The Newtown Pentacle

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It’s National Applesauce Cake Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator was out of the house early today, to attend a meeting sponsored by the Queens Chamber of Commerce which invited a team from the NYC EDC to present their feasibility study on the Sunnyside Yards at the Bulova Corporate Center found on the border of Astoria and East Elmhurst. I’m happy to say that this was a well attended meeting, and that the attendees included members of the Queens activist community as well as the usual and expected representatives from the Real Estate Industrial Complex. A breakfast meeting, bagels and coffee were offered, along with those very sweet little danishes which are typical of corporate catering.

The EDC presentation was offered by one of their many Vice Presidents, a charming fellow named Nate Bliss. I inquired after the meeting, and there was no relation to the Neziah Bliss family of Greenpoint, just as a note.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The EDC presentation was a roadshow version of the executive summary report found at their website. The presentation glossed over several seminal objections to the project which have been offered by various community organizations such as the gargantuan size of the deck itself (at 43rd street and Barnett Avenue in Sunnyside Gardens, for instance – 109-110 feet above street grade, or at Northern Blvd. and 39th/Steinway – 65-70 feet), but did acknowledge the transit and environmental issues associated with creating a new development that would require between 10 and 19 new schools to be built, and which would install a new population in LIC that would number about half that of Boulder, Colorado – on the 180 acres found between Queens Plaza and 43rd street, Northern Blvd. and Skillman Avenue.

I asked them what they’re planning on plugging the deck and city of towers built on it into, electrical wise. I threw some shade at the fact that their report says that’s it’s not feasible to bring construction materials to the job site, which is a rail yard, by rail. Pointedly asked them, as well, about how they intended to route the thousands of daily trucks which would be carrying in steel and concrete since they won’t be using the railroad to do it.

Ultimately, there’s two efficient routes, and both feed in through Manhattan from the continent – George Washington Bridge down 125th street to Triborough and then through Astoria, or Lincoln Tunnel across 42nd street to Queensboro. Guess which one they’ll pick?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To be entirely clear, despite the fact that the Sunnyside Yards is literally “in my back yard,” my resistance to the plan has nothing to do with the dismissive term “NIMBY” thrown about by the Real Estate Industrial Complex and the bureaucrats of Lower Manhattan. Western Queens is suffocating for lack of infrastructure given the construction boom which has been underway for the last decade and a half. The MTA is overwhelmed, we’ve been closing power plants instead of building new ones, the sewer system is overburdened and outdated. Somebody in the meeting asked me “where are people going to live?” which is the sort of thing that a real estate developer always throws out as if they’re doing us some sort of favor or good deed with the condemnation of whole city blocks and the subsequent erection of mirror glass skinned towers.

Short answer is this – if we improve our transit system, people can live anywhere they want to. Before the ABC and 456 lines reached into northern Manhattan and the 123 lines went to the Bronx, those areas were typified by farmland. So was most of Queens and Eastern Brooklyn, prior to the arrival of the Subways a century ago. Transit expansion equals an opportunity for rapacious profiteering on the part of the real estate industrial complex, and since greed seems to be the only thing that motivates us these days… Imagine the possibilities of an elevated track that crossed from the 103rd Corona Avenue stop on the 7 south across the transit deserts of Queens and Brooklyn all the way to Broadway Junction.

The mind boggles. 


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It’s National Cheese Souflee Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So far, I’ve never tired of seeing the old Koscisuzcko Bridge from the roadway of the new one, but then again its only been around three weeks that the thing has been open. One is curious as to the reactions all of y’all have had at the sight of the new span, how it’s been working out for you so far, all that sort of thing. I’m on the Stakeholders Advisory Committee, so if there’s something specific or pithy you’d want me to bring to officialdom, let me know and I’ll pass it on to the powers that be.

