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conducive circumstance

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Macro shots, berries, and my life’s savings – in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On Monday of this week, a series of table shots were offered, depicting various food stuffs and comestibles which were photographed under a “macro” table shot setup. This sort of setup is kind of technical, involves all sorts of measurements and secondary equipment like lights and flashes. I won’t bore you with all the details, but suffice to say it allows a somewhat magnified version of reality to be captured. It should be mentioned that my macro setup is by no means a professional one, rather it’s cobbled together from various bits of kit I already own. A proper macro lens is a wonderful bit of optical engineering, and expensive.

On my kitchen counter, there’s a bag of garlic which has been there since the first week of January, and some of the cloves have sprouted – as you’ll notice in the shot above. Garlic is native to Central Asia, is officially known as Allium sativum, and is a species of the onion genus – Allium. It’s one of mankind’s oldest cultivars, and is evidenced as far back as 7,000 years in the historic record. Most of the world’s garlic is produced in China, which is probably why you don’t hear many vampire stories with a Han twist.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A taproot, the Carrot is another ancient vegetable, especially so for the one pictured above which withered away in the back of my refrigerator. The word “Carrot” suddenly manifested in the English language around 1530, orignating from the Middle French “carotte,” which comes from the Late Latin carōta, which borrowed the word from the Greek καρωτόν or “karōton.” Daucas Carota is the scientific name for the wild Carrot, and there are many, many variants of it found throughout Iran. Wild Carrot variants were grown in Europe as early as 2,000 BCE, but most modern folks wouldn’t recognize those purple colored vegetables as carrots. The modern yellow and orange cultivar “Daucas Carota Sativum” comes from Afghanistan, and found its way into Europe via the Moors back in the 8th century CE.

Suffice to say, the specimen above found its way into the compost bucket shortly after the shot above was captured.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All citrus trees belong to a single genus – Citrus – and are almost entirely interfertile, with farmers reproducing them via grafting. A single superspecies – grapefruits, lemons, limes, oranges, and various other types and hybrids are all one “thing.” The fruit of a citrus tree is a hesperidium, which is modified berry and is covered by a rind which is actually a rugged and thickened ovary wall. According to various sources – the word “orange” comes from the Sanskrit word for “orange tree” (नारङ्ग nāraṅga). The Sanskrit word reached European languages through Persian نارنگ (nārang) and its Arabic derivative نارنج (nāranj). The first recorded use of the word Orange in English was in 1512.

The Navel Orange, as pictured above, is a mutant variant which emerged in Brazil sometime between 1810 and 1820. The navel part is actually a conjoined twin.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Lemons are thought to have originated in either Northern India, Burma, or Southern China. The plant made its way to Europe and the Romans in the 1st century CE, but it was the Arabs who embraced them in cuisine and widely planted them. Columbus brought lemon seeds along with him to the Americas back in 1493, but it wasn’t until 1747 that Lemons began to be widely planted and cultivated by Europeans – due to a Scot Doctor named James Lind – who discovered that lemon juice could help sailors in the British Royal Navy avoid coming down with Scurvy.

The word “lemon” is thought to be of Arabic origin – “laymūn or līmūn” – which came to the European tongues via the Old French “limon,” and then the Italian “limone.” An older Persian term for it is “līmūn,” which is a generic term for citrus fruit, and there’s also the Sanskrit root word “nimbū.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Limes are actually prehistoric cultivars, and were widely grown by the Persians and Baylonians. There are multiple fruits (actually berries) called “limes,” but not all of them are actually Citrus. The Royal Navy switched over from Lemons to Limes around the time of the American Civil War, which was a HUGE military secret in the middle of the 19th century, given that the latter contained more Scurvy fighting vitamin C than the former. Also, they go better with Gin.

This is where the term “Limey,” as used to refer to a British person, began.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Botanists will tell you that the Banana is also a berry, just like the various iterations of the Citrus family.

Wild Bananas are chock full of seeds. Seedless bananas are all cultivated from two wild variants known as Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana. Native to Austrailia and the Indo-Malayan archipelagos of the southern Pacific, Banana is believed to have first been actively cultivated in New Guinea, of all places, in impossibly ancient times – 5,000 – 8,000 BCE. The word “Banana” is believed to West African in derivation, and transmitted to European tongues via Spanish and Portuguese trade ships.

There’s ultimately two families of banana you’re likely to encounter in the Americas – the sort you eat raw which are called Cavendish, and the kind you cook – which are commonly referred to as Plantains – and are called Saba. In Asia and Africa, you’ve got a pretty big group of variants for this sort of big yellow berry. The Portuguese brought the banana to the Americas in the 16th century.

