strip of shops that includes a pizza parlor, wine and liquor store, and a Stewart’s convenient store. Residents of the town tend to form community bonds based largely on their participation at church, interaction at the local primary school, and in some cases in development style neighborhoods. Because of the rural nature of our town there is no real hub of community activity. After the children have finished grade school they move onto middle and high schools which are located in Saratoga Springs and so it is common for neighborhood connections to dwindle and many families move on as the children leave home. For this reason I have extended the scope of my neighborhood to include Saratoga Springs which has a population of 29,126, according to www.city-data.com.  The population density listed for Saratoga on this site is 948 people per square mile or low density. The population density for Greenfield is listed at very low density, which reflects the rural characteristic that I have described.

Environmentally, Saratoga Springs is considered to be sound. The air quality index provided on city-data.com is listed as significantly better than the national average, with the ozone quality listed as better than average. While residents of Saratoga receive their drinking water from a municipal water filtration system, the residents of Greenfield have private wells. Also in contrast is the manner in which homeowners heat their homes. 73% of the residents of Saratoga use a natural gas utility, with another 19% using electric heat, and finally 5% burn fuel oil in their furnaces. Conversely, 57% of the folks in Greenfield purchase fuel oil while another 22% use natural gas which must be delivered by truck since there is no utility infrastructure available to them. Another 11% of Greenfield’s residents burn wood and 8% have electric furnaces. If we do the math we realize that only 3% of Saratoga residents and 1% of Greenfield residents use some form of alternative, non-carbon based heat sources.

Looking to gain a deeper perspective on how residents of the area think about sustainability I selected four individuals to interview. I asked each person to  define sustainability,  describe what types of changes have they witnessed in our community, what issues do they consider to problematic in the community, and what their thoughts were on food security. Of this group, all four have resided here for over twenty years. Two of them were in their late twenties, while the other two were in their fifties. All four are educated, well informed individuals who have some interest in sustainability issues. Surprisingly, articulating a definition of sustainability was somewhat of a challenge for each of them.

John, a middle aged man who has worked in the restaurant industry his entire life felt that sustainability involves “using natural resources so that they don’t run out, using them efficiently”. While he feels strongly about the importance of embracing sustainability as a life style, he doesn’t feel that most people take it as seriously as they could. Within the community he has seen a greater level of participation in recycling initiatives, but mostly because of mandatory ordinances. Within the business community he is aware of a trend which embraces energy conservation when possible. He says that tax incentives for energy audits and the assistance of utility providers who offer savings programs for customers who switch to low energy lighting systems are big factors.

Peg, a middle aged woman who has lived in Greenfield for 28 years feels a strong connection to the social components of sustainability. She is more focused on social programs such as second hand clothing drives in Saratoga and a newly created Code Blue program which offers beds to homeless people when the temperatures outside dip below 10 degrees. She sees the “dichotomy of rich and poor” as a serious problem in Saratoga. After witnessing a group of homeless people sitting on a brick ledge behind a downtown store Peg composed a moving poem about the plight of the less fortunate in Saratoga Springs. She recently told me that she noticed a segment of wrought iron fencing had been installed on the same brick wall, obviously so people could no longer sit there. The presence of homeless citizens in Saratoga Springs is not included in the vision of abundance and wealth embraced by the downtown community.

Interviewee Michael, a 28 year old lifelong resident, enthusiastically admitted that he doesn’t quite comprehend the true meaning of sustainability. He understands the environmental component, but instinctively questions how sustainability might include financial and other components. He is bothered by what he senses to be a lack of preservation in the historical nature of Saratoga. Several outdated commercial sites in the downtown area have been replaced with large, lavish new condominium and apartment complexes. Complete with boutique like businesses, this trend of development has changed the historically Victorian nature of the city. Michael is concerned about what the long term impact of this type of development will be.

My last interview was with Sarah, also 28 years old and a lifelong resident. She views sustainability as a “lifestyle”. She admits that making sustainability a priority can be a challenge. It is easy to become overwhelmed, but awareness of the benefits of choosing sustainable practices is the key. In her opinion, consumption is an issue in the community. Because of the emphasis on wealth and growth in Saratoga, Sarah says she witnesses a “duality value of new expensive versus new cheap”. Ironically, neither supports a sustainable lifestyle. New expensive involves consumption for the sake of consumption as a method of displaying wealth. New cheap involves consumption based on cost value with the focus on quickly throwing an item away.

With regard to food security, all four of my interview subjects felt that we live in a region with an abundance of healthy food alternatives. There are several health food stores in which one can purchase healthy, vegetarian items and a large organic supermarket opened a year ago with another currently under construction. Farmer’s markets offer fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy products year round. Peg shops with the local famers, taking advantage of the indoor winter market. Michael feels that eating healthy foods is a good way of focusing on the quality of food instead of quantity. Sarah notices an increase in farm to table themed menus in local restaurants, but worries that this could be just fad. All three subjects agree that access to these food sources because of higher costs is an issue for many people.

But John went as far to say that despite the appearance of abundance in the city, he is aware of a school district just miles down the road that has begun a weekend back pack program to put food in the homes of struggling families. There are three food pantries in Saratoga Springs, as well as one in Greenfield Center. A soup kitchen, located in the Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church in Saratoga, serves a hot meal to an average of 95 people daily. A delivery service exists to distribute a three day supply of food for elderly or disabled shut-ins who have no other way of receiving food. This service addresses the needs of those living in rural communities such as Greenfield Center.

