The Newtown Pentacle

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attic realm

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Aftermath, LIC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You may have heard that there was a rather large fire in Long Island City over the weekend, which saw an auto body shop consumed in what ended up being a five alarm blaze. Multiple FDNY units were sent to LIC from other boroughs, and despite their efforts the fire raged for hours and hours. The roof of the structure collapsed, and I’d be willing to bet that it’s going to be declared a total loss somewhere down the line by insurers.

On Sunday I walked over to get some shots of the scene, and given that this area is kind of “my stomping grounds,” knew where to go for an efficacious angle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The FDNY had two units on hand in case anything flashed back to life, and NYPD was also on hand controlling the intersection and keeping “lookie-loos” like me from getting into trouble. FDNY had Rockaway’s Tower Ladder 155 unit, as well as Engine unit 289 from Corona, on point. The coppers were from the 108 pct.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I say it all the time, “Newtown Creek has a history of large industrial site fires.” When I say that, I’m thinking of actual history – the 1882 and 1919 Standard Oil refinery fires in Greenpoint or the Pratt Varnish works fire just down the block here in LIC. Just in the last decade there’s been two major fires, both in Greenpoint, which took nearly a week to put out. Also in Greenpoint, there was the Greenpoint Terminal Market fire about 15 years ago which saw the largest FDNY deployment since 911.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 2, 2018 at 2:00 pm

mental atmosphere

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Drama, drama, drama.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Why one ever tries to engage socially with others remains a question that has no answer. Generally speaking, it never ends well, and one finds himself in a “situation” at the moment which has – in fact – confirmed his worst suspicions and general presumptions about the humans. Fickle, feckless, and basically fearful are they. Not worth the effort.

Best that I retreat to my wastelands.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Accordingly, like some slime dwelling bivalve I am going to snap my protective covering shut and avoid interaction entirely. There is no point, no future, no nothing. All is worthless, and the world spins to inevitable doom.

I have had it. Done.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This dark cloud I’m under will inevitably pass, of course. I’m too personally weak to ever fully engage in hermitage. Saying all that, I want nothing to do with anyone for a bit. Just leave a message, I probably won’t be answering the phone.

Avoid me.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

July 17, 2018 at 1:00 pm

strange hills

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Shots from high over Greenpoint today, and a few things to do!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At the end of last week, which was a doozy incidentally (I actually had to wear a suit and tie one night), one had a chance to head over to Greenpoint and get high. High above the ground, that is. The shot above looks east over some oil industry infrastructure towards the new Kosciuszcko Bridge from the rooftop at 520 Kingsland Avenue. Newtown Creek Alliance, the Audubon Society, and Broadway Stages have created a green roof there that these shots were captured from.

We need a lot of green roofs around the Newtown Creek, lords and ladies. That’s one of the points made over and over in the recently released visioning plan which NCA and Riverkeeper have just released.

Check out the Riverkeeper/Newtown Creek Alliance Visioning Plan,
which can be accessed at this link.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, your Newtown Pentacle focused in on the Blissville section of LIC, but I’m hardly the only person to have fallen in love with the people and place. A fellow named a Hank Linhart has been bitten by the Blissville bug too, and produced a fantastic short film documentary about the place. I met Hank at a screening he did for the movie at the Greater Astoria Historic Society last autumn, and promised him that I’d find a spot to showcase it along the Creek.

So, what are you doing this Thursday on the 22nd of March? Want to come see a movie for free?

Film Screening: Blissville Stories

Thursday, March 22nd, 7:30pm – 520 Kingsland Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11222

Please join NCA as we host a screening of “Blissville Stories,” a documentary film about the Queens neighborhood bounded by the Newtown Creek, the Long Island Expressway, and Calvary Cemetery. We will be joined by filmmaker Hank Linhart. More info about the Blissville Stories can be found here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This shot looks southwest, over the sewer plant towards Manhattan. The middle section of the shot isn’t out of focus, rather you’re looking through jets of methane which are produced by the plant which the NYC DEP burns off. I’ve called it Brooklyn’s invisible flame in the past.

Finally – hold the date for me on April 15th.

That grueling 13 and change mile death march through the bowels of New York City known as the “Newtown Creekathon” will be underway on that day, and I’ll be leading the charge as we hit every little corner and section of the waterway. Keep an eye on the NCA events page for more information.