The banana trade, incidentally, is one of the most evil endeavors which British and American Capitalism has ever engaged in. Subjugation and enslavement of native peoples, importation of African and Asian slaves to work the plantations; interference with, corruption of, and the overthrow of foreign governments – were and are a part of doing business right up to today. NAFTA only made things worse, and there’s a reason for the negative connotations of the term “Banana Republic.” The same people who won’t buy a “conflict diamond” or eat a veal chop will happily cut up a banana for their bowl of Cheerios. I know I will, and politics be damned.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are few things which are fun to say out loud as the phrase “Deadly Nightshade,” and the Tomato or Solanum lycopersicum is a member of the family. It’s regarded as a fruit, but in reality it’s another berry. The Conquistadors counted the Tomato as one of their many captured treasures after the conquest of the Mexica or Aztec Capital City of Tenochtitlan in 1521. The English word tomato hails from the Spanish word “tomate” which was lifted from the Nahuatl (the mesoamerican language) word tomatl. The Spaniards carried the plant around their empire, distributing it globally. It ended up all over the Mediterranean, and again it was the Arabs who first embraced the crop. Europeans were always uneasy about the deadly nightshade thing.

The Medici’s were growing tomatoes in 1548, over in Florence, Italy. For the fancy types, tomatoes were ornamental props and not for consumption as they grew too low to the ground. For the peasants – then as now, you eat what you can afford to eat. Mangiare.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just about everything you’ve seen in Monday’s, and today’s, posts were basically harvested from the food stuffs which Our Lady of the Pentacle and I normally keep on hand here at HQ. There were a few other options, incidentally – potatoes come to mind, but I was particularly keen on the sliced fruit (or berries) stuff, given their complex internal structures.

As mentioned earlier these shots were produced using a complicated setup on my countertop – a stage if you will, which was also harvested from stuff I had laying around. The transluscent stand was a plastic container with a slot cut into it for the strobe, and there’s also a flashlight or two gaff taped to table top tripods and a basic photographic “umbrella” light involved as well. The camera is wearing a flashgun as well, set to its lowest setting for some fill light, but its main job was to actuate the slave strobe that’s stuck under the subject to provide back light. So, there you are.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Finally, a shot of my life savings.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 11, 2016 at 11:00 am

thinking thus

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Something a little different, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recent endeavor, committed in the dark of night, has seen a humble narrator hunched over the kitchen counter with an array of tripods, flashes, and lights. This week’s “project” has involved me using an older camera, which has a fairly decent macro lens function, to get up close and personal with a variety of foodstuffs. The joke I’ve shared with Our Lady of the Pentacle is that I’m trying to produce a series of images you might encounter framed on the wall of a juice bar.

It’s all terribly complicated – this sort of thing – and requires a bit of prep. The red onion pictured above had a pretty powerful flash gun firing at full power under a transluscent “stage” in a darkened room, with my goal being the visualization of the internal structure of the vegetable.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I actually like Broccoli, if it’s prepared and cooked correctly, but I realize that this sub genus of the cabbage family is not to everyone’s taste. Raw Broccoli is nasty, but it photographs nicely from a few centimeters away. This one didn’t involve any fancy technique, just a bit of lighting. The hard part about photographing something like this is that fresh Broccoli is purple and green at the same time, and subtly iridescent.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A navel orange, cut into a quarter inch thick slice, deployed on the aforementioned transluscent stage with the flash gun beneath it and the lens placed about a centimeter from the focal plane. Again, the internal structure of the thing was what I was going for.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hunting around in the refrigerator, I grabbed a jar of Smuckers Strawberry Jam and carefully threaded the lens into the neck of the jar, after placing it on the aforementioned setup. The blast of light traveling upwards towards the camera rendered the jam transparent, and you can see all the little shards of fruit in the syrupy goo. The light refracted into the glass of the jar, rendering out a trippy series of visual artifacts which pleased my eye.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back to the Broccoli, this time with an orangish rim light applied. The orange light is something I’ve mentioned in the past, part of my “ghetto lighting” rig. A pill bottle gaff taped to a strong flashlight, it provides a soft warm fill light which contrasts nicely with the purples and greens, IMHO.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another slice of that Navel Orange on the stage and “under flash” setup, this one was cut a bit thicker and transected several of the fruit’s internal sections. I also hit this one with a secondary “on camera flash,” set to its lowest power setting, in pursuance of getting just a bit of the surface texture in addition to the internal structure of the multitudinous juice sacks.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 8, 2016 at 11:00 am