My own observations support both the statistical assessment of our local environmental quality and the insidious disparity in accessibility to the community’s abundant food resources. In sharp contrast to the urban landscape of Manhattan, which I recently visited, the terrain here is green –although currently covered in a blanket of ice and snow. The neighboring lakes and forested areas at the foothills of the Adirondacks support robust, regional ecosystems of flora and fauna. The city of Saratoga Springs is lush with a beautiful downtown park. Just minutes away is the State Park which includes mineral springs, walking trails, a winter ice rink, and a golf course.

With regard to sustainability, the debate surrounding the placement of a Las Vegas style casino in Saratoga has brought to light an example of how the priority of prosperity might trump the priority of environmental sustainability. The residents of Saratoga Springs mostly object to the development of an additional gambling facility in their community. Despite the potential economic growth that could result from an additional gaming site, quality of life issues seem to be a priority. Many of the opponents of this project are anxious to voice their opposition and I think largely so because they haven’t had a voice in the development of private high end properties that have already taken place.

Because the casino project will be decided at a state level, alternative sites are being suggested. I saw a letter yesterday that proposed placement of this gaming facility in the town of Corinth, NY. Corinth is the next town north of Greenfield Center and is located just past the boundary of the Adirondack Park. The logic of this proposal is that the economy of the area would benefit from jobs and placement within the park would be a draw because people coming to stay at the casino will be attracted by outdoor sports and activities available to them. I strongly oppose this proposal based on the environmental impact alone. I also think the assertion that gamblers will come to the resort so they can hike, ski, swim, etc. is based on faulty logic and casinos don’t want visitors leaving the facility to participate in other activities, they want them on the gaming floors spending money.

I think that the perspectives of the people I have interviewed coupled with the efforts of people at food pantries and other social institutions working to address the inequitable access to the bounties available in our community provides insight into how we address environmental components of sustainability but fail to fully understand economic and social components.  My personal goal this summer is to participate in our local food community and work as someone who advocates for those who struggle to afford healthy food and/or educate households who don’t fully understand the benefits of eating healthy and creating solutions that address the obstacles that prevent them from doing so. I have currently identified three possible summer employment possibilities. I am applying to work at a local nursery, helping them to start seedlings in the hot houses now and then working with the public during the selling season. I have found a farm that supplies food at two local farmers markets and needs someone to organize staffers and set up at these markets. This farm is part of the local community supported agriculture (csa) initiative. Finally, the recently opened Healthy Living grocery store is looking for staff in their Saratoga Springs shop. I love the idea of working in the retail setting of a store that offers so many healthy, organic food products; has a sit down café; and holds cooking and educational seminars on a regular basis.

I look forward to spring. The prospect of just one of these projects motivates me to feel positive about moving forward in my plan to give more power and voice to those who want to eat healthy but aren’t sure how to go about doing so, including myself. Now … if I could just be cloned … I could hold all three jobs and really make a difference!

 

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Lynn P: The Once and Future Village

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A bohemian paradise, there was something charmed about the neighborhood that inspired talent. Geniuses such as James Baldwin, Bob Dylan, Kahlil Gibran, Edna St Vincent Millay, Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain all lived here and many more.  This area was called the “Village” because of its low-rise character and small winding tree-lined streets. Plaques on buildings state the great artists who once lived there. Its bars and coffee houses are famous for the legendary personalities who frequented them. Those days are over.

As the city became more and more populated developers began converting the warehouses in the area west of Greenwich Village into living spaces. For instance, located in what is now called the West Village, my apartment, a converted loft, used to be a tea warehouse. I have been here for thirty eight years but knew the area long before as my father’s family lived here. My grandfather was born on Thompson Street at the turn of the nineteenth century and although my family has since moved uptown, as an artist I was drawn back here. I also wanted my son, a future artist himself, to attend the progressive village grammar school, PS 3.

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Life was wonderful here but even stalwart icons change. Now tall modern glass buildings have sprung up all over and our waterfront is walled off to the rest of the area. Even with the dedicated work of groups such as the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, this area is no longer so low-rise and only very successful artists can afford to live here.  To help understand how these changes impact our community and its sustainability, I interviewed four of my neighbors. Each one had been drawn to this neighborhood for the freedoms it afforded and to be in the vanguard of artistic, cultural and political thought.

Arlen, a 66 year old retired teacher and singer who has lived here since 1975, fears that the waterfront will “become like north Miami.”  He is also upset that the “chain stores replaced the mom and pop stores.” Unfortunately for the character of the area, big chain stores are the only shops that can afford the high rents here. Diana, a 64 year old musician, who has lived in her building for the past 35 years, agrees “it is very sad that the changes are making the Village become like any mall in the USA.”

The Village was noted for its unusual restaurants and curio shops but that all changed after the Koch administration vetoed commercial rent regulations for the popular neighborhood. “All but 3 of the 15 panel members, named by Mr. Koch and the City Council 13 months ago, concluded in a report to be released today that rent controls for small retail businesses were unnecessary.” (2)  Consequently, commercial landlords can leave shops empty for years until they get the high rent that they want and not lose money. This not only artificially raised commercial rents but it also is responsible for the loss of our unique shops. Many shops had been here for generations but could not afford the doubling and tripling of their rent. Healthy restaurants, which use food from sustainable based farms and tend to be reasonably priced, cannot afford the high rents so there are few here. Unless you cook for yourself, you must leave the neighborhood for an organic meal.