Today’s first two shots were captured from behind the windshield of a car, in case you’re wondering. What I was doing in an automobile, of all things, is something which I’ll tell you about in a future post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The driver of the car I was in is one of my neighbors from back here in Astoria, if you’re curious, but I had engaged his services in the context of his being a professional and TLC licensed driver. Again, I’ll tell you why I needed a ride at a later date. Our path didn’t just include a crossing of the Koscisuzcko Bridge, but also involved a trip into the City as well. That’s the Roosevelt Island Tram hurtling over the Queensboro Bridge, pictured above. Very exciting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A couple of weeks ago, I conducted a Newtown Creek tour for a group of European college students, and my pals at Sims Metal Management were gracious enough to allow the group to visit the Newtown Creek Pier facility maintained by the recycling company. Sims has a contract with DSNY to handle the “MGP” or “metal, plastic, glass” recyclable trash we put out on the curb, and they were engaged in the process of collecting it from the white packer trucks maintained by the agency for the task. The stuff ultimately gets barged out to another Sims facility, where it’s sorted.


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek Alliance Boat tour, May 21st.

Visit the Newtown Creek on a two hour boat tour with NCA historian Mitch Waxman and NCA Project Manager Will Elkins, made possible with a grant from the Hudson River Foundation – details and tix here.


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It’s International Whiskey Day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is normal, right? Everybody wanders around in industrial neighborhoods at night taking pictures of highly polluted waterways, right? It’s not just me… right?

At this time of the year – when it’s neither hot nor cold, but instead lukewarm – the Dutch Kills tributary of the inconceivable Newtown Creek always displays a layer of filmy “goo,” which is at its most observable during the interval when the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself has dipped behind New Jersey. Not sure if the “goo” is just road salt and snow pellet residues, nor some sort of oil or grease, some effluent introduced by the multiple sewer outlets on Dutch Kills which are offered by the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, or perhaps it’s just the mucoid castings of some hidden water dwelling leviathan.

Me, I lean towards the leviathan theory, because it involves both mucous and a giant monster. Mucous is cool.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One had to tend to a bit of business in Greenpoint last week, and since it was decent out – weather wise – decided to walk home to Astoria. It’s a walk that sounds longer than it is, you just need to take advantage of fact that since the street grid here about is divided and subdivided by highways and rail infrastructure which creates a series of triangles – walk the legs of the triangle and not the hypotenuse until it’s advantageous.

Cutting through the streets around Dutch Kills leads me to that advantageous hypotenuse (which would make a great band name, incidentally) which is Skillman Avenue. A century ago, I would have been able to shortcut on Old Dutch Kills Road from there, but all that’s left of that is a stubby block following the rail tracks near Home Depot which the City calls 37th avenue. You have to work with what you’ve got, though.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is engaged, at the moment, with drawing up a schedule for this year’s walking and boat tours. A recently announced Newtown Creek Alliance tour – the 100% Toxic All Day Newtown Creekathon on April 9th – filled up in about half a day and I didn’t even have time to let everyone here know before it did. I have a feeling we will be repeating this one sometime in the fall, but there’s a lot of neat stuff coming this summer.

On the tours subject – Working Harbor Committee met the other night, and there are several water tours in the offing with that group of maritime educators and enthusiasts. We, as in Newtown Creek Alliance, are going to be announcing several opportunities to visit the Creek by water and on land shortly. Additionally, I’ve got a couple of things cooking with Atlas Obscura that are mighty cool. I’ll be letting everyone know about these and other excursions as soon as I’ve got all the dates etched in stone.


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It’s Anosmia Awareness Day, in these United States and the United Kingdom.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For the curious – Anosmia is a loss of the sense of smell, which is apparently quite debilitating. One of my old buddies has always wondered about what smell “blindness” is called, and he’s been using “smeaf” for many years so I’m glad to report that there is – in fact – an actual term for it. Seriously though, imagine not being to taste your food or discern a gas leak or smoke – Anosmia is no joke and as serious as blindness or deafness. Of course, given the amount of time I spend at a certain superfund site which defines the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens, Anosmia might be something of a boon. The loss of sensory data I’m currently experiencing is actually centered around touch, and a general numbness seems to be spreading across my skinvelope and ballooning out between my ears.

