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Happy Birthday Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

History boy wise, one makes it a point of keeping track of certain things, and especially so when it involves one of the organizations that make life possible within the megalopolis. Centered on the Statue of Liberty, if you were to draw a 25 mile long line on a map of New York Harbor, then rotate it into a circle that encompasses roughly 1,500 square miles… you’d begin to form an idea of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s turf.

The first organization of its kind, and created on this day in 1921; Port Authority oversees tunnels, airports, cargo ports, sea ports, bridges, has an impressive real estate portfolio including the World Trade Center pictured above, operates train and bus stations, it’s own subway and freight rail lines, and operates a 1,700 member police organization which – in any other City – would be enormous.

As a note – PANYNJ is how the rest of this post is going to refer to the organization.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the PANYNJ’s George Washington Bridge pictured above.

Conflicts between the neighboring states of NY and NJ were a serious issue in the years leading up and including WW1, with squabbles over jurisdiction and competition for Federal funding getting in the way of “Progress” during the Progressive era. Modern day “progressives” don’t actually understand the term, I’m afraid. Back when it was coined, it was about streamlining and improving Government services, eliminating political corruption, and the scientific management of Government capital and resources to reduce wasted or duplicate effort. PANYNJ was formed specifically in the name of “Progress,” and to ensure economic growth in the bustling harbor cities of our archipelago.

Teddy Roosevelt, William Taft, and Woodrow Wilson were the national figures leading this “Progressive” movement which gave birth to the high priests of “Progress” a generation later – Robert Moses, Austin Tobin, the Rockefeller brothers; David and Nelson. All saw the so called “middle class” as the key to American prosperity and growth, and they spent their lives creating institutions and infrastructure to promulgate an expansion of this demographic.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s PANYNJ’s Port Elizabeth Newark Global Marine Terminal pictured above, a small part of the third largest cargo port in the United States. After Wall Street, the actual wealth of NYC and NYS is entirely predicated on maritime trade. The Real Estate Industrial Complex of NYC is a comparative midget when you look at the economics of the Port of New York and New Jersey. Literally tens of billions of dollars of trade move through the facilities, with lots and lots of tax revenue extracted along the way.

The PANYNJ’s role in all this economic activity is to facilitate the physical plant of the port, ensure passage into the harbor via various maintenance functions like dredging and bridge maintenance and sometimes replacement, and to work with local shareholders. PANYNJ is authorized to issue bonds, borrow money, and act fairly independently of the political regimes in both states (although that last one is fairly debatable).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Outerbridge Crossing on the Arthur Kill, named for Eugenius Outerbridge of the New York Port Authority (which predates PANYNJ).

Bridges and Hudson River crossings owned and operated by PANYNJ include Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, GW Bridge, Bayonne Bridge, Goethals Bridge, Outerbridge Crossing. They also run the PATH subway service, Port Authority and GW Bridge Bus Terminals. PANYNJ also owns the Expressrail network in New Jersey, a freight rail system.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

PANYNJ also operates NYC’s airports; including LaGuardia (pictured above), JFK, Newark, Atlantic City, Stewart International, and Teterboro.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s been one hell of a 98 years for this organization, huh?

This history boy, for one, looks forward to their centennial.


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Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

malignly silent

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Hudson Yards vs. Sunnyside Yards, what’s the difference?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week I was invited to speak to a group of architecture students about the Sunnyside Yards. Part of the presentation involved discussion of the Hudson Yards project over in Manhattan, and how it can provide a model for development of the Sunnyside Yard. This is a false equivalency being offered by the powers that be, for a variety of reasons. The first and foremost thing to mention is that the Hudson Yards sit over an outcropping of Manhattan Schist and Gneiss, which provides for a stable underpinning for mega towers. Foundations are somewhat important, my engineer friends tell me, and the Sunnyside Yards sits on a compacted pile of clay and sand which until quite recently (1909) was a swamp.

Actual rock underpinnings on the northwestern side of a certain Long Island are absent west of Maspeth. If you find yourself in Maspeth, look west at what would appear to be a soup bowl, formed by elluvial deposits left behind by post glacial flooding. The piles which the mega developments of Long Island City sit upon are thus more numerous, and driven far deeper, than those in Manhattan which is technically a ridge of igneous rock. Soil conditions can be “engineered around” of course, since – theoretically speaking – if you possess enough money and technical acumen, you could build a ladder to the Moon if you wanted to. It’s just not practical to build a ladder to the moon, but since when does practical consideration get in the way of our Mayor’s political calculus.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hudson Yards was a challenge to the construction and engineering crowd, but a staightforward one inasmuch as the trackage leading out of Penn Station is arranged in parallels as you’ll notice in the shot above. What that means, from a decking perspective, is that you can set out the beams and columns needed to support the above ground structure at regular intervals and you’re essentially constructing a grandiose table or bench supported by multiple legs. The main problem they experienced was how to coordinate the movement of equipment in the cramped quarters of Manhattan.