Even mundane shops necessary for the commonplace essentials of city living such as self-service laundry mats are no longer here. One must leave the neighborhood to do their laundry (not practical if one has a lot of laundry to carry and must take a subway.) Paula, a 70 year old building superintendent who was born in Chelsea and has lived in the West Village since 1968, complained  “I had to get a car so I could go to Brooklyn to shop as I can’t afford to shop here and there is no longer anywhere in the neighborhood to do my laundry!” She and a friend are sharing the car since she, a city dweller all her life, never learned how to drive. This is her first car.

Because coops provide financial opportunities, the bankers, Wall Street traders and lawyers, whose main interest in life is money, moved into village coops in droves. Paula, mourning the loss of the character of our neighborhood explains “This used to be a working class neighborhood but now the “one percent” lives here.” “All they care about is making money.”  Our hospital, the only one for downtown Manhattan, was closed in order to build even more luxury housing. People are dying because ambulances take so long to get to the east side or uptown hospitals. Coops helped take the “neighbor” out of neighborhood.

Diana feels proud of the Village’s “diversity of ideas and uniqueness” but adds “less so lately.” She is upset about her building going coop and complains “My building used to be like a family. It is very cold now.” “Creative people aren’t here anymore!” Michael, a 70 year old musician and singer who has lived here since 1971, is upset with the “a__holes” who clog up the sidewalks with “their technology (texting), the greedy landlords and Nuevo riche.”  He exclaims “The world is going to hell in a basket!”

Because of recent traumas, our neighborhood thinks about disaster in a much more realistic fashion.  Being so close to the World Trade Center, the Village was traumatized by 911. So much smoke was coming into my 8th floor apartment that I wore a mask at home so I decided to leave. I had to walk out of the neighborhood with my 3 dogs tied to a shopping cart with suitcase and dog food, as no traffic was allowed below 14th Street. Then in 2012, hurricane Sandy flooded our low lying area causing us to lose electricity and most of the comforts and conveniences of modern city living. For days we were cut off from the rest of the world.

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Paula worries about the infrastructure of the neighborhood and “What if two “Sandies’ hit us back-to-back?” Arlen feels that it is “up to the individual” as far as food security but only has canned soup in case of another disaster.  Diana, a long time vegan who eats a lot of raw food, worries that although she has enough food for her pets in case of another disaster, she will not have food for herself. “I remember during the blackout, people emptied the shelves.” Michael is frightened of the future. “I live in fear and always keep a lot of canned goods on hand.” Every January first he thinks “OMG, what is going to happen this year?”

When asked about recycling and sustainability Michael says “Why should I worry about recycling when the presidents are blowing up the world? Is my little recycling going to help?” He feels that recycling makes people feel good but that they “won’t walk to work,” for instance, or “give up their technology” in order to help sustainability. “The rich bitches and trust fund babies won’t give up anything.” To Diana sustainability means “self-supporting, to continue and replenish.” But, when asked about sustainability, Paula exclaims “What sustainability? No one cares! Everything is so crazy!”

My coop is installing new airtight windows. Whether they are doing this to save money on fuel or for conservation doesn’t matter. To further aid sustainability habits, I believe it would encourage people to recycle at home more if there were public recycling alongside garbage cans. And, I cannot understand why our building puts flattened cardboard boxes in plastic bags for recycling pickups. We are not the only building that does this, many do. It is also a common practice to hose the sidewalks down in the summer and clean the leaves off the sidewalks with a leaf blower in the fall. Not only do these methods of cleaning the sidewalks waste water and fuel, the leaf blower is incredibly loud! It would be more sustainably correct to just sweep the sidewalks.

Right now the streets are colored white because of the huge amount of salt the city continues to apply, even though we only had a dusting of snow last night. The Parks Department puts so much salt on sidewalks bordering parks that it is 1’ thick in places. So much salt must kill our precious flora and fauna. On a positive note, the city has installed more bike hitches for people who own bikes and instituted a citywide bike share program which has been a success.

It kept its’ character for over one hundred years but the village that we loved is over. Hopefully, as we continue to ignore the destruction of our environment, in the next age, thousands of years from now, there will be another village on this land. I have no doubt that it will also be ahead of its time, as something here stirs the creative.

1.    http://rightherenyc.com/THEYLIVEDHERE_writers.html

2. Purnick, Joyce. (1986, June 5). Koch Panel Opposes Commercial Rent Control. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/1986/06/05/nyregion/koch-panel-opposes-commercial-rent-control.html

One-man show. Dylan hangs out on top of a NYC roof in 1962. 3.3.2014,http://www.biography.com/people/bob-dylan-9283052/photos/bob-dylan

Meir Towers, NYC Architecture, Photo,  3.3.14, http://www.nyc-architecture.com/CHE/CHE030-PerryWest.htm

Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation photo, 3.3.14, http://www.gvshp.org/fwvaprilrally.htm

Bernell: University Heights, the Bronx

As a resident of the University Heights section of the Bronx, NY, I was amazed to learn about the ethnic diversity within our community. Surrounded by three other sections of the Bronx, Fordham Road, known mostly for hits shopping district, Morris Heights, and Mount Hope, our neighborhood is host to a thriving Hispanic and African American population which, based upon  the 2010 census, was 42 percent respectively for each nationality. The remaining 16 percent was comprised of Korean, Chinese and Asian influx of Americans that are comprised of mostly second generation families, as reported by the Community Board 5 local demographic survey of 2012.