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blossoming orchards

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Down under the Long Island Expressway, or DULIE, in today’s post. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, after shlepping my tripod setup around Dutch Kills last weekend, I decided that I just wasn’t done yet. Heading east alongst the venerable avenue of Borden, a humble narrator found a few interesting spots to do a “setup” and get clicking. It was DULIE which captured my attention on this leg of the walk. 

As mentioned in an earlier post, the LIE and Queens Midtown Tunnel opened for business in November of 1940. The LIE, where it crosses the sediment choked waters of Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary here in Long Island City, rises one hundred and six feet above the water. This means a lot of steel supports, and an empty corridor found beneath it. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is obsessed with this section of LIC, as so much has happened here. The General Electric Vehicle Company complex was just a block away, so were a couple of steel factories. A fossilized rail spur can still be found here and there, winding it way around and between the factories, but the locomotive city is long gone. It’s all about the internal combustion engine in modernity – the automobile city.

The principal proponent of the latter didn’t begin the Queens Midtown Tunnel, he just took it over towards the end of the project and made sure the LIE would be his baby. I’m speaking of Robert Moses, of course. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The sewer grates up on the LIE connect to long vertical pipes, which just empty out onto the ground, and their flow carries all sorts of “yuck” down into LIC from the expressway high above. There’s meant to be a little concrete spillway which would carry the liquid and solute “spill” into a second grate, one which basically empties into Dutch Kills, but the build up of “crapola” around the pipe creates sickly mounds of toxic soil like the one pictured above.

Hey, I’m not judging, I love places like this. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As a note, whenever I’m describing an encounter with the Gendarmes or some zealous security guard, I always go on about “there being no law forbidding…” and “if you can see it from the sidewalk…”. 

In the case of the other night however – picture this: some weird looking bearded old man standing in pitch darkness on a Sunday night with a camera tripod under the LIE, wearing a reflective vest over a filthy black raincoat – I was ready to converse with somebody wearing a badge about what I was up to. You’d just figure that, right? 

The cops though, three cruiser units worth spaced out over the evening, just drove on by me. I mean… I felt suspicious looking. The reflective vest is very good camouflage. Instead of being high visibility as promised, it’s a near invisibility prophylactic against “why are you taking pickchas of dat?” 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One was growing fatigued by this point, it was well after ten, and a humble narrator embraced an ideation about starting out for home. One last long exposure shot from DULIE was executed, and thereupon the tripod kit was folded up into its traveling configuration and a lens swap occurred.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The lens I’ve been using for the series of night shots recently has been a Sigma 18-300 – which is by definition a “daylight lens, given that at full zoom it’s aperture is only f6.3. Tripod shots, like the ones I’ve recently been producing, make the usage of extremely narrow apertures possible – which in turn allows for a deep field of focus. Impossible for handheld usage in low light, however, this lens is. It’s singular virtue is the zoom range, ultimately. I’ve got better lenses, including a different Sigma, but this particular specimen allows me to carry just one lens. 

I’ve always got a “nifty fifty” lens in my bag, however, which allows me to open up the aperture to f1.8, allowing a lot more light in. That’s the one I snapped onto the camera, which coincidentally lightened the gizmo by about a pound and a half. Lotta glass inside that Sigma, but you don’t really feel the weight of it when it’s in the bag. 


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defeated aspirations

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It’s National Roast Suckling Pig Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The other night, I mentioned to a friend that I had no reason to get up in the morning, and he inquired as to whether or not I was depressed. My statement had nothing to do with mood or mental state, instead it was factual – my daytime calendar is fairly empty between the first week of December and middle January. Part of this is my peculiar vulnerability to cold weather which necessitates a certain amount of hermitage, another part of it is that this is the time of the year when I’m hitting the books and doing research into this or that, and working on presentation materials (working on the 2018 photo portfolio, me). This has really hampered photo gathering – as a note – which is a negative, but I’ve got to get my house of cards together for the new year. You’re only as good as the last provable shutter flop.

Since I don’t have to necessarily be “somewhere” at 8 in the morning most days, what’s the point of maintaining a farcical kabuki and simulating adherence to the “ole nine to five”? I’m often up at the hour of the wolf this time of the year. If you’re sacking out at four or five in the morning, you ain’t getting up at seven, if you know what I’m saying.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One thing that’s emerged in my searching through multiple archives of photos, which number in the tens of thousands at this point, is that I seem to have fallen into a bit of a rut over the last year and a half. The other is that a bunch of my friends have died along the way. There’s a few long term projects which will be reaching fruition in the next twenty four months, and the stuff generated by this “rut” has become noticeably more refined, but it seems I need to get out more. That’s my New Years resolution, by the way.

