The Newtown Pentacle

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A few shots from Penny Bridge, along Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was a busy weekend for a humble narrator, and had to show my face in public for a couple of events. Had a bit of time afterwards that was productively spent, as a photographer friend and I hit a couple of “sweet spots” along that troublesome cataract of municipal neglect called the Newtown Creek whereupon I got busy with the tripod and the clicking.

Pictured above, the Koscisuzcko Bridge project is moving along nicely.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One seems to be obsessed with longish exposures of rotting piles these days, can’t tell you why. Give me a centuried mass of lumber groaning with ship worms and wood lice sticking out of the water and I’m happy.

Other people like seeing family or friends, I’ve got decaying maritime infrastructure. What can I tel you, I’m all ‘effed up.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking westward, towards the Shining City.

See y’all tomorrow, and check out the offer for the “Infrastructure Creek” walk I’ll be conducting on October 1st.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Monday, October 1st, 6:30 p.m. – Infrastructure Creek – with Atlas Obscura.

Join Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman as he leads an exploration of the city’s largest sewer plant, tunnels, draw and truss bridges, rail yards, and a highway that carries 32 million vehicle-trips a year over flowing water.

Tix and more details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 24, 2018 at 11:00 am

unusually odd

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Friday odds and ends.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

MOOOOOON. That’s what I said. Ultimately I should have said “cable clutter” since that’s what you notice first. I will never understand how the spectrum/rcn/Verizon people are allowed to get away with this sort of thing in Queens. The City will hand out tickets for looking at something too long in this Borough, treats local businesses like a cash register with fines for minor infractions, and polices parking like clockwork. We have DSNY inspectors picking through the trash, building inspectors ordering sidewalk replacements all willy nilly, but when it comes to the metric shit ton of dead wires hanging off the utility poles – nada.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Same sort of thing applies over in Brooklyn, as a note. If your home had a cracked water pipe, the DEP would gladly bill you for every gallon and then fine you for the flow going into their sewers. When it’s the City, on the other hand…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The thing in the Sapphire Megalith just laughs.

Have a great Labor Day weekend, Lords and Ladies – I’ll be walking amongst you in the shadowed edges, amongst the revenants and along the remnants.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 31, 2018 at 11:00 am

imaginary conversation

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A public service announcement from the Newtown Pentacle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The City of Greater New York, like many of the other older North American East Coast cities, uses a combined sewer system. What that means is that sanitary waste water pipes, leading from the sort of domestic tackle pictured above, enters into an underground sewer pipe which also handles storm water. When the weather is dry, the municipal agency tasked by NYC with handling the flow (the Department of Environmental Protection or DEP) does a fairly passable job. When the weather is wet, however, things start getting ugly. A quarter inch of rain, citywide, translates into a billion gallons of storm water entering the network of pipes, junctions, and weirs hidden below the streets. This additional volume of storm water surges into the shared pipes, and the mixed up storm and sanitary water ends up having to be purged out into area waterways via open pipes. There are about 400 of these “Combined Sewer Outfalls” in NYC.

As you’d imagine, the DEP is fairly careful about handling this, and to their credit – working diligently to correct this situation. Not always willingly, of course, but they are in fact “doing something.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Massive “gray infrastructure” investments like the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment plant in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint section are part of the story. Designed to handle in excess of 800 million gallons a day of what the DEP staff refers to as “honey,” this particular plant is the newest and largest of the 14 sewer plants the agency maintains. If you flush a toilet anywhere in Manhattan below 79th street (and in small sections of Brooklyn and Queens), your “honey” is headed here via a pump house found on the corner of East 13th street and Avenue D on the Lower East Side. A technolological marvel, the NCWWTP is unfortunately unique in DEP’s property portfolio. The Bowery Bay plant in Astoria opened during the Great Depression in 1939 for instance, and the oldest operating plant in DEP’s system is in Jamaica, Queens which opened in 1903 (and last received an upgrade in 1943).

The stratospheric costs of upgrading their plants has caused DEP to embrace a bit of lateral thinking in recent years, which is where conservation and “green infrastructure” come in.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Green infrastructure takes several forms. There’s what the DEP used to call “bio swales” which a clever Deputy Commissioner has recently rebranded as “rain gardens.” This program will, when you put together all of the rain gardens citywide, have opened up a fairly large acreage of open soil for storm water to enter the ground via, rather than dancing along the concrete until finding a storm drain. The emerging technology and policy that they’re still figuring out are “green roofs.” The problem with retrofitting old structures for green roofs is that more often than not, the roof is structurally the weakest section of a building. The other problem is convincing building owners that there’s a benefit in spending time and treasure on them. 

