The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

ghostly side

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It’s National Chocolate Pudding Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, one enjoyed a pleasant evening on a boat tour offered by the Open House NY outfit which explored the City of Greater New York’s solid waste disposal system. The boat was one of Circleline’s smaller vessels (Circleline Queens) and the speakers were Sanitation historian Robin Nagle, SimsMetal’s Tom Outerbridge (who is also a board member at Newtown Creek Alliance), and some fellow from the Department of Sanitation whose name I didn’t catch. It was coincidentally the date of the summer solstice, the light was fantastic (from a photography POV), and it was the longest day of the year.

It certainly felt like the longest day of the year once the boat docked at west 42nd street, and the time came to make the journey back to Astoria, on the landward side.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s no secret that I believe Manhattan, particularly the west side of midtown, to be a cautionary tale for urban planners. Some see midtown west, with its recent construction of gigantic residential towers and the nearby Hudson Yards project, as a modern day success story. The urban renewal engineers of the Bloomberg era captured a gritty section of the City which both housed and employed those at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum – a problematic population, from the municipal point of view, who consumed far too much in the way of City services – and converted it over to a neighborhood of “pied a terre” and upper middle and management class dormitories.

They forgot, as is the usual case these days, to think overly about transit and supermarkets and places people can gather without permits or permission. In my eye, they made a bad situation worse, in a neighborhood west of the Port Authority bus terminal. What are you going to do though, Manhattan is ruined and has been for twenty years. The junkies are still here, but instead of being able to return to some tenement squat at the end of the day, today they’re just living on the crowded streets and sleeping in the waterfront parks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is what the ridership numbers on the Queensbound E line look like at about 9:30 at night, and you should see what sort of crowding occurs on this line at rush hour. Just a few years ago, at a similar interval, the train population would have been not even half of what you see in the shot above. Why the crowding?

Simply put, not many actual New Yorkers can afford to pay the three to four thousand dollars a month in rent which a one bedroom in this hellish midtown area will cost. The Real Estate Industrial Complex’s dreams of avarice have caused a migration from this so called center out to the so called outer boroughs. It seems that they either never checked with the MTA about ridership capacity, or didn’t bother to care.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For one such as myself, who is lucky enough to live in Astoria, the E is merely a link in the chain of my commute. Once upon a time, my habit was to find a seat on a local train back to Queens and use the time to read, draw in my sketchbook, listen to an audiobook, or just blankly stare off into space.

Since the entire concept of finding a seat on the R in Manhattan is now a fantasy, even late into the evening, in recent years one has decided to instead be clever about using the Subway system and be nimble in terms of enacting as many transfers as I can in pursuance of escaping the inhuman canyons of the Shining City and returning to the human scaled locale known as Astoria. Accordingly, I find myself on the platform at Queens Plaza quite a bit these days.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

During the work day, until 9:45 p.m. actually, you have a double chance of getting a local here – the R or M lines. MTA, in their infinite wisdom, cuts M service off at 9:45, effectively halving local service in Queens. This tucks nicely within the statement of what I believe to be the borough motto of “welcome to Queens, now go fuck yourself,” which multiple elected officials have personally asked me to stop propagating. I believe however, that I’ve discovered part of the disconnect between elected officialdom, real estate industrial complex, and transit.

During conversation with the NYC EDC regarding their Sunnyside Yards proposal, the EDC folks pointed out that the project boundaries are served by “8 subway lines.” They know this because they checked a subway map. They didn’t realize that, because they all live in Battery Park City or South Brooklyn, that in reality it’s only three lines (R, part time M, 7 lines) which can accessed by just three stations (36th street, 33rd/Lawson, 40th Lowery) which can be reasonably walked to from the center of their proposed project.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The stretch of Steinway Street pictured above, between 34th avenue and Broadway, sits atop an R/M local station. This would, according to the EDC, be one of the stops servicing what would be roughly half the population of Boulder, Colorado who would be living atop the Sunnyside Yards deck. Again, since they only know this part of Queens from the maps they spread out on polished mahogany desks in the air conditioned offices of lower Manhattan, they don’t realize that the walk from Steinway/39th street at the north eastern side of the proposed deck is nearly a half mile away and would necessitate a hazardous street crossing of Northern Blvd.

Simply put, they want to turn western Queens into the west side of Manhattan. Density is over rated.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Astoria is one of the last working class/lower middle class neighborhoods left in the urban core of NYC. Perhaps EDC might want to leave us alone to live our lives the way we wish to, in a human scale neighborhood where the neighbors actually know each other by name. Maybe they’d like to establish a residence nearby and rotate their planning staff into and out of it on a biannual basis so that they could understand what would be lost here.

Perhaps, we should preserve Western Queens as a museum piece of the actual “progressive era.”

Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek, Greenpoint to Hunters Point, walking tour with NYCH2O – June 29th, 7-9 p.m..

Experience and learn the history of the western side of Newtown Creek, as well as the East River Parks Hunters Point with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 26, 2017 at 1:15 pm

One Response

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  1. Something else to consider about increasing population density is the rate at which communicable diseases would spread developing into major epidemics. How many recent reports of legionnaires disease have there been? Well this presupposes that those dwellers in high-rise worker barracks made out of clean, green, sustainable (whatever the hell that means), eco-friendly, yet somewhat inflammable materials aren’t roasted to death first like in Grenfell. Status mortis locupletatur

    But of course, the UN in its Paris Climate Accord and Agenda 21 program created by the smartest bureaucrats in the universe says that packing people together like sardines in big glass boxes in few urban areas is a super great idea. Since the genius politicians and bureaucrats of our glorious People’s Banana Empire of New York agree it shall be made so whether we masses of puerile dolts like it or not.
    What could possibly go wrong?

    So let the building rampage continue!

    Donald Cavaioli


    June 26, 2017 at 4:12 pm

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