Posted in Astoria, Photowalk, Pickman

Tagged with , ,

anytime, anywhere

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A few shots from last week’s blizzard.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given a humble narrator’s legendary vulnerability to cold, as you might have guessed, I spent most of the blizzard last Saturday firmly ensconced in the steam heated walls of Newtown Pentacle HQ in Astoria. I did venture outside during the afternoon to visit the bodega across the street for breakfast cereals, I like a bowl of Cheerios with a banana cut into it, and to vouchsafe a bar of chocolate for Our Lady of the Pentacle.

When venturing into the cold waste, I discovered that at least one Chinese restaurant was open, and offering delivery services. Early bird gets the worm and all that, but… Jaysis.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were those who had decided to try and motor about, this was before the Mayor banned automotive traffic, but they were soundly rebuffed by road conditions. It was actually kind of difficult just to crack out a couple of exposures due to wind blown snow, which tended to “spot” the lens, let alone cross the street.

Luckily, most of the neighbors didn’t attempt to drive, and the streets were eerily quiet hereabouts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The only thing you saw much of were Municipal vehicles like the ambulance pictured above. One neat thing was that everyone in the neighborhood was given the opportunity to recognize the undercover vehicles which the 114th pct utilizes after the Mayor’s ban on travel was enacted.

After 2:30 p.m., anything you saw on Broadway was basically “blue” or “red.” Or Green, Orange, and a White in the case of the sanitation guys.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Having purchased my Cheerios and Chocolate, I began to scuttle back towards home, and one of the hundreds of plow trucks operated by DSNY rolled by. The annual Astoria problem has begun again, incidentally. As happened last year, and the year before – recycling pickup was cancelled due to Martin Luther King day. Recycling in my neighborhood is Sunday night’s problem, so it is up to us to store the stuff in anticipation of the following weekend. Now, we’ve got a blizzard’s worth of snow, so recycling pickup is again postponed till next week.

Last year, a series of similar cold weather events and legal holidays pushed the storage of the entire month of January’s recycling trash until well past President’s day in February.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back in HQ, and with no intentions of leaving the place, one nevertheless used the fortuitous positioning of the building relative to the prevailing wind in pursuance of a few shots in the evening. As you’ll recall, this is when the storm really got rolling. I set up a tripod and all my night shooting gear, but in the end elected to use low light techniques for the shots.

The long exposure methodology effectively eliminated the falling snow from the shots, and since I wanted to have a “truer” record of the event – I went for high ISO and a faster shutter speed to capture the drifting snowflakes. As is always the case, getting the color temperature of the light was critical, and for the new LED street lights that’s 4300 Kelvin.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Got to hand it to the neighbors, they were fighting this storm while it was at full force and attempting to keep their cars from being completely buried in the drifts. The different technologies of street lighting which were discussed a couple of weeks ago – the old school orange yellow sodium lights versus the new school led blue colored lights can be discerned in the shot above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The new school LED’s actually performed quite well during the storm, I would add.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The buildup of a shelf of snow on my window sill while shooting inspired me to shove a couple of flashlights into it and get a macro shot of the translucent accumulation. These lights are part of what I call my “ghetto lighting” rig. Ghetto as in I have zero funds for real lighting and therefore have been forced to jury rig a set, which given my normal shooting habits – needs to easily portable. The warm light and blue light are formed by identical and quite powerful LED flash lights which can pump out an amazing 300 Lumens and are powered by just 3 AAA batteries each. That’s actually kind of amazing, but I’m a flashlight geek, and will jump up and down if you say “Cree.”

The warmer light is created by the flashlight having an old pill bottle gaff taped to its head.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 29, 2016 at 11:00 am

continuous system

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Holiday pretty pictures, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Long Island Railroad crossing Borden Avenue in LIC in the shot above, which was captured around ten years ago. I take a lot of pictures of trains, mind you, but the one above remains one of my favorites. It’s number 401, btw.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Number 420 was observed at the Sunnyside Yards’s Harold Interlocking not too long ago, and funnily enough it was smoking up. If you don’t get the joke, just google 420 for what it means to our inebriated friends.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

411 doesn’t just provide directory assistance, it also transits from the Hunters Point yard in LIC to the Hunters Point stop at the southern end of the Sunnsyide Yards – the only place in the entire 183 square acre rail yard where you can actually board a train.

