The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Degnon Terminal’ Category

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My quest to observe and photograph certain rumored artifacts, carefully hidden by the administration of Queens Borough President Curly Joe Cassidy in 1903, which an anonymous source informed me were recently uncovered by the labor of construction crews that were pursuing the lustful ambitions of their Manhattan based masters (to erect yet another bland residential tower here in Western Queens) was fruitless. Some things, it would seem, will remain hidden.

Perhaps that is for the best, for if the community as a whole was to ever truly understand the history of Long Island City… anarchy and red rage would reign as they abandoned all pretense of civilization. Men would become wild and mad, without moral convention or law, and they would would find new and savage ways to enjoy themselves, abandoning even “lip service” allegiance to that extraterrestrial thing which they once referred to as “God.”

Defeated, aimless, lost in ennui and abandoned by serendipity… a wandering mendicant and humble narrator soon found himself, like every other piece of wind blown trash in New York City, at the Newtown Creek. The Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek in the Long Island City section of Queens, specifically.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dutch Kills was in a queer condition this particular late afternoon in the August of 2017. The burning thermonuclear eye of God itself hung squamous in the sky, occluded by vast gray and white agglutinations of atmospheric humidity. Recent rain had enriched the nutrient load of the water with raw sewage, causing a bloom of the photosynthetic organisms which feed on both fecund decay and the eye’s emanations. Within a few days, these single celled plants would choke themselves to death on their respiratory waste gases, and the water will turn brown as bacterial populations explode while consuming their corpses. The bacteria produce a waste gas which men call hydrogen sulfide, offering to passers by an aroma not unlike that of rotting eggs. A few days later the water will blacken as the self same bacteria, in turn, are killed off by starvation and asphyxiation. Their rotting colonies will in turn feed a new generation of algae, which will overpopulate when the rain again brings the sewer tide and the cycle begins anew.

The smell of the green creek is onerous and inescapable, and the brown creek is something else entirely. The stink of the black creek… let’s just call that “unusual.” It’s all very depressing, where unwholesomeness reigns.

A smell reminiscent of swamp dwelling reptiles was omnipresent on the day these photos were collected.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dutch Kills was choked with 19th century industrial waste products and mounds of manure produced by pack animals when Michael Degnon began construction on the flooded waste meadows formerly owned by Governor Roscoe P. Flowers, back in 1909. Filling in the swamps with rocky till harvested from the subway and railroad tunnels his company constructed, Degnon’s goal was to build the greatest industrial park in the country hereabouts. The Degnon Terminal promised lots of sufficient size to construct enormous factory buildings, like the Loose Wiles “Thousand Windows Bakery,” as well as offering terrestrial railroad and “rail to barge” connections. Dutch Kills was bulkheaded under the supervision of the Army Corps of Engineers, it’s wetlands filled in, and industry was invited into “America’s Workshop.”

Borough President Maurice E. Connolly located his offices alongside Degnon’s, in what modernity refers to as the “Paragon Oil Building” on 21st street and 49th avenue, but which was built as the “Subway Building” and served Connolly as his Borough Hall.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Maurice E. Connolly, like all the Borough Presidents of Queens, was presented at inauguration with a 1661 scrap of parchment left behind by William Hallet. Describing a degenerate offshoot of the Lenape civilization encountered in Western Queens, who were rumored to be members of a shunned cult repudiated and suppressed by the larger aboriginal civilization, this dark knowledge is a closely guarded state secret which has been passed from leader to leader since the early Calvinist era of the Dutch colony of Nieuwtown. As far as I’ve been able to discern, the Borough Presidents of Queens have faithfully maintained the ignorance of Mayors and Governors, and that even the executive branch of neighboring Brooklyn is unaware of what the ancient message transmits.