Economically, 76 percent of the residents within the University Heights section of the browns participates in some form of state aide, either TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Family’s) or SNAP (food stamp program), as reported by New York City HRA office in 2012. University Heights has been fortunate to have in its borders Bronx Community College, a CUNY school that performs many outreach functions for youth and other Adult Literacy needs. Bronx Community College houses the area’s largest General Education Diploma preparation program and consistently trains 23 percent of University Heights residents in some form of work based training imitative. According to Ms. Ann Reynolds, Assistant Director of the colleges COPE program that works with students who are currently on Public Assistance, ” Many of our students that attend Bronx Community College are either on Public Assistance or utilizing some sort of workforce based grant. In either case our program tries to enable the students to have economic stability as they pursue their career and educational goals.”

University Heights is also a community under revision with the NY Parks department restoration of Aqueduct Park. Aqueduct Park is a located 1 block east of University Avenue and runs along Aqueduct Avenue from Kingsbridge road to Burnside Avenue. Many locals use this park as a quick picnic area or biking trail that’s grants them a quick getaway from the bustling crowds of Fordham Road. By June 2014, the last leg of the park from Fordham Road to 183rd Street will be completed and reopened in time for the local shuffleboard and handball tournaments that have taken place every year in the park since 1980. The park also offers a great walking path to the Kingsbridge Armory located on Kingsbridge Road. It was rumored that Aqueduct Park used to be a water aqueduct that provided water to the neighboring sections of the Bronx before it was closed down and replaced by the water reservoir located on 190th Street and Reservoir Avenue across the street from Lehman College concert hall.

While doing this report, I was fortunate to speak with a few residents that lived in the area for some time. One thing they all had in common was they had no idea what sustainability was. I had to explain it to them before I could proceed with the questioning. However, Vicky C a 30 year resident, said this: “With the reforming of the park (Aqueduct) we are not getting a composting area. I had no idea what composting was until I looked it up. Then I learned it was a good thing for the environment and even better for our many surrounding community gardens”

Most of the residents that I interviewed all agreed on the following;

Small Business Ownership was up in our area and continuing to grow. Many of our small business owners are residents as well so it feels great to see a local person invest in the community where they live.

Crime is unfortunately up with the influx of small local gangs that hang out in the park area as it is getting restored.  James H., a resident of 5 years, said, “These same 10 young men just sit on the fence of the park doing nothing everyday all day. I leave for work and they are there. I come back home they are there. This has got to stop.” The group of guys call themselves the “New Crew.” They say they are an offshoot of the old 12 O’clock crew that use to be in the park many years ago. However, unlike the 12’Oclock crew who were famous for their community work, these guys just sit there like Mr. James H stated. I witnessed them in the two weeks that I prepared this story just sitting in the park. When I tried to approach them as an older male, the youths were not belligerent, but declined to comment.

The last thing they agreed that our community lacked is more community based programs for youth and seniors. Currently, Good Shepherd services has a host of programs in our community but there is a waiting list for service. Mary K., a young mother of 2 children and 7 year community resident, states, “ I think it’s sad that I live in this community, but my kids in order to get after-school services must travel to Mount Hope every day for after school program.” Years ago in my youth, going back at least 20 years, there were many programs in this area. However, with budget cuts and a lack of political support those programs have dissipated. As member of our community board I know firsthand that many program proposal come across the desk of our local leadership yet get pushed back because of lack of space or other additional requirements that are required to implement the program in our community.

In conclusion, University Heights is a community that has been hit by the current economic situation that our country has been facing for the past 5 years. The latest statistics of male unemployed that I received from the New York State Bureau of statistics showed that as of November 2013, 47 percent of males in our community were unemployed. Women were at 38 percent. Even with the influx of jobs created from small business in our area many of those jobs are awarded to families of the business owners. Carl Zanta, the owner of Zanta Boutique on West 183rd Street in University Heights, said, “I can only afford to hire family. With my profits being unsteady for the past 3 years I don’t want to bring in somebody else and promise them a paycheck that may not really be there.” As a resident of close to 30 years I have seen my community change its face many times. However, in these modern times I can only wonder what vehicle can be used to lower my neighbor’s reliance on state aide and open the door for many of them to educational opportunities that can lead to career building jobs in the future.

Tessa Lou: Chelsea

The average New Yorker has many associations with Chelsea, the area in Manhattan from about 14th Street to 29th Street ending at Sixth Avenue on the east and the Hudson River to the west, varying from (male) gay[1], to artist lofts and galleries, to old style Hispanic, to nightclubs, to the more recent well-to-do families and the highline; some might even think of punk rock and artists at the Chelsea Hotel on 23rd Street.  As a life long Chelsea resident I have seen the area change dramatically, while still maintaining some of its integral core structures and soul.  A brief timeline of the history of Chelsea (crdcnyc.org/Websites /…/History/New Chelsea History Timelime.pdf) illustrates how it came to be as rich and fascinating as it is, deeply rooted in the cradle of the industrial revolution, much of its population sprang from the building of railroads along the Hudson River, which line Chelsea.  Now insert the topic of environmental sustainability contextualized in the heart of the industrial revolution and all its irrevocable affects that makeup our American history!  The industrial revolution effectively accelerated the magnitude of damaging and polluting man-made effects on our planet with powerful manipulation and “betrayal” of natural resources.  It also engendered the very meaning of capitalism, the paradox of progress being deeply ensconced within it, and perhaps the true modern beginning of the growth model of economics and society.