Sunnyside Yards is defined by a convoluted series of intertwined rights of way which criss cross each other. Some of them, like the “balloon,” or turnaround, track travel over sweeping arches to switches which feed into either tunnels or holding tracks. You’ve even got the busiest railway switch in the entire country in there, the Harold Interlocking. Sunnyside Yards is complicated, and is already the eastern focal point of the largest capital project in the United States – the long delayed and vastly over budget East Side Access project which will allow Long Island Railroad access to Grand Central Terminal via LIC.

Why is it so over budget and so delayed, you ask? Because the MTA didn’t take into account the presence of buried waterways around and in the Sunnyside Yards (which was a big part of the Pennsyvania Railroad’s construction efforts a century ago), which any Queens historian can tell you are the buried remnants of Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary, and which once flowed to modern day Jackson Avenue and 29th street. Why do you think that section of LIC was called “Dutch Kills,” since it wasn’t named that for shits and giggles?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The parallel nature of the tracks at Hudson Yards allowed for the usage of an esoteric bit of kit called a Beam Launcher, pictured above. The Beam Launcher facilitated the placement of the deck’s supporting beams onto concrete foundation from above, literally lowering them into place from above. The big yellow thing above is the Beam Launcher, which was about 3/4 the length of a Manhattan block. Steel beams were unloaded from trucks, which in some cases were loaded up from barges, brought to the job site, and then manipulated into position. 

The beam launcher dealie is described in some detail, in this post from 2014.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

July 25, 2018 at 11:00 am

parenthetical ideation

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It’s National Barbecue Day, in these United States. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s no secret that we live in an age of real estate mega development, and that the skyline of NYC has been undergoing massive changes which we haven’t seen the like of since the late 1950’s and early 60’s. Unfortunately, so much of what is being built is uninspiring, and banal. Glass rectangles designed to maximize profit which offer no sense of wonder, inspiration, or esthetic joy. 

The exception to this modern rule is actually found in Manhattan, where what I consider to be the most interesting new building in NYC is found. It’s on West 57th street at the Hudson River – Bjarke Ingels’ W57. Check out this article at the Atlantic for all the details on it. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve been watching this one go up from the water for a couple of years now, and it’s made me think a bit. I’m in a constant argument with both friends and enemies over rhetorical tone and grammar when it comes to political terminology. “Gentrification” is a bugbear word for me, especially when it refers to LIC or Greenpoint. What’s going on there isn’t gentrification – we haven’t coined a name for what’s happening along the East River coast of Long Island, yet. 

What happened in East Harlem and Park Slope in the 90’s – that was “gentrification.” Similarly, there’s no such thing as a “liberal” or a “conservative” or a “progressive” anymore, our culture is just stuck in a grammatical paradigm which was coined by an earlier generation (one which refuses to retire, much like the so called establishment it sought to replace in the 60’s)

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Where NYC architects went wrong was the embrace of inhuman and emotionless architecture like the so called “international style,” which imparted a soulless and somewhat fascist countenance to the city. Ask a native New Yorker, and we will always point to the Chrysler, Empire State, and Woolworth buildings as the ones to embrace. Soulful and inspiring, these sorts of mega structures are loved and welcomed by communities rather than reviled. 

Hopefully, W57 will offer a lesson and act as a harbinger to the real estate shit flies out there. It’s not some “NIMBY” sentiment which activates community protests against their projects, rather it’s about avoiding the building of yet another banal glass rectangle whose singular purpose is “stealing the sky.” 


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek Alliance Boat tour, May 21st.

Visit the new 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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Written by Mitch Waxman

May 16, 2017 at 11:00 am

natural history

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Happy 50th Brithday, Riverkeeper.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I finally got to shoot a Kennedy. 

In this case, it was Robert Kennedy Jr., while onboard a NY Water Taxi celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Riverkeeper organization. Mr. Kennedy, who in addition to being an environmental attorney and President of Riverkeeper, has a degree in history – offered the assembled group an absolutely fantastic encapsulation of the history of the Hudson River and spoke about the role and history of Riverkeeper in NY Harbor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Before I continue, my continuing practice of listing my conflicts of interest and personal prejudices must be enacted – Newtown Creek Alliance has had a LONG and deep connection with Riverkeeper. Current DEC Commisioner and former Riverkeeper official Basil Seggos, and Riverkeeper Attorney Philip Musegaas are both former board members of NCA.

Additionally, I have enjoyed the company and tutelage of Riverkeeper’s patrol boat Captain, John Lipscomb, on more than one occasion, and Riverkeeper’s current representative in my part of the world – Sean Dixon – is both a friend and ally of Newtown Creek Alliance and our goal to “reveal, restore, and revitalize” Newtown Creek.