What the document says about these Native American devil worshippers is known only by the intended recipients, but that soon after reading it, Connolly began allocating funding to a vast swamp draining and land reclamation project in Queens. He installed miles of sewer pipes in pursuance of draining western Queens, many of which lead directly into Dutch Kills (accusations and convictions for corruption related to this effort are what finally removed him from office, after 17 years, in 1928).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the day these shots were captured, a bizarre amalgam of floatable items were observed in the solute rich compound which we will simply refer to as “water” for simplicity’s sake. Frizzled and black, these buoyant items were observed floating along on the tepid currents of Dutch Kills. It was a fairly low moment in the tidal cycle, but the start of the flood tide cycle was pushing in from the main spur of the Newtown Creek, and the black polyploid objects were meandering north towards the turning basin.

A zoom lens was employed, in pursuance of getting a closer look at the mysterious flotilla.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whatever the material of ebon hue was remains a mystery to me. I can report that there were odd streaks, as carried to the surface on bubbles of biological gas rising from subaqueous depths, of oil and coal tar present.

Who can guess what secrets might be hidden in the sediments beds of black mayonnaise, where all the sins of the twentieth century reside and mingle?


Upcoming Tours and events

Brooklyn Waterfront Boat Tour, with Working Harbor Committee – Saturday August 12th, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Explore the coastline of Brooklyn from Newtown Creek to Sunset Park, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman, Andrew Gustafson of Turnstile Tours, and Gordon Cooper of Working Harbor Committee on the narrating about Brooklyn’s industrial past and rapidly changing present. details here.

The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance – Sunday August 13th, 11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Explore the hellish waste transfer and petroleum districts of North Brooklyn on this daring walk towards the doomed Kosciuszko Bridge, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

Two Newtown Creek Boat Tours, with Newtown Creek Alliance and Open House NY – Wednesday August 16th, 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

The neighborhoods surrounding Newtown Creek are home to the densest collection of these garbage facilities anywhere in the city and collectively, the waste transfer stations around and along Newtown Creek handle almost 40% of the waste that moves through New York. Join Newtown Creek Alliance’s Mitch Waxman and Willis Elkins  to learn about the ongoing efforts to address the environmental burden that this “clustering” has caused. details here.

DUPBO Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with NYCH20 – Thursday August 24th, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Explore Greenpoint and Hunters Point, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


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other callers

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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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modern matters

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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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Here today and gone tomorrow, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator, as previously stated, needs a vacation.

Actually, it’s a change of scene I require. My daily rounds often take me to locations which are awe inspiring, or terrifying, but ultimately I’d like to see and record something different – just for a change of pace. Kittens? I just don’t know anymore. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, as the pundits opine, and I’d like to photograph something entirely absent of tugboats, industrial squalor, and sewer plants – just for a minute, mind you. Maybe a walk in the woods or something.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The good news is that after this weekend’s Open House New York tour is concluded one will be free on the weekends again. I’m thinking about following the lead offered by Ratso and Joe Buck in the Midnight Cowboy movie and buying a random bus ticket at Port Authority and seeing where Greyhound might want to take me for a day trip.

Of course – knowing my luck, I’ll randomly end up in industrial Newark or Philadelphia, or some rust belt city in western New York. You can take the boy out of the superfund site, but…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Perhaps it’s just ennui. Bah.

Winter is coming, and ultimately, Carthage must be destroyed.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 14, 2016 at 11:00 am

furtive signs

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Triffids at Newtown Creek?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last weekend, I was enacting my usual pilgrimage back from Greenpoint to Astoria and since it was a nice day I decided to take the long way home and visit Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary as it had been a good 72 hours since the last time I was there. That’s the Queens Midtown Expressway truss bridge of the larger Long Island Expressway highway complex at its highest altitude, some 106 feet over the water.

In truth, the Dutch Kills route is actually a bit of a shortcut for me, as the route is a good number of blocks shorter than taking the Greenpoint Avenue pathway eastwards through Blissville and Sunnyside due to the somewhat triangular relationship between Northern Blvd. and GP avenue. I like to cut down 27th street from Borden Avenue, in order to access Skillman Avenue, which runs roughly parallel to Northern Blvd. until 39th street.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was on 27th street, right in front of what was once known as Irving Subway Grate, that I spotted this bizarre plant. One would like to imagine two distinct scenarios to describe it – one involving extraterrestrial spores settling down upon LIC and spawning an alien vegetable, the other is that the mutagenic chemicals swirling around in the waters of Dutch Kills have perverted and created a new and debased form of life.