“I been everywhere, man” is a bit of generalization and I certainly haven’t been “everywhere.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As is my annual habit, I plan to wallow in laziness and turpitude for another couple of weeks and get it out of my system. By the new year, boredom and self hatred will have expanded sufficiently to force me into action. Some pedantic and utterly banal explosion of activity inspired by Marcus Aurelius will form up and despite my ennui – me and the camera are going to be “out there” every single day.

For now, though, I still don’t have much of a reason to wake up in the mornings.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 18, 2017 at 2:15 pm

furnace tending

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sometimes one will catch a glimpse of himself in a store window or other reflective surface, and even a humble narrator is known to flinch at the sight. Loping along in a filthy black raincoat, a wandering mendicant burdened down with a heavy sack of lenses and other photographic accoutrements, the ravages and scars of a half century in a City affectionately referred to as “home sweet hell” are scribed deeply into his flesh. Corpulent and corrupted, disliked and denounced, egomaniacal and estranged, feckless and forgettable, ghoulish and ghastly… all of these words fail to fully and generally generate the hateful, hopeless, idiotic image obvious to all but revealed to a humble narrator only as he passes by a pane of silvered glass on area streets.

No wonder children burst into tears, dogs growl, cats haunch up, women clutch at their purses, security cameras swivel and follow when one appears. Police and security personell always watch me closely, with their hands resting upon the weapons they’ve been issued.

from komatsuamerica.com

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

One does not visit “the country” for fear of spreading an infection of blight. Like a pellet of some radioactive metal displayed in the midst of an otherwise verdant forest, one’s presence causes other living things to wither away. It has always been this way, for one such as myself.

The memories of childhood should be of summery afternoons spent in joyful pursuits, rather than locked rooms with tightly shuttered, and barred, windows decorated with atavist hangings. Sitting in the shadows of spare apartments, watching idle shafts of atmospheric dust lit by those few rays of light offered by the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself which somehow managed to permeate the barrack – these should not be the only recollections one is able to summon regarding those days. There was no joy, just tedium punctuated by wild and unpredictable furies erupting amongst those who cared for my needs.

Visitors to my caretakers were always of an advanced age. Often they brought plastic offerings obtained on a pilgrimage to some eastern land, formerly held by the Ottoman Turks. These plastic things often carried religious idioms written in English but rendered in a hebraized script. The visitors would carry on conversations in a language familiar only to the parts of Europe that have historically bordered Russia, and indeed within the Tsar’s former holdings. Sometimes these conversations would erupt into anger, others laughter. It was all very puzzling, but ultimately pedantic and boring.

from wikipedia

The expressway begins at the western portal of the Queens–Midtown Tunnel in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan. The route heads eastward, passing under FDR Drive and the East River as it proceeds through the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority-maintained tunnel to Queens. Once on Long Island, the highway passes through the tunnel’s former toll plaza and becomes known as the Queens–Midtown Expressway as it travels through the western portion of the borough. A mile after entering Queens, I-495 meets I-278 (the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway) at exit 17. At this point, I-495 becomes the unsigned highway NY 495, although it is still signed as an Interstate Highway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The psychic plague which one was infected with at an early age is that nothing which is good or joyous or in any way positive stays with me for long. Others remonstrate the negative experiences of their lives, blocking out trauma, and do not realize that their lives are subconsciously shaped by avoiding similar pain. A humble narrator, on the other hand, gleefully rips away at his scabs every chance he gets, and likes to scratch away at scars. One has quite a bit of time for reflection, on my long scuttles around the concrete devastations of the Newtown Creek. Just the other day, one grew furious over an event which occurred in the Second Grade when I was accused of kicking someone in the leg as our class was on the way to Assembly in the school auditorium.

“My list” goes all the way back to before Kindergarden. All the good stuff thats ever happened to me? That one started when I woke up this morning, and it’s been a shitty day so far. What can I tell you, I’m all ‘effed up.

also from wikipedia

A portion of the path of the Long Island Expressway was along the former road path and right of way of a streetcar line that went from the southern part of Long Island City to southern Flushing.