Riverkeeper, as an organization, are the “good guys” in my opinion and I consider being in the company of the organization on this important milestone for them both an honor and a privilege.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Robert Kennedy Jr. – suffice that whatever you want to say about the storied political dynasty from which he descends, when this fellow starts speaking – you pay attention. Kennedy described the formation of Riverkeeper from the Hudson Fisherman’s Association, and its role in cleaning up the notoriously polluted Hudson River over the last half of the 20th century and its expansion into other domestic waterways and now international efforts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally, as someone who has always identified with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, a humble narrator was absolutely stoked just to be in the same room (or cabin) with him. That’s an actual leader you’re looking at above, and a bit of rock star at that. I’m not alone in this view, of course, and several of my colleagues from Newtown Creek and activists from the larger Harbor of New York and New Jersey were also invited onboard to celebrate the anniversary.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another “actual leader” is Paul Gallay of Riverkeeper. Mr. Gallay assessed Riverkeeper’s current efforts and made a cogent case against the continuing operation of the shoddily constructed and badly managed Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant which is just 45 miles from Manhattan.

He also discussed the so called petroleum “bomb trains” which have begun populating the rail system in upstate New York, and Riverkeeper’s ongoing battle to ensure a swimmable and fishable state for all of New York’s waterways – big or small.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Unfortunately, it was quite rainy and cold when we were out on the NY Water Taxi. I managed to crack out one shot of the surrounding scenery, as evinced above.

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Walking Tour – Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

First Calvary Cemetery Walk.
Join Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman at First Calvary Cemetery, found in LIC’s Blissville neighborhood along Newtown Creek. Attendance limited to 15 people.
Click here for more info and ticketing.

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 19, 2016 at 11:00 am

stay and sing

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Just a short one today.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recently captured, and one of the first shots acquired with my replacement camera, the John J. Harvey Fireboat upon the Hudson River. The Harvey was saluting the memory of Working Harbor Committee’s own Capt. John Doswell with a water monitor display.

Also, to all of you who offered to help me with the crushing financial burden of replacing the destroyed camera and lens, I’ll have some sort of avenue set up by tomorrow’s post for you to do so. Cannot begin to tell you how much these offers mean to one such as myself.

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Upcoming Tours –

July 26th, 2015
Modern Corridor – LIC, Queens Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 13, 2015 at 11:00 am

impelled to

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As promised, shots from the Tug race in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last Sunday, the Working Harbor Committee organized this years iteration of the Great North River Tug Race and Competition. A multi pronged assault on the brain’s fun center, it starts with a race that begins at the 79th creek boat basin on the Hudson River. The finish line is at 42nd street, and this year the Robert McAllister tug won. Someday, I’d like to win something, but the only thing I’ve ever been good at winning is being a good loser.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The fun center of the brain is something which I’m fairly sure has withered away within my own skull, likely due to some unheralded ischemic event. Suspecting that my fun center has been “stroked out” of operation, it’s no surprise that the dull and quite existential horrors which typify my days were only briefly punctured by the “tug of war” nose to nose pushing competition segment of the event. It’s all so depressing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Once, this sort of thing would have caused my mouth to form into a horrible gap toothed shape which could be roughly interpreted by others as being a smile. Now, there is only a flat affect and an abundance of dull eyed staring, I’m afraid. At least I can still work the camera, but can’t seem to distinguish the difference between sweet and sour tastes anymore. It takes sewerage or burning plastic for me to take notice of smell or taste these days.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The part of the Tug Race which I’ve always loved photographing, if that’s an emotion I can still experience, is the line toss. The various tugs form a queue and then hurtle at the pier, whereupon they hurl a rope at a bollard. The goal is to loop the rope onto the bollard and the throwers are rated for time and accuracy. I wish I could tell you who won, but a group of teenagers scared me so I headed home and locked my doors securely, back in Astoria where I belong.

The entire race set can be viewed at this flickr page.

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This weekend-

Saturday, September 6th, The Insalubrious Valley of the the Newtown Creek
Walking Tour with Atlas Obscura, click here for tickets and more info.

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 5, 2014 at 12:29 pm

enervated experience

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Apologies for the mid day update, lords and ladies. Today’s Maritime Sunday post focuses in on an event which occurred several years ago. Mundane and ordinary, it all started when I saw the Carnival Miracle cruise ship maneuvered up the Hudson by the tug Miriam Moran.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The cruise ship piers on the Hudson, which are analogous to the West 40’s street grid in Manhattan, offer berthing opportunity to the gargantuan vessels of the modern cruise industry. Like a game of horizontal Tetris, however, these ships have to be rotated into position before they can lock into place.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Functionally, this is not unlike wrestling a floating Chrysler Building into place, while fighting not just wind but river current as well. Such is the life of a tug captain and harbor pilot, of course, and their long experience in such matters make it seem commonplace.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is the Miriam Moran post facto on the Hudson, after having accomplished its task.

Written by Mitch Waxman

March 10, 2013 at 3:22 pm

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