A humble narrator is a back room conversation kind of fellow, and the ears I’ve been whispering in for the last few years have been filled with this crazy idea of creating a municipal code requirement – in the same way NYC requires fire stairs and suppression systems, lights on the front of your house, sidewalks of a certain size and specification and so on – for storm water neutrality in new construction. I’ve been told it’s up to DEP to request codifying it, as it’s not up to City Planning or anybody on that side of City Hall. The Real Estate Industrial Complex people I’ve mentioned this to are generally into it, as a green roof would be a saleable amenity which would enhance their offerings and wouldn’t increase their construction costs noticeably.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Friday, August 3rd, 6:30 p.m. – Infrastructure Creek – with Newtown Creek Alliance.

If you want infrastructure, then meet NCA historian Mitch Waxman at the corner of Greenpoint Avenue and Kingsland Avenue in Brooklyn, and in just one a half miles he’ll show you the largest and newest of NYC’s 14 sewer plants, six bridges, a Superfund site, three rail yards with trains moving at street grade, a highway that carries 32 million vehicle trips a year 106 feet over water. The highway feeds into the Queens Midtown Tunnel, and we’ll end it all at the LIC ferry landing where folks are welcome to grab a drink and enjoy watching the sunset at the East River, as it lowers behind the midtown Manhattan skyline.

Tix and more details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 3, 2018 at 11:00 am

last cleaning

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Utopia, along the East River?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One had an interesting but short chat last night, with the always interesting and sometimes chatty Robert Singleton of Greater Astoria Historic Society, about a piece he had recently written for a magazine about colonial era Maspeth and how he framed his tale around the desires of those long ago and far away colonists seeking “utopia” in the so called “new world.” I haven’t read Bob’s piece yet, but I’m sure it matches up with his normal high standards (Bob is who I publicly call “the acknowledged expert” on the subject of colonial era history in Western Queens). It did spark a few thoughts in my mind though, on the utopian eidolon which drew so many of our ancestors to what would become the United States. For native born 21st century citizens of the United States and Canada, “freedom” is a fairly abstract idea, but to our predecessors who undertook the dangerous journey from Europe to North America it was crystal clear what they were trying to leave behind.

It’s hard to imagine in modernity – the iron grip of the Hapsburgs, the Tsars, the Ottomans, the Popes, even the relatively “liberal” enlightened despots and parliaments of Western Europe – maintained a choke hold on thought, science, business, religion, and dissent in their lands. Especially after the French Revolution, and the appearance of Napoleon the antichrist, these governments maintained networks of domestic spies and employed forces of “Secret Police” to maintain their franchised version of “order and stability” at all costs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Utopia is what Americans, and New Yorkers in particular, have been chasing since the first Dutchman cut down a few trees in what was once a forest that stretched from coast to coast, to began clearing a spot to build a house. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and prosperity? That’s the American Dream, right? The pursuit and concept of “utopia” in the years leading up to the Civil War of the 1860’s eventually morphed into “progress” in the late 19th and entire 20th centuries, and is currently being conceptually framed as the quest for “equity” and “fairness.” Translating that for those of you who aren’t wise to these DEP currents: ‘Murica.

Chasing the utopian ideal in the United States has actually resulted in and spawned a modern day dystopia, with a government that maintains the status quo with a domestic spying network and literal armies of police – both public and secret – who are tasked with maintaining order and stability at all cost. Ironic, isn’t it?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over the years, I’ve had friends who espouse all sorts of solutions and often radical visions of how to “fix” America. Socialist and Communist leaning folks want to institute a one size fits all approach with a super powerful central authority that dictates behavioral and social norms via the redistribution of private wealth through the “state,” not realizing that at no time in history has this not resulted in the appearance of an “elite” group of administrators and politicians that resemble nothing other than “born to the manor” nobility. Business and militaristic focused people want a system of lassez faire government whose only role is “ensuring the general welfare” and national defense, which historical precedent suggests as resulting in the subjugation of individual liberty and fostering military adventurism and leads to the formation of an elite group as well. Both are extremes, neither results in “utopia.”

What’s the way forward then? What can we do to answer the dreams of our forebears? Do we launch colony rockets into space, hoping some future version of the Pilgrims or Waloons can figure it out? What is Utopia?

As mentioned, a chat with Bob Singleton is often interesting and thought provoking.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Friday, August 3rd, 6:30 p.m. – Infrastructure Creek – with Newtown Creek Alliance.

If you want infrastructure, then meet NCA historian Mitch Waxman at the corner of Greenpoint Avenue and Kingsland Avenue in Brooklyn, and in just one a half miles he’ll show you the largest and newest of NYC’s 14 sewer plants, six bridges, a Superfund site, three rail yards with trains moving at street grade, a highway that carries 32 million vehicle trips a year 106 feet over water. The highway feeds into the Queens Midtown Tunnel, and we’ll end it all at the LIC ferry landing where folks are welcome to grab a drink and enjoy watching the sunset at the East River, as it lowers behind the midtown Manhattan skyline.