Pictured above is the fabulous Borden Avenue Bridge, a retractile wonder that the children of Queens would marvel at, would they elect to visit the Dutch Kills Tributary of the lugubrious Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Retractile means, incidentally, that the movable section of the roadway retreats away from its foundational piers, opening a spot for maritime traffic to pass through. In the shot above, you can see the spot which accepts the retractile section. There’s locomotive style rails running across the spot, which carry the truss. Famously, there’s only two retractile bridges in NYC, with the other one (which is decidedly smaller in scale and older in design) spanning the Gowanus Canal at Caroll Street. I guess that today is vocabulary day, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The section of the Long Island Expressway seen above is referred to as the Queens Midtown Expressway by officialdom, and it’s some 106 feet up from the street to its road deck. It opened in 1939, and feeds it’s traffic flow into the nearby Queens Midtown Tunnel (also 1939) leading to Manhattan. A conceit often I’ve often used at spots like this, all around NYC, is to call this “The House of Moses” for NYC’s master builder Robert Moses. The tunnel and QME weren’t projects he started, but they are projects that Moses bullied his way into and took over – as a note. Robert Caro didn’t call Moses the “Power Broker” just to be snarky.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the reasons that I hate all of you equally is exemplified by this all too common site at the littoral edge of Dutch Kills. I’m the guy who wads up personally produced garbage in his pockets and carries it until encountering a proper trash receptacle, so realize that this is a pet peeve of mine – but what the hell is wrong with all of you? You don’t just discard things like cups and food wrappers or plastic bags out of your car window as you move along, do you? Quite obviously, many do. I see this every where I go in NY harbor.

How about you? Shame on all of us for this.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There seems to be some signs of life at this long vacant property along Dutch Kills – the former Irving Iron Works factory. Part of their site has had a cinder block wall erected. Notice that it was built from another installation of blocks which had been literally graffiti’d and that now it’s just a hodge podge of random colors. That’s kind of cool actually.

I’ll keep an eye out. 


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It’s Setsubun Day, in the nation of Japan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As described in yesterday’s post, the 21st of January was a pretty foggy day, which is something I consider pretty. One made it a point of visiting several distaff locations around Long Island City to capture the scene. The shot above is something that all of you reading this will be able to personally enjoy sometime in the very near future, when the Smiling Hogshead Ranch expands its operations up to the abandoned trackway of the Montauk Cutoff.

The photo above depicts the most photogenic of NYC’s subway lines – the IRT Flushing, or 7 line – exiting the elevated tracks of the Court Square Station and traveling on its way to Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One spent a bit of time up on the tracks, as I ran into an old friend while making my way up there and we spent some time catching up while I waved the camera around. The cutoff is brutally bare during the winter months, as all of the self seeded vegetation surrounding it is deep in hibernation. During the warmer months, it’s positively verdant up here – an island of green amidst the concrete devastations of Western Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Disturbingly, the Queens Cobbler seems to have visited the Cutoff recently, leaving behind one of the totemic “single shoes” signaling that he or she was here. The “Queens Cobbler” is the name I’ve assigned to a likely serial killer who claims human lives all around the Newtown Creek watershed, leaving behind a single shoe to announce that their latest hunt has been successful.

Someday, the NYPD will happen upon a hidden warehouse room in LIC or Maspeth filled with footwear and gore, and on that day – the metaphorical and literal “other shoe” will truly fall. Back next week with something completely different at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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It’s Street Children’s Day, in the Republic of Austria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dutch Kills, a tributary of Newtown Creek which abruptly turns north off the main channel three quarters of a mile east of the East River, is entirely contained within Long Island City. It’s crossed by five bridges – the LIRR bridges DB Cabin and Cabin M, the Borden Avenue Bridge, the Queens Midtown Expressway truss, and the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge. Dutch Kills, like all of Newtown Creek’s tributaries and the main channel itself, is lined with a toxic sediment referred to as “Black Mayonnaise.” This sediment is composed of coal tar, petroleum and refining byproducts, industrial waste of various provence and typology, as well as human excrement deposited by NYC’s open sewers.

At its northern terminus, Dutch Kills is across the street from a CUNY college and several charter schools serving high school and junior high school aged kids. One of the most significant build outs in recent real estate history is happening less than a quarter mile from that spot, along LIC’s Jackson Avenue in an area referred to as “Court Square.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Due to a non functioning railroad swing bridge at Dutch Kill’s junction with Newtown Creek’s main channel, there is absolutely zero maritime industrial activity along the tributary. The bulkheads along its reach generally date back about a century, to a massive “improvement” conducted around the time of the First World War which saw the marshes and swamps it fed drained and both the Sunnyside Yards and the Degnon Industrial Terminal constructed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The streets surrounding Dutch Kills offer fleeting glimpses of the waterway, and many of them are not City streets at all but “railroad access roads” owned by the MTA. You can almost always smell the waterway before you can see it, and whereas I can tell you a few spots to access the water, none of these are “legal” and all involve trespass of private or government property. You can legally observe it from the Borden Avenue or Hunters Point Avenue bridges, however.