The Hispanic and Irish who built the railroads here, settled in Chelsea.  Of course prosperous white families and singles, have since replaced those populations.  According to city-data.com (as of 2008) Chelsea is about 70% white, the second largest group being Hispanic, then Asian and Black about the same, and mixed races are the smallest population.  The average household income in 2011 was just about $99,000, compared to New York’s average of $49,461 and interestingly most of the homes where built before 1939; 11,556 homes to be exact.  These statistics speak to the amount of wealth needed to live here now but at the same time some of its old and established feel remains, due to its old structures which stand like monuments to the time when America’s industry first thrived.  These old buildings were often factories and warehouses built before and at the turn of the 20th century, with many residential buildings built in the 1930’s.   Chelsea is still home to various industries, from the antiques industry to the photo district.  There once was a floral district and a fur industry, as well as Department Stores on the edge of Chelsea along the “Ladies Mile,” which kept new construction low.  The influx of big box chain stores lining Sixth Avenue have largely replaced the old and have revitalized under utilized space.   There is now much new residential construction with the onset of the real estate boom of the 21st century.  So what does this mean in terms of the environment and sustainable practices?

Two women that I interviewed, both about ten-year Chelsea residents, fit into the upwardly mobile, nuclear family demographic.  Jackie, 40 and mother of three, talked about how central and convenient Chelsea is.  There are so many types of food stores for example, and everything she needs for her family is within walking distance.  In this way Chelsea is comparable to an old village-like lifestyle that seems to have been a more natural or organic way of life.

Another ten-year resident, Audrey, 36, mother of two and a speech therapist in the public school system, mused about how the increased number of people in the area, the city and the world in general, negatively effects things by putting more pollutants into the atmosphere.  She also noticed how vehicles were now using “greener” technology, but she was not sure how that weighed against increased use.   Audrey also spoke about the building of the High Line as a major change in the community, by bringing some environmental awareness and greenery to the area.  The Highline is a park and walkway that was constructed on a once long abandoned railway from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues.  It has also brought on an onslaught of new buildings, people and tourists to the area, so again we must weigh the positive and negative environmental effects.

Both women sighted that the growing family orientation in the neighborhood was good, though Jackie talked about how the old residents had been pushed out losing some local authenticity.   Audrey identified the lack of parks in the central part of Chelsea, as one of the community’s most pressing issues and said that the parks that we do have, on the outskirts, are overcrowded.  Both women feel that the topic of sustainability is very important but that they personally do not do enough to help the problem.   Audrey said sarcastically, “What do I do, recycle?” while sitting in the living room of her luxury apartment.

Jackie expressed a sentiment of near jadedness, relating to the changes she had gone through ideologically.  Back in her liberal college days, she felt that individuals had the power to effect big changes, but now her sense of responsibility have shifted from bigger causes to her immediate needs and her family’s demands.

Everybody who I interviewed echoed the attitude about an abundance of food choices.  Jackie cited Trader Joe’s healthy and low cost choices as a positive step toward food security in the community.  A 45-year resident of Chelsea, Janis, 56, with spiky blond hair and a rock n’ roll style and a consummate New York accent, raised her son, now 22, here in Chelsea.  She also sited the variety of new food stores as the (only) positive change that the influx of new people and wealth has brought.  There is a Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Garden of Eden, West Side Market and a new Fairway.  Long gone are the days of being forced to frequent the somewhat seedy A&P on Eighth Avenue and complaining about the poor quality at Gristedes.

Janis thinks that overpopulation, leading to environmental issues on many levels, is the neighborhood’s most pressing issue, including the possibility that there might not be enough schools to accommodate the children.   Jackie, on the other hand, feels that the largest community issue is the cost of living that is skyrocketing. Even her own affluent family could be priced and pushed out soon. (However, she acknowledged that they choose to send their children to a private school).  Right now the public school in the area is extremely popular and considered very desirable.  It features an organic garden that helps supply their food program.  Beside the garden and the environmental lessons this teaches, improving public education is only positive (even if it’s due to the involvement of the changing and affluent parent body).

The biggest sign of an attempt at sustainable practices that I see in this area are the bags of recycling that ceaselessly collect across the city sidewalks (See figure 1).  Look into the clear plastic bags and one notices an array of recognizable brands and plastics.  Where does it all go?  Is it really reused in some way?

On 19th St., recycling outside a luxury rental building called the Westminster, built in 2001.  (A one bedroom rents from $4,095 to $5,195)

On 19th St., recycling outside a luxury rental building called the Westminster, built in 2001. (A one bedroom rents from $4,095 to $5,195)

Two people who have worked in Chelsea for a number of years are both skeptical about recycling .  Pat, about 40 and originally from Queens, worked at a pizza place for some years, told me that the whole sanitation thing is about making money, all garbage gets shipped to the same landfill, and that all the new “green” building practices are fake.  He said that he knew this by what went on with waste disposal at the pizza place and from friends in the sanitation department.  Arturo, originally from Poland, a hair stylist in Chelsea for some years, also feels that recycling practices are a sham.  He was particularly concerned about elderly people trying to survive in the city with the increasing cost of living.