Tix and more deatils here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 31, 2018 at 1:00 pm

pregnant pauses

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Announcing two free boat tours, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This Saturday is the Waterfront Alliance’s “City of Water Day” event, and with NY Waterways, the folks at WA have given me the opportunity to bring two boat loads worth of people to the fabulous Newtown Creek. The tours are free (there is a $5 registration fee during ticketing) and will be 90 minutes long. There’s a ten a.m. and a twelve p.m. tour, both of which will include a fully narrated history of the East River and the Newtown Creek. Navigational issues and timing dictate that we are going to be visiting the first half of the Creek only, which is as far as the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge roughly one and a half miles from the mouth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ticketing links for the tours (as well as a couple of other offerings I’ve got going this weekend) are at the bottom of this post. Sights you’ll see up close from the water include the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment plant, SimsMetal Recycling, Allocco Recycling, the Pulaski and Greenpoint Avenue Bridges, and the coastlines of Long Island City and Greenpoint. The East River section seen and discussed will be the equivalent stretch from Manhattan’s Pier 11 (Wall Street) to 23rd street. That gives you Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg Bridges as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Come with? My colleague from Newtown Creek Alliance – Will Elkins – is going to be sharing the microphone duty with me on the Newtown Creek, exploring the meaning and manifestations of our “Reveal, Restore, Revitalize” motto at Newtown Creek Alliance.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Saturday, July 14th – City of Water Day Newtown Creek Boat Tours – with Waterfront Alliance, NY Waterways, and Newtown Creek Alliance.

As part of the Waterfront Alliance’s “City of Water Day” event, I’ll be conducting two free 90 minute boat tours heading to Newtown Creek, leaving from Pier 11 in Manhattan. We won’t be visiting the entire Newtown Creek, as a note, due to time constraints and navigational issues, but we will get a good mile and a half of it in.

Tickets and more details

Ten a.m. departure here.
Twelve p.m. departure here.

Saturday, July 14th – Exploring Long Island City – with NY Adventure Club.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail?

Tickets and more details
here.

Sunday, July 15th – Penny2Plank – with Newtown Creek Alliance.

There are eleven bridges crossing the modern day Newtown Creek and its tributaries, nine of which are moveable bridges of one kind or another. Other bridges, forgotten and demolished, used to cross the Creek. The approaches to these bridges are still present on the street grids of Brooklyn and Queens as “street ends.” Newtown Creek Alliance and a small army of volunteers have been working to transform these “street ends” from weed choked dumping grounds into inviting public spaces. This walk with NCA historian Mitch Waxman will take you there and back again, discussing the history and current status of these street ends and the territory in between.

The tour will start in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint, and end in Queens’ Maspeth nearby the Grand Street Bridge.

Tickets and more details
here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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4th of July fireworks from the Kingsland Wildflower Green Roof in Greenpoint.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator was lucky enough to have gotten himself invited up onto the green roof at 520 Kingsland Avenue on the 4th of July, and accordingly I showed up with my holsters loaded up. I brought two distinct camera rigs, spent a bit of setup time encoding my “fireworks recipe” into them, and got busy.

The fireworks recipe is anywhere from f.8-11, ISO 200, and 3-5 seconds exposure. You’ll want to preset focus and set your lens to manual focus (remember to turn any lens stabilization off), use a tripod and a cable shutter release, and ensure that the white balance is set to something consistent (I used “daylight” for these during capture, and adjusted the temperature a bit in camera raw during developing). 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Kingsland Wildfower green roof is a co production of Newtown Creek Alliance, Alive Structures, the Audubon Society, and the Broadway Stages company which owns the structure. The green roof is 22,000 square feet, found at 520 Kingsland Avenue in Greenpoint alongside the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, and is roughly 1.3 miles from the East River where – of course – the annual 4th of July fireworks display plays out.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few of the government facilities, like the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, decided to get in on the whole Fourth of July thing. They normally light the digester eggs up with a purplish blue light, this time around it was sequencing through red, white, and blue. I used my iPhone to gather video of it, if you’re interested in checking that out – click here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My main camera, the trusty Canon 7D, was loaded with a lens I refer to as “old reliable.” This is the one I left on autofocus, as I was constantly moving the point of view around and zooming in and out. Normally, the fireworks recipe involves locking in an infinity focus manually achieved, but “old reliable” is a trooper.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The lesser secondary camera I brought is a consumer level Canon Rebel. It’s nowhere near as “smart” as the 7d, but it was set up with my second best lens – a Sigma 18-35 wide angle which was prefocused and set to manual so that it didn’t go hunting for focus in between shots. The camera was set up, and the cable release lock button engaged.