It’s probably something that a botanist would instantly recognize, but please – allow me my little fantasies.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These seed pods, or perhaps fruit, were heavily armored. They were fairly large, at about 3-5 inches in length.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Were they not shaped like the pincers of an insect, or crab, I would have produced my trusty pocket knife and cut one open to reveal what was inside. Instead, I was fearful that I might get pinched by some autonomic reaction so I stayed at a safe distance. What if they were man eating Triffids in some juvenile form?

You can’t be too careful around Newtown Creek. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What were they? Only that impossible thing, which cannot possibly be real, hiding in the cupola of the sapphire megalith of Long Island City that stares down upon the world of men through its three lobed burning eye, can know for sure.

Upcoming tours and events:


“The Untold History of the Newtown Creek (aka Insalubrious Valley)” walking tour
with New York Adventure Club, Saturday, October 1st from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“First Calvary Cemetery” walking tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, Saturday, October 8th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


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Up Dutch Kills, with a paddle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My pal T. Willis Elkins, who’s the Project Manager of Newtown Creek Alliance and the co chair of the Newtown Creek CAG, sent out an invite recently inquiring whether I might have any interest in taking an evening paddle with employees of the NYC DEP on my beloved Newtown Creek – specifically up the Dutch Kills tributary in LIC and a couple of other points of nearby interest in Booklyn.

How could I resist? 

T. Willis is also one of the show runners at North Brooklyn Boat Club, found in Greenpoint under the Pulaski Bridge, so that’s where our little crew met up. We donned life vests, listened to Will’s safety speech, and got into canoes. I chose to go out in the smaller of the two boats, presuming that it would be a better spot to take pictures from than the enormous version that everybody else would be in.

The only condition which T. Willis set down for the trip was that everybody would have to row, but… cardio, right?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

T. Willis had timed our trip to coincide with low tide on the Creek, which is required to pass beneath the MTA’s non functional Cabin M railroad swing bridge which is – at best – just a few feet over the water. We headed into Long Island City along the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek, and pictured above is the second of the bridges you’ll find along the tributary – Cabin M – which is a truss bridge that can actually open and close.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above looks east along Cabin M towards the SimsMetal dock. DB Cabin services the Lower Montauk branch of the LIRR’s freight operations, connecting the Wheelspur and Blissville yards. The Long Island Railroad tracks follow the main stem of the waterway eastwards into Blissville, Maspeth and eventually turn north towards Fresh Pond. This traffic is maintained and operated by LIRR’s contracted freight partner, the NY & Atlantic.

Cabin M is part of the now defunct Montauk Cutoff tracks, which provided access to the Sunnyside Yards from the freight tracks along the Creek. The Montauk Cutoff itself was detailed in this post last year.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We proceeded along Dutch Kills and passed under the venerable Borden Avenue Bridge, one of only two retractile bridges in the City of Greater New York. The sections of Borden Avenue it connects were swamp land until the Army Corps of Engineers blew through in the decade following the Civil War, creating first a “plank road” through the already despoiled wetlands, then a few decades later laying macadam roads and filling in the swamps with landfill. It wasn’t until 1909 that this area kicked into high gear, after the Queensboro Bridge opened. With the construction and creation  of the nearby Sunnyside Yards, and the Degnon Terminal industrial zone which surrounds Dutch Kills, this section of LIC soon became known as “America’s Workshop.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The head of Dutch Kills sports a “turning basin” built for shipping, which isn’t used in modernity due to that non functioning rail bridge – DB Cabin – found at its intersection with the main stem of Newtown Creek. The turning basin is nearly a mile back into Long Island City, and you can really get a sense of how much new construction is happening in LIC from back here.