Back Monday with some slightly more substantive content, and may all your Friday’s be black.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 27, 2015 at 11:00 am

been decreed

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Scenes from the lugubrious Newtown Creek, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One had to go to Greenpoint to talk to a guy about a thing, recently. The guy in question was my colleague from Newtown Creek Alliance, Will Elkins, and the thing was to pick up some flyers he had printed up for the OHNY Plank Road event we conducted last weekend. We met at the North Brooklyn Boat Club location in Greenpoint’s DUPBO (Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp) neighborhood, and soon I found myself catching a ride with him in a medium sized row boat – outfitted with an electric motor – plying the waters of Newtown Creek.

We were heading for the so called “Unnamed Canal” which is analogous to the intersection of Kingsland Avenue and North Henry Street, which sits alongside a relict DSNY marine waste transfer station. That’s where NCA’s “Living Dock” project is underway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As the electric engine slowly but surely propelled us along, the FDNY’s “BATT” SAFE Boat (Callsign: WDG3982) appeared behind us. The SAFE Boat platform has been discussed numerous times at this – your Newtown Pentacle – over the years. It utilizes the “weapons platform” concept which has been in vogue in military circles for the last couple of decades, which dictates that you create a single superstructure which can accomplish a variety of basic missions and then customize it to the particular occupation of the user. The NYPD carry towing equipment, the FDNY has water monitors (nozzles that shoot water or foam), and the Coast Guard mounts M60 machine guns to them.

This creates an economy of scale for the procurement of basic replacement parts like screws and engine bits, and creates a large number of trained mechanics who can easily find employment based on their familiarity with the design. The SAFE Boats come in small, medium, and large. The BATT is of the “response boat small” type.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

By all appearances, the BATT was on patrol. It’s officially designated as a “Law Enforcement” vessel everywhere that I checked. Above, the BATT is depicted as proceeding eastward along the Newtown Creek, with LIC’s M1 industrial zone and the SimsMetal Newtown Creek Dock as a backdrop. Presumptively, they were on a regular patrol. It’s likely that this unit is based at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, although there are other Marine unit bases to the north where it might hail from.

As a note, I forgot to take the flyers from Mr. Elkins after returning to land and after having walked to Greenpoint from Astoria to get them. This is one of the many reasons that a humble narrator can best be described as an idiot.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 20, 2015 at 12:00 pm

noisome air

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Rain, rain, rain. Bored, boredity, bored, bored.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One thing is certain, which is that the next few days will exhibit some truly ugly weather here in the Newtown Pentacle. In today’s post, library shots of wet weather are presented. Above, somewhere within the Shining City of Manhattan, from whence cometh the greater part of that flow of sewer juice that doth enter my beloved Creek during rain events.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Everybody I meet gets a lecture at one point or another about the sewer system, and the Combined Sewer problem that bedevils our community. Suffice to say that it takes as little as a quarter inch of rain, citywide, for a billion gallons of storm water to propagate into our waterways. Days like this one, and the next few, will carry hundreds of billions of gallons of raw sewage into the water.

Pictured above, a manhole or access cover, originally laid in place by the “Bureau of Sewers Borough of Queens” which I believe to have been absorbed into the larger Municpal entity that would someday become the DEP around the time of the LaGuardia administration. I’m a bit hazy on this one, historical like, and promise that I’ll find out more and report the facts when they’re in hand.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

From what I’ve been told, the MTA hasn’t been having too good a time for the last 24 hours or so, with more than a few outages on major lines. One wonders, and more than wonders, why the MTA only seems to plan and engineer the system around the conditions of ideal weather?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I mean… it’s going to rain. It’s also going to snow, eventually.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m the first person, literally, to throw shade at the commissioners and deputy commissars of the DEP during their periodic visits to Newtown Creek. DEP bosses lie like rugs, do so with a smirk, and every time there’s a political shake up in City Hall – the new guy isn’t bound by the promises made by the last set of “powers that be.” Saying that, I’m thankful for the rank and file who will be doing what they can during the coming deluges. Pictured above is the sewer plant in Greenpoint, getting rained upon.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Here in Astoria, folks are taking the gathering storm quite seriously. There’s chanting and everything, and store shelves are fairly bereft of the puzzling combination of batteries, milk, bread, and toilet paper that everyone seems to require when a storm is on the way.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My neighbor Mario spent yesterday evening cleaning our sewer catch basin and the gutter of leaves and the garbage which everyone just seems to drop. Saying that, there’s a whole lot of sweeping to do.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One last rainy day shot, which was captured close to a decade ago at Greenwood Cemetery. Good luck, lords and ladies, with the stormy weekend. If you’re reading this on Monday, it’s likely my internet is out, and I’ll post as soon as Time Warner comes back online.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