Endlessly I see new construction and work; trucks bringing materials out of buildings. (See figure 2) I wonder what the materials were once for and where they go now.   I wonder about the environmental effects of the new construction and the endless quest to build more and make more space for people to live in and conduct commerce.   Already the once wonderful General Theological Seminary, which spanned an entire city block from Ninth to Tenth Avenues, between 21st and 22nd streets, has been largely replaced with new condos.  What a heartbreaker for long time residents, as this spot, offered some greenery and sense of space as a reprieve from the relentless pounding of city pavement.  Chelsea piers, on the other hand, only open because of the community’s ability to financially support such an endeavor, offers some open space and greenery (aside from its sports facilities).  Let us not forget the community’s consorted effort to lobby for a new park where the sanitation department had a small office and parking lot, no longer in use.  Citizens/residents are working hard at creating campaigns for something that may not be world changing, but that they believe is extremely important to their neighborhood.  More will be revealed.

Materials being brought out of a business on 19th St., The local firehouse across the street and in the background, the newly renovated “Verizon” building is the one I spoke about it in a prior post, where the penthouse recently sold for $50.9 million.

Materials being brought out of a business on 19th St., The local firehouse across the street and in the background, the newly renovated “Verizon” building is the one I spoke about it in a prior post, where the penthouse recently sold for $50.9 million.

(Ghost or live?  Structures of old Chelsea still standing.  Sixth Avenue and 20th street.  The tower closest in the photo belongs to the church once occupied by the Limelight, imfamous nightclub.  The landmarked church has gone through a series of attempts of repurposing, such as a shopping mall.)

(Ghost or live? Structures of old Chelsea still standing. Sixth Avenue and 20th street. The tower closest in the photo belongs to the church once occupied by the Limelight, imfamous nightclub. The landmarked church has gone through a series of attempts of repurposing, such as a shopping mall.)

[1] As some people refer to it more specifically, gay yuppies.  There is also the Chelsea Boy phenomena, which refers to men with a certain physique and style.

Breukellen: Ditmas Park

I live in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Ditmas Park, within Flatbush and Community District 14. US Census data reveal Ditmas Park to be one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the country, and its population of foreign born immigrants is significantly higher than the New York average. A myriad of old and new restaurants reflect the increasing diversity of Ditmas Park, from Mexican, to Tibetan, to pan-Filipino. The cultural diversity of Ditmas Park, and its slightly longer commute time to Manhattan, provides protection against the homogenous type of gentrification that has swept through some Brooklyn neighborhoods over the past decade, raising housing and rental prices in its wake. Many residents were not thrilled when a Dunkin Donuts opened on Cortelyou Road in 2011, but the coffee chain’s presence has not taken business away from Madeline, the local café across the street. Madeline has expanded, and was spotted on a recent Saturday afternoon with a long line at the counter. When local blog Ditmas Park Corner posted that the Williamsburg-based clothing store, Brooklyn Industries, would be opening a branch on Cortelyou Road, the comments in protest led one neighbor to remark “You’d think a Walmart or McDonalds was coming to Cortelyou by the level of angst here.”

people of ditmas park

With such involved residents it is not surprising that Ditmas Park and the surrounding neighborhoods are home to at least three community composting projects. Nearby neighborhood Windsor Terrace is currently part of a Bloomberg- initiated composting pilot program, which requires residents to preserve their compostable organic matter and leave it out for curb-side pickup. The composting program will become mandatory for all of NYC by 2016. Ditmas Park Corner reports that “The plan is to reduce food waste and associated costs by using scraps to make fertilizer and natural gas. By 2017, the goal is to divert 30% of waste from landfills.”

Alexandria is a 28 year old graduate student obtaining her teaching degree from Columbia University Teachers College. She hails from the Bay Area in California and has lived in Brooklyn with her boyfriend, Evan, a Brooklyn native, for six months. Alex has strong feelings about sustainability. She believes that a large picture approach to sustainability is vital to our survival. Resources should be used at a rate where they can replenish indefinitely, and a “holistic approach” should be taken to ensure that the “whole system can be sustainable.” Evan, a 30 year old bicycle mechanic for Citi Bike, agrees, but added that sustainability should also be examined on a small-scale personal level. Many Americans are in debt and “their very lives aren’t sustainable.” Income inequality and a lack of jobs make it harder for people to live sustainably. “Obviously people are going to make cheaper decisions that allow them to get to the next paycheck,” he said, regardless of their negative impact on the environment. Alex says that she believes it takes so much more than the individual to create true sustainability, which is a process, not a product. So many factors are required, and that is the largest challenge facing sustainability.