There’s also a couple of pretty large combined sewer outfalls – CSO’s – back here, which everybody’s friends at the DEP whom we were paddling with are actually responsible for. The pipes here are connected to the Bowery Bay Sewage Treatment plant in Astoria, for the vulgarly curious.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve shown you before – lords and ladies – the abandoned fuel barges found back here, which have been allowed to rot away into the water – in previous posts. I’ve also described to you the “situation” which the American Warehouse company has found themselves in during the early 21st century – wherein the undermining of their site by the waters of Dutch Kills have cost them a pretty penny to shore up. Many, many million pennies, I’m told.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On our way out, we passed under the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge. All of the NYC DOT administered bridges on the Newtown Creek and its tributaries are maintained in working order, and I’ve witnessed this single bascule drawbridge being opened and closed.

Heck, I was a parade Marshall for its centennial, and we even had a parade.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our little group visited a couple of other spots nearby, Unnamed Canal and Whale Creek, then rowed out to the Creek’s intersection with the East River for a bit. Along the way, I spotted this feral fellow in Greenpoint.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Wednesday, August 3rd, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. –
Glittering Realms Walking Tour,
with NYC H2O. Click here for more details.

Saturday, August 6th, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. –
Insalubrious Valley Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 21, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Poison Cauldron Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

fetter upon

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Wandering the post industrial wastelands of America’s Work Shop – that’s me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Spotted the numeral above in LIC recently, adorning the loading dock of some nameless warehousing company housed in the former Waldes Koh-I-Noor site nearby Dutch Kills. The Real Estate Industrial Complex recently discovered the former Degnon Terminal, it seems, and the Waldes buildings are currently being marketed as “The Zipper Building” by the powers that be and to opportunists who have connected themselves to LIC as some sort of stepping stone from Wall Street.

As a note, five is the only prime number that ends with the number five. It’s also the only number which seems to be entirely European in origin, having little verisimilitude to Arabic or Indian glyphs that represent the number. There’s five senses, five books in the Torah, five wounds of Jesus, five pillars of Islam, and in western music – a perfect fifth is considered to be the most consonant of all the harmonies. In geometry, there’s the Pentagram, and of course – you’re reading the pentacle.

Five.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of Dutch Kills, when you see a structure of creosoted logs held together with iron, as you do nearby the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge – the official term for this sort of thing is a “dolphin.” It’s meant to vouchsafe the bridge against an accidental collision by maritime traffic, but since there’s little to no maritime traffic on Dutch Kills – a tributary of the legendary Newtown Creek – these days, it’s just a thing to take pictures of.

There’s twelve former trees, infused with creosote oil, in that shot above.

Twelve is thought to be a Germanic/Old English term describing the smallest composite number which has exactly six divisors. It’s the largest number that has a single syllable name in the English language. A cube has twelve edges, the human body has twelve cranial nerves. The Western zodiac has twelve signs, as does the Chinese variant, and the 12th moon of Jupiter is called Lysithea.

Twelve.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

From the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant Nature Walk in Greenpoint, should you have a medium long zoom lens on your camera, you can observe the Sims Metal Management Company at work – processing all sorts of metallic things. In the case of the shot above, it’s derelict cars in the process of being recycled. After collection at Sims on Newtown Creek, these automobile carcasses will be barged out to New Jersey where they will be fed into a shredder that will reduce them down to metallic bits and a cloud of dust.

As I count it, there’s eighteen automobiles in the shot above.

The number eighteen translates from the Hebrew word for it (Chai) as “Life.” There’s 18 chapters in the Bhagavad Gita, which is part of the 18 book Mahabharata. Chinese tradition declares the number eighteen as a lucky one. Eighteen in binary code is “10010” which is a seven block long zip code in Manhattan – from 20th to 27th, and from Sixth avenue to the East River.

51218, you ask?  According to the National Institue of Helath, that’s the numerical designation of a gene we inherited from our single cell ancestors.

What all of this means, I can’t say, but it’s kind of freaking me out.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Sunday, May 8th at 11 a.m. – North Henry Street Project,
with Municipal Arts Society Janeswalk and Newtown Creek Alliance,
in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Click here for more details.

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