The Long Island Expressway was constructed in stages over the course of three decades. The first piece, the Queens–Midtown Tunnel linking Manhattan and Queens, was opened to traffic on November 15, 1940. The highway connecting the tunnel to Laurel Hill Boulevard was built around the same time and named the “Midtown Highway”.  The tunnel, the Midtown Highway, and the segment of Laurel Hill Boulevard between the highway and Queens Boulevard all became part of a realigned NY 24 in the mid-1940s. In the early 1950s, work began on an eastward extension of the Midtown Highway. The road was completed to 61st Street by 1954, at which point it became known as the “Queens–Midtown Expressway”. By 1956, the road was renamed the “Long Island Expressway” and extended east to the junction of Queens (NY 24 and NY 25) and Horace Harding (NY 25D) Boulevards. NY 24 initially remained routed on Laurel Hill Boulevard (by this point upgraded into the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway) and Queens Boulevard, however.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Unfortunately for my self loathing, while these shots were being gathered, my attention was taken up by a conference call with environmental officialdom and hotly discussing Newtown Creek, so I didn’t have a chance to really work myself over about that thing in Second Grade, nor the debacle that was my ninth birthday, or any of the humiliations suffered but left unanswered in Junior High School. On the plus side, my left foot was giving me a bit of trouble, so at least there was some tangible physical pain I could enjoy, rather than the psychic kind I relish.

Such reveries, wherein a humble narrator spends his mental capacity on beating himself up, are a little luxury I like to enjoy. The internal soliloquy also has other tasks to work on – wondering about what’s making a certain smell, plotting vengeance, planning future walking tours, working the camera, avoiding getting squished by a truck. I hate getting squished more than anything. Regrets… I’ve had a few.

from wikipedia

The first known construction cranes were invented by the Ancient Greeks and were powered by men or beasts of burden, such as donkeys. These cranes were used for the construction of tall buildings. Larger cranes were later developed, employing the use of human treadwheels, permitting the lifting of heavier weights. In the High Middle Ages, harbour cranes were introduced to load and unload ships and assist with their construction – some were built into stone towers for extra strength and stability. The earliest cranes were constructed from wood, but cast iron, iron and steel took over with the coming of the Industrial Revolution.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Long Island City’s Hunters Point and Degnon Terminal (LaGuardia Community College zone) areas have become positively infested with humans since this whole real estate frenzy has set in. Manifest, motley mobs of mankind now occupy these precincts of Queens’ rookeries. Lonely Island City is no more, if it ever was. The only place one can be truly alone, and avoid the shocking countenance of his own reflection, is industrial Maspeth. There are zero reflective surfaces hereabouts, except on the steel bumpers of newly washed heavy trucks. All is caked in grit, and clods of unknown substances. The waters in this section of the Newtown Creek offer a certain perfume, hinting at the respiratory or digestive processes of unknown biological or bacterial entities. Vast puddles of rancid water line the broken streets. The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume.

A humble narrator is probably the only person on this entire Long Island, or one of the lesser islands of the archipelago, who actually longs for chances to visit Industrial Maspeth. Other than somebody who has something they need to illegally dump into the water or leave some junk on the street, of course. Most of the folks who come here do so simply to earn their keep, notably those who have to deal with the rest of us being slobs.

Me? I love the place.

from wikipedia

The Bureau of Cleaning and Collection is responsible for collecting recycling and garbage, cleaning streets and vacant lots, and clearing streets of snow and ice. BCC assigns personnel and equipment to standard routes while managing the weekly allocation of personnel to address litter and illegal dumping.

The Cleaning Office oversees the removal of litter and debris from city streets, collects material for recycling and garbage from public litter bins and coordinates with Derelict Vehicle Operations to remove abandoned vehicles. The Lot Cleaning Unit cleans vacant lots and the areas around them, and around city-owned buildings in order to meet the city’s Health Code standards.

The Collection Office oversees regularly scheduled recycling and garbage collection services to the city’s residential households, public schools, public buildings, and many large institutions.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What I really like to do around here, however, is creep down to the shoreline and hide in the bushes. One will really let loose hereabouts, and start laughing maniacally, instead of my usual hissing and basso growling. The stoutest cord long broken, my crazy laugh will shortly turn into a sobbing cry and then wailing lament, before transitioning back to the hilarity. I’ll cycle through this a few times. Once a flock of geese came to investigate the racket, another a laborer came sniffing around thinking that somebody was drowning a pig in Newtown Creek. There’s a reason I hide in the bushes, along with all the other monsters I’ve seen.