Evan has noticed a significant change in air pollution in Brooklyn over the course of his lifetime. He had asthma as a child and clearly remembers days when he couldn’t leave the house due to ozone/air quality alerts. There are fewer of those alerts nowadays, he says. The data supports Evan’s observations. Air quality in NYC has improved, although it is still relatively poor, especially in high traffic areas. Part of the credit for improvement in air quality goes to former Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC initiative, which required buses and taxi cabs to switch to hybrid systems. In addition, more New Yorkers are taking public transportation, and Evan has noticed that biking has increased in popularity. Bike lanes have been added all over the city, and Evan says that “biking has become cooler. It’s not just dorky weirdoes biking. Now it’s kind of cool dorky weirdoes.” It’s nearly impossible to ask a long time Brooklyn resident about changes in their community without the word “gentrification” coming up. Evan sees pros and cons to the gentrification of Brooklyn. He appreciates the Green Markets popping up all over the city, and the Flatbush Food Co-op on Cortelyou Road, “even though it’s kind of expensive.” He credits city funded Public Service Announcements, such as the graphic anti-soda ads on the subways, with raising awareness about healthy living in NYC. 

Breuk figure 1

Evan sees poverty and a lack of well-paying jobs as one of the most pressing issues in his community. He calls the American Dream a “thing of the past,” and he finds the economic environment in America to be a “cut-throat” one that leaves a lot of people behind, especially those who don’t have a close support system of family and community. He has noticed many elderly residents in his neighborhood who seem to be alone and struggling. It disturbs him to see elderly women pushing carts through ice and snow on their own. “Brooklyn is such a place of struggle where people put in effort to survive and live…so if you’re old, you need people to help you,” he says. Alex connects poverty to the low quality of public schools, which she sees first-hand as a teacher. Poverty and income inequality top her list of local issues, and she relates them to a lack of community on a larger societal level, an American tendency to live as every person for themself.

Chris, 24, is a concessions supervisor at the Barclay’s Center. He has lived in Flatbush for his entire life, and he doesn’t believe that NYC’s recycling program is as effective as it could be. He has seen recycling bins in residential buildings be misused, which he attributes to a lack of awareness and education. “Part of it is that people don’t really know what they’re doing. The city will just drop off signs and bins, but if the people don’t really know what they’re doing, it doesn’t help.” However, Chris is more concerned by safety and crime issues. “It’s funny how you can go from one block over to the next and everything changes and it’s a totally different neighborhood.” He says that once a neighborhood has a bad reputation, the city will put less effort into the area. It is true that the diversity of Ditmas Park cuts off sharply at its borders, becoming mostly white to the south and west, and mostly black to the east.

Breuk figure 2

Chris shops at a Stop and Shop supermarket that is two blocks from his home. The prices seem normal to him, and there is a huge variety of food. Yet he pines for more community gardens and fewer large chain stores. Sometimes a spot catches his eye and he thinks, “a garden would look good here.” But, he says, the empty lots just turn into more buildings. The closest garden to his home that he knows of is a fifteen minute subway ride away. “I think that defeats the idea of having a community garden if you have to travel to it,” he said.

John is a Brooklyn College professor who has lived in Ditmas Park for ten years. On a recent trip upstate he bought produce from a local farm-share and was so impressed with the quality, and enjoyed his ability to support a local economy that he vowed to buy food from the Farmer’s Market on Cortelyou Road more often. The most immediate change he has seen in the community over the past decade is the blossoming of businesses. He uses the bar/flower shop that we are having our conversation in as an example. “It used to be an antique shop hanging on by a thread. Now it’s a bar and a flower shop and the young lady who took over the flower shop is actually doing quite well with it.” He says that the community has maintained an eclectic facade, so much so that he is hesitant to use the word “gentrification.” John partially credits the ethnic diversity of the neighborhood as a driving force behind its renewal without full-blown gentrification. He says that the cultural diversity leads to more food options. Ripe avocados can be found at a Mexican grocery, and fresh bok choy is sold at the Tibetan owned bodega.

Breuk businesses

“Old and new businesses and restaurants line a block on Cortelyou Road”

Like Chris, John also worries about an uptick in crime. He attributes this to an “apparent concentration of wealth.” An AT&T store on Cortelyou Road was recently robbed at gunpoint, and someone was shot a few blocks down on Church Avenue, he says. Crime in the neighborhood is a hot topic for conversation, despite the fact that all crimes have been steadily decreasing since 2000, when there were 4,425 total of the seven major felony offenses logged in the 70th precinct. In 2013, there were 1,832. A renewed sense of community may be to blame for the perception of increases in crime. The widely read Ditmas Park Corner blog publishes stories from residents about crimes they have witnessed or been victims of. Bars like the one I met John in have popped up around the neighborhood and serve as centers for residents to get to know each other and share their stories. The Farmer’s Market is another place where neighbors stop to speak with each other. It may not be that there is more crime, but that there is more communication, so we hear about more crime than we used to.

As I walk around my neighborhood, I feel safe. There are trees, grass, and wide sidewalks. The Farmer’s Market that pops up on a block of Cortelyou Road every Sunday, rain or shine, hosts one of the neighborhood’s three composting programs. Judging by the crowd I weave through to get to the stand that sells organic, dairy- free key lime pie, residents have embraced the Market, and with it the concepts of locally grown, organic produce, and hormone and antibiotic-free meat. On my way home I note the mountains of black garbage bags, snow-peaked this winter, piled on the curbs in front of apartment buildings. They aren’t too bothersome now, but in the hot months the smell can be overwhelming. Each resident produces more than two pounds of garbage every day, according to the Brooklyn Community Board 14 Statement of Community District Needs, Fiscal Year 2014 Report, but the bags may shrink in size if Bloomberg’s plan for a composting city is enacted in 2016. Room will be made for composting bins full of organic waste that can be put to good use, creating natural gas and fertilizers instead of rotting in a landfill. The residents in my community want to do what they can to live more sustainably, but they need guidance. If people are having a difficult time understanding the rules to the recycling program, an entirely new education will be needed to effectively run a city wide composting program.