October 10th, 2015
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour
with Atlas Obscura, click here for details and tickets

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 2, 2015 at 2:00 pm

pale vapors

with 2 comments

Lower Manhattan’s FDR drive, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just prior to this shot of Manhattan’s FDR Drive being captured, a humble narrator had walked across the East River via the Williamsburg Bridge from the border of Greenpoint and Williamsburg at Meeker Avenue. One enjoyed a brief sit down and contemplation of the past at Corlears Hook park on Cherry Street before continuing on. Cherry Street on the East Side is one of those spots in NYC which is writ large in the historic record, and even Jacob Riis mentions it (during its degenerate period).

According to contemporaneous reports, the absolute worst tenements of the 19th century were not found at the famous Five Points but here at Cherry street. Additionally, a gang whose specialty was river piracy operated out of this area – they were called the Swamp Angels – and it’s because of their infamy that the NYPD ultimately created the Harbor Unit. After resting for a few minutes (it’s important to give your lower back an interval of downtime on a long walk, since it’s actually doing most of the work) I crossed one of the pedestrian bridges over the coastal parkway and entered “The House of Moses.”

from wikipedia

In 1785, the four-story mansion at 3 Cherry Street was leased by the Continental Congress to serve as the Executive Mansion for Richard Henry Lee, President of the Congress under the Articles of Confederation. It continued to serve as such for the next three Presidents and, in April and May 1789 served as the first Executive Mansion of the President of the United States and Mrs. Martha Washington.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another term of my own invention, “The House of Moses” is appropriately used when you find yourself on Borden Avenue in LIC, or Meeker Avenue in Greenpoint, in certain parts of Astoria, or even here along the East River coast of the Shining City itself. Wherever NYC’s master builder Robert Moses felt it was appropriate to eliminate vast swaths of residential or industrial real estate in order to make way for a high speed road (distinguished by zero grade crossings, mind you), you’re in the “The House of Moses.”

from wikipedia

Robert Moses (December 18, 1888 – July 29, 1981) was the “master builder” of mid-20th century New York City, Long Island, Rockland County, and Westchester County, New York. As the shaper of a modern city, he is sometimes compared to Baron Haussmann of Second Empire Paris, and was arguably one of the most polarizing figures in the history of urban planning in the United States. His decisions favoring highways over public transit helped create the modern suburbs of Long Island and influenced a generation of engineers, architects, and urban planners who spread his philosophies across the nation. One of his major contributions to urban planning was New York’s large parkway network.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“The House of Moses” had a tendency to blight the areas surrounding it. The sections of Sunset Park and Red Hook which the Gowanus Expressway casts its shadow upon have never truly recovered, for instance. For generations, this East River waterfront was generally verboten to residents of surrounding communities, due to stink and crime. For most of my lifetime, this area was a de facto parking lot for Municipal employees, and a homeless camp. Ummm, ok – it is STILL both of those things, but there’s a lot less of the foreboding and sense of imminent doom or threat of arrest than there used to be.

The same process played out along the Hudson, and is currently underway on the western coast of a Long Island – the so called Brooklyn and Queens Greenways. The modern motivation for improving these littoral areas is that parks aid real estate development, of course.

from wikipedia

The East River waterfront in Lower Manhattan was known for heavy maritime activity, with over 40 piers in operation by the later 1950s. The busy waterfront provided easy access to New York Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean in the south, the Hudson River on the west, with a connection to the Erie Canal. However, the rise of truck traffic and the transfer of port activity to the Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal drastically reduced maritime traffic on the river after the middle 20th century. With many piers now defunct, ambitious plans have been made to reclaim and reuse the pier space. The north-south arterial highway, the FDR Drive, was moved to an elevated location to allow convenient access to the piers. In the 1970s, the Water Street Access Plan was drafted to extend the confines of the traditional Financial District eastward and create a new business corridor along Water Street, south of Fulton Street. Noting the success of the World Financial Center, the East Side Landing plan was created in the 1980s to add commercial and office buildings along the waterfront, again south of Fulton Street, similar to Battery Park City. This plan never materialized.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The process is quite far along in the tony sections of Brooklyn’s Gold Coast like DUMBO and Williamsburg, as well as in Hunters Point. The eventual goal on that side of the East River will be a contiguous pathway which will allow you to walk or ride a bike through a modern residential corridor extending from Red Hook all the way to Astoria Park with just a few interruptions offered by obstacles like the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and certain unpleasantries – such NYCHA housing projects or Newtown Creek.