I don’t get too close to the water though, due to an irrational phobia revolving around my whole “seeing ones own reflection unpreparedly, with all its sudden and dire implications” disorder.

As a note: You should never look too deeply, or too long, into a mirror lest a piece of yourself become trapped within it. At least that’s the opinion amongst certain occultists. In the case of the lugubrious Newtown Creek…

from wikipedia

Laughter is not always a pleasant experience and is associated with several negative phenomena. Excessive laughter can lead to cataplexy, and unpleasant laughter spells, excessive elation, and fits of laughter can all be considered negative aspects of laughter. Unpleasant laughter spells, or “sham mirth,” usually occur in people who have a neurological condition, including patients with pseudobulbar palsy, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. These patients appear to be laughing out of amusement but report that they are feeling undesirable sensations “at the time of the punch line.”

Excessive elation is a common symptom associated with manic-depressive psychoses and mania/hypomania. Those who suffer from schizophrenic psychoses seem to suffer the opposite—they do not understand humor or get any joy out of it. A fit describes an abnormal time when one cannot control the laughter or one’s body, sometimes leading to seizures or a brief period of unconsciousness. Some believe that fits of laughter represent a form of epilepsy.


Upcoming Tours and events

Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – Sunday, December 10th, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Explore NYC history, hidden inside sculptural monuments and mafioso grave sites, as you take in iconic city views on this walking tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


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dark cloak

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It’s National Banana Split Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Borden Avenue, where it crosses the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek nearby 27th street in LIC, was originally built in the 1860’s as a raised plank (or corduroy) road for pack animals and wagons. It was constructed to create a pathway between Maspeth, where the Borden dairy people would have been found, and the East River docks at Hunters Point. Accounts of the journey describe clouds of mosquitos rising from the swampy wetlands surrounding it that were reminiscent of smoke rising from camp fires, and the swarms of blood suckers would feast on the oxen, mules, and horses pulling the wagons. When the drivers would arrive at the section of the hill leading towards Maspeth nearby Calvary Cemetery, their practice was to stop and wipe away the wriggling gray sweater their pack animals had accrued. First hand reports describe the animals as being covered in a sheen of blood.

There’s a reason our ancestors paved over everything, y’know.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This street called Borden Avenue mirrors the pathway of the Lower Montauk Branch of the Long Island Railroad, found a couple of thousand feet to the south. As the mercantile era gave way to the second industrial revolution, and LIC became colloquially known as “America’s Workshop” the concurrence of waterborn shipping (via Dutch Kills), the easy availability of rail sidings, and a booming population of sharp elbowed immigrant labor pouring off of transatlantic boats into Manhattan daily saw massive investments by manufacturing and warehousing interests occur along the street.

Borden Avenue was raised and paved, the swamps filled in, and enormous concrete structures were erected.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the 1930’s, as the age of the automobile and it’s great proponent – Robert Moses – dawned, the highway truss pictured above was built. It soars 106 feet over Dutch Kills, and comes to ground at a vehicle tunnel which allows access into Manhattan. This “Long Island Expressway” and “Queens Midtown Tunnel” complex had a blighting effect, due to foot and vehicle traffic no longer using local streets, and effectively cut industrial LIC in half. Just to the north of Borden Avenue is 51st avenue, which is permanently shadowed by the high flying steel of the truss bridge. Further north are another set of rail tracks – the LIRR main line, and the cylcopean Sunnyside Yards – which further isolate it. The tunnel and highway officially opened in 1940.

I’ve long called 51st avenue the “empty corridor.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One could sing his usual song about the lost history of the empty corridor. Charles Pratt’s varnish works, Blanchard’s fireproof windows and doors, Battleaxe Gleason handing out the contract for fire hydrants to his brother who installed water pipes too narrow to carry a meaningful amount of liquid for firefighters to use… it goes on and on.

On an empty lot, which had once housed a factory that manufactured “lucifers” or as we would call them – books of matches – some unknown entity has planted a garden.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As I’ve mentioned before, sunflowers freak me out due to early childhood experiences with their bee addled faces. Brrr.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Untenanted occupancy, and it’s evidence, is still quite apparent in the empty corridor. I hear rumors about who, or what, may be living back here – but it’s best if the general population continues to believe that they’re just rumors.


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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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 10, 2017 at 1:00 pm

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