 

Sterling: My community

The neighborhood that I live in is Hollis, Queens. It is considered as part of Queens Community District 12 (NY.gov Department of City Planning), with a total population of 225,919 as of 2010. The majority of the community is African American or Black, which account for 67.1% of the total population, followed by Hispanic or Latino for 16.6% percent, then Asian at 11% and Whites with 5.7% of the population. It is rounded out by Native Americans and other races. The community is mostly made up of middle aged residents ages 35 to 54, which account for 30% of the population. The number declines sharply after 55-64, which accounts for 10 percent of the population. 24% of people have a less than high school education, 46% have a high school education, 20 percent have a bachelors or associates degree and 10 percent have graduates degree. Most of the travel is done by private vehicles at 49% of the population and public transportation accounts for 46 percent of the population (Movoto.com). Income is separated into 4 groups. The majority of the population makes $30,000 – $74,000 at 42% followed by $30,000 or less at 30%, $75000 – $149000 at 23% and $150000 and up at 5%(Movoto.com). The land use as of 2012 is most 1 -2 family residential 60%, followed by multi-family residential 7.5%, Institutions 7.4%, open space/recreation 6.5% commercial/office 4% (NY.gov Department of City Planning). The rest is used for transportation facilities, parking facilities, industrial and miscellaneous. The average home value is $383,900 (Zillow.com). Crime rates are on average with the rest of New York. One’s chances of being a victim in Queens is 1 out of 279 (NeighborhoodScout.com).

Jennifer, a middle aged woman, has worked as a school teacher for 30 years. She lived in Queens since she was 11 and has been a home owner for 24 years. She has a few concerns and observations she has noticed about Hollis, Queens, from her long length of residency. “Sustainability” to her means the ability to stay the same, which she says Queens has not. “Over the years, the community has become crowded. All they do is tear down old houses and put up two 2-family houses in its place. Sometimes 3!” She also complained that she has a lot of offers on her door about selling her house for immediate cash, and she believes they will tear her house down to  build multifamily homes. She also claims the city has stepped in and forbids the building of so many multi-family houses in her area.  NY.gov shows that in 1990, population was 201,293 in District 12. In 10 years the population increased by 11.1% to 223,602. However, the next 10 years only a 1% percent increase has happened in population. This could also be attributed to the slowing economy in the late 2000’s I asked her about food security and she said “Supermarkets in this area are fair to midland.” She says that there isn’t a lot of variety and that goes to white neighborhoods for better quality. She does note that food here seems to be cheaper than in other neighborhoods.

Rod, a 64 year old male, has lived in the community for about 20 years. He works at a local newspaper and does freelance work on the side. He believes that sustainability is used, “In order to keep something alive or going.” Rod seemed to not really have an interest in the subject of sustainability, he  thinks the idea of it is important in itself. His concern about his community is the lack of businesses in the area. “Most notably are banks; there isn’t [sic] a bank anywhere close in this neighborhood.” He also had a similar concern to Jennifer’s with the growing population due to multi-family housing, however he claims it’s because of immigration. He says that there is also a growth in the amount of foster care houses in the area. “Homes that had 1 family in it now have a lot of foster kids under one roof which attracts unwanted attention.” He remarks that like most residential areas you have to go elsewhere to shop for food, but he said it’s an area where people own property but have second class services. It’s not that the area is “poverty level” but it has similar problems, as if it were impoverished

Tamel, a 28 year old male, has lived in District 12 area of Queens his whole life. He works as a pharmacy messenger at a hospital in Manhattan. He feels “sustainability is the condition of things in his area”. His main concern is the condition of the roads in the neighborhood, which have gigantic potholes and which he feels is dangerous to drivers and pedestrians. Further, “There are abandoned houses and stores front scattered across the neighborhood with no development in sight.” He also notes that he has to travel pretty far to work and that there is no close subway. He also feels like some local parks in the neighborhood haven’t been maintained or cleaned.

Walking through my neighborhood, I noticed that there are plenty of drop boxes for unwanted items such as clothes and other things by the local supermarket. The streets are very clean and  the community is overall very quiet. There is shopping for food within a five block radius in multiple directions. These seem to be sustainability qualities of my neighborhood.

As I walked down 100th avenue, there were a lot of multi-family houses where single family houses used to be (photo 1 and 2).

Photo 1 - The previous one family home was burned down in a fire replaced by 2 multi-family homes.

Photo 1 – The previous one family home was burned down in a fire replaced by 2 multi-family homes.

Photo 2 – Two one family homes used to be here, now replaced with 3 multi-family houses.

Photo 2 – Two one family homes used to be here, now replaced with 3 multi-family houses.

This also creates a lot of garbage in the areas of those houses (photo 3). During my walk, I noticed that certain streets were neglected, with snow left un-shoveled, and this  made for nasty icy roads. There were  also a lot of cars parked on a particular corner of 195th Street and it made visibility hard for drivers, resulting in  a lot of car accidents.

 Photo 3- Lots of garbage located out of these multi-family homes.

Photo 3- Lots of garbage located out of these multi-family homes.