It sat on top of its tripod and just clicked away.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To the east, roughly 3/4 of a mile distant from 520 Kingsland and 2.1 miles from the East River, the new Kosciuszcko Bridge also got in on the light show act. Lit up all red, white, and blue.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Saturday, July 14th – Exploring Long Island City – with NY Adventure Club.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail?

Tickets and more details
here.

Sunday, July 15th – Penny2Plank – with Newtown Creek Alliance.

There are eleven bridges crossing the modern day Newtown Creek and its tributaries, nine of which are moveable bridges of one kind or another. Other bridges, forgotten and demolished, used to cross the Creek. The approaches to these bridges are still present on the street grids of Brooklyn and Queens as “street ends.” Newtown Creek Alliance and a small army of volunteers have been working to transform these “street ends” from weed choked dumping grounds into inviting public spaces. This walk with NCA historian Mitch Waxman will take you there and back again, discussing the history and current status of these street ends and the territory in between.

The tour will start in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint, and end in Queens’ Maspeth nearby the Grand Street Bridge.

Tickets and more details
here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 9, 2018 at 11:00 am

to escape

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Rabbit Holes!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One was scuttling along Jackson Avenue in Hunters Point recently, and this MTA (unit 559) Street Sweeper caught my eye. Built onto a GMC 5500 HD frame, this vehicle is technically a Stewart Amos Equipment Company Mechanical Broom Street Sweeper. The invention of the first mechanical street sweeper, recorded as such, dates back to the 1840’s in Manchester, England by a notable fellow named James Whitworth. It was a horse drawn affair, with rotating brushes actuated by road wheels. A similar device was patented in the United States, in 1849, by a fellow named C.S. Bishop. Variations of theme and function saw hundreds of patents filed for this sort of technology but things settled down when the Elgin Sweeper Company and James Murphy were granted a patent in 1917. The basic form and function of street sweepers has evolved since, but the underlying technological and engineering systems of  what you see above comes from inventor and developer James Murphy. According to environmental officialdom, the best thing that you can do as far as the health of nearby waterways is to have a robust street sweeping schedule. Also, it’s MTA Bridge and Tunnels unit operated, as you can tell from its service dress and branding. The “A” in MTA is for “adventure,” I would remind.

Rabbit hole number one, accomplished.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of MTA Bridge and Tunnels, their pals at the New York State Department of Transportation are in charge of the Long Island Expressway, which feeds some thirty million vehicle trips a year into the Queens Midtown Tunnel where that street sweeper in the first shot is no doubt employed. Greenpoint Avenue is carried over the L.I.E. by a pedestrian and vehicle bridge, and that’s where the latest trophy of the Queens Cobbler (probable) serial killer was recently discovered.

This time around, it was a size 10 Nike brand high top sneaker. Nike was founded in Oregon in 1964 by two guys, originally called Blue Ribbon Sports. They rebranded with the current name and swoosh logo in 1971, and these days Nike has 74,000 global employees and the company is valued at nearly $35 billion buckaroos. Rabbit hole two, folks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There is no greater joy than finding yourself alongside that fabulous cataract of maritime industrial splendor which the happy children of Brooklyn and Queens call the “Newtown Creek” when it’s just started raining. Is it the smell of camphor and burning electrical insulation, the way that the raindrops impact the powderized glass sand on the asphalt, or the rust colored water that flows from the waste transfer stations? I love it all.

What you’re looking at up there is the theoretical street end of North Henry Street at the Unnamed Canal tributary basin of the Newtown Creek, looking north towards Queens. North Henry used to connect to the street grid of Greenpoint prior to the modernization of the sewer plant, but what I’ve always wondered about is the significance of it being called “North Henry Street.” Regular Henry Street runs from “Downtown Brooklyn” in the DUMBO zone all the way down to the Henry Street Basin in Gowanus Bay. North Henry goes from Newtown Creek, through the sewer plant (they’ve still got street signs in there), and east(ish) to Richardson Street on the Bushwick side of Greenpoint near St. Cecilia’s on the south side of Meeker Avenue. What’s the occulted connection between the North and Regular Henry Streets?

Rabbit hole, third.


Upcoming Tours and Events

June 30th – The Skillman Avenue Corridor
– with Access Queens.

Starting at the 7 train on Roosevelt Avenue, we will explore this thriving residential and busy commercial thoroughfare, discussing the issues affecting its present and future. Access Queens, 7 Train Blues, Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, and Newtown Creek Alliance members will be your guides for this roughly two mile walk.
Skillman Avenue begins at the border of residential Sunnyside and Woodside, and ends in Long Island City at 49th avenue, following the southern border of the Sunnyside Yards for much of its path. Once known as Meadow Street, this colonial era thoroughfare transitions from the community of Sunnyside to the post industrial devastations of LIC and the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek.

Tickets and more details
here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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