On the Manhattan side, the river walk currently extends (contiguously, I mean, as it does travel quite far north with interruptions) from 23rd street all the way south to Wall Street in the financial district and connects into Battery Park nearby the Staten Island Ferry.

Saying that, some sections of the promenade seem better used than others.

from nyc.gov

The East River waterfront has developed over the past 350 years as a central place in the city’s maritime history. The city began here, and as it grew and developed, the island expanded into the river. As population expanded, the city promoted the infill of waterfront lots to serve the growing demand for land in Lower Manhattan. As a result, the current shoreline is more than three city blocks from the original shore. The present location of Pearl Street is in fact the original East River shoreline of Lower Manhattan. As the city’s position as the premier port for trade on the east coast grew, so did the need for new piers to service the vessels coming and going out of the port. At its peak in the 1950’s there were over 40 piers along this two-mile stretch of waterfront; today there are fewer than 10 remaining.

With the decline in maritime activity over the past 40 years, various master plans have been developed for this waterfront. The Water Street Access Plan in the 1970’s envisioned Water Street as a commercial spine for modern office buildings and the expansion of the financial core. In the 1980’s, the plan for East River Landing, inspired by Battery Park City, proposed new office development on the waterfront south of Fulton Street. In the 1990’s, a new outpost for the Guggenheim Museum was proposed on the waterfront at the present location of piers 13 and 14 at the foot of Wall Street. Aside from some components of the Water Street Access Plan, none of these waterfront schemes have been realized to date.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Part of the planning and construction offered to the 20th century by the “House of Moses” included not just highways but block after block of “slum clearance” projects. Hundreds of acres of walk up tenement buildings were razed to make room for apartment houses whose footprint could encompass an entire city block, something you see a lot of in the eastern section of Chinatown. These apartment complexes were financed and built using Federal monies that filtered through carefully chosen banks and insurance companies. His allies in finance and government were fiercely loyal to Robert Moses and urban renewal was how he paid them back. Author Robert Caro called Moses “The Power Broker.”

It’s fantastic that those days are long over, and there isn’t some moneyed clique of real estate, insurance, and construction interests that colludes with Government officialdom to displace and eradicate whole waterfront neighborhoods. That would be awful, wouldn’t it?

from wikipedia

Caro’s depiction of Moses’s life gives him full credit for his early achievements, showing, for example, how he conceived and created Jones Beach and the New York State Park system, but also shows how Moses’s desire for power came to be more important to him than his earlier dreams. Indeed, he is blamed for having destroyed more than a score of neighborhoods, by building 13 expressways across New York City and by building large urban renewal projects with little regard for the urban fabric or for human scale. Yet the author is more neutral in his central premise: the city would have been a very different place—maybe better, maybe worse—if Robert Moses had never existed. Other U.S. cities were doing the same thing as New York in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Boston, San Francisco and Seattle, for instance, each built highways straight through their downtown areas. The New York City architectural intelligentsia of the 1940s and 1950s, who largely believed in such prophets of the automobile as Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, had supported Moses. Many other cities, like Newark, Chicago and St. Louis, also built massive, unattractive public housing projects.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s actually in Chinatown where you’ll notice how thoroughly a community can embrace one of these waterfront esplanades installed by the House of Moses. Unfortunately, there are no signs installed by the State DEC cautioning against regular consumption of East River fish and crabs, and not once did I notice a bit of signage from the City DEP advising of the presence of a combined sewer outfall. Those pipes you’ll notice traveling down the supports of the FDR drive drain the elevated highway and feed directly into the East River.

Any who, that’s the House of Moses for ya.

from wikipedia

Large scale urban renewal projects in the US started in the interwar period. Prototype urban renewal projects include the design and construction of Central Park in New York and the 1909 Plan for Chicago by Daniel Burnham. Similarly, the efforts of Jacob Riis in advocating for the demolition of degraded areas of New York in the late 19th century was also formative. The redevelopment of large sections of New York City and New York State by Robert Moses between the 1930s and the 1970s was a notable and prominent example of urban redevelopment. Moses directed the construction of new bridges, highways, housing projects, and public parks. Moses was a controversial figure, both for his single-minded zeal and for its impact on New York City.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

September 3rd, 2015
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Open House NY, click here for details and tickets.

September 20th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 31, 2015 at 11:00 am

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