At it’s terminus – or “turning basin,” there are two abandoned oil barges rusting and rotting away into the water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Illegal dumping, the native art form of the Borough of Queens, is practiced hereabouts with relish and abandon. The DSNY garbage bin in the shot above appeared on 29th street back in November, and I’ve been watching it steadily fill up and overflow. DSNY doesn’t seem to remember where they put it, as I haven’t seen it empty since the day it arrived.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Amidst the sheens of oil and grease you’ll observe on Dutch Kills, which are both historic and newly spawned, there are what the NYC DEP would describe as “floatables.” That’s government code for garbage that’s either been flushed or has been swept into the sewer grates on every street corner in NYC. In the case of Dutch Kills, the “sewer shed” that feeds these floatables into it extends all the way to East Elmhurst and Woodside to the east, Sunnyside and Astoria to the north, and the rapidly growing Long Island City which Dutch Kills is a part of.

The sewer plant that handles this burgeoning area was opened in 1931, and Fiorello LaGuardia cut the ribbon to open it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There is going to be a meeting tomorrow, the latest of many, of the Newtown Creek Community Advisory Group (CAG) on the first of February. If the shot above looks good to you, and you’d like to see more of the same – don’t come. If you care about not having a billion and a half gallons of raw sewage a year spilling onto mounds of poisonous and century old industrial waste, do come. Pipe up, we need voices and perspectives from outside the echo chamber.

Details on the meeting – time, place, etc. – can be accessed at this link. We could really use some Queensican bodies and voices in the room.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As evinced by the corpse pictured above, life has actually begun to recolonize this waterway in recent years. The presence of higher mammals hereabouts speaks to an ecosystem that is beginning to recover from centuries of industrial and municipal abuse. Of course, nothing is going to save a raccoon from getting ground into hamburger by the wheels of a semi truck.

At Newtown Creek Alliance, we’ve been cataloging and observing for a while now. There’s more than seventy individual species of birds for instance – including Great Blue Herons and Ospreys – living along the lugubrious Newtown Creek. Their presence speaks to a growing population of prey animals (fish) present in the water column, and to a broader environmental recovery happening along this industrial waterway at the literal center of NYC.


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Old acquaintance be forgot, all that jazz, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last post of 2016 right here, lords and ladies, coming to you from the Empty Corridor of LIC. As y’all know, my favorite part of the concrete devastations for many years has been the splendid isolation it offered, which is getting all screwed up by real estate development. There’s so many more people around these parts than there were ten years ago… where’s a humble narrator got to go to find some solitude and listen to his HP Lovecraft audiobooks? I suppose there’s always Calvary Cemetery, but…

The Empty Corridor, I would mention, is a term of my own invention. It’s the zone of LIC found down under the Long Island Expresway – or DULIE. You’ve got to stay ahead of the real estate people, I always say.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s an MTA owned railroad access road which isn’t exactly a NYC DOT street, despite it having a “29th street” sign hanging on it. It adjoins the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek, connecting Hunters Point Avenue and 47th avenue. If you send mail to one of the businesses found on this street, you can write the address as “One Dutch Kills” rather than “29th street” and it will be delivered. That’s something I learned in 2016.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the subject of looking forward to 2017, the battle of Queens looms large. The Mayor of NYC announced, a while ago now, that he intends to deck over the titan Sunnyside Yards and build what promises to be a disastrous number of housing units there without a concurrent buildout of infrastructure. Bill de Blasio; the big little mayor, the dope from park slope, the vainglorious ideologue – he’s got another thing coming if he thinks he’s going to wreck Western Queens.

A sleeping activist giant has awoken in this borough, thanks to his homeless hotels, disingenuous neoliberalism masquerading as progressive policy, and his crass Tammany style corruption.


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