The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Long Island Expressway’ Category

prime exporters

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Often, it seems to me that for most of the 20th century New York City waged an unyielding war against the natural environment. The process of city building, of course, has always been a tale of harnessing and controlling nature – but the 20th century in NYC saw something tantamount to a military campaign waged against clean water and air. The highways were driven through wetlands (called waste meadows at the time), and anything that could be plated over in concrete received a few inches of the stuff. Sewage and industrial runoff was channeled directly into waterways like my beloved Newtown Creek, garbage was burned in municipal incinerators or dumped into the ocean, and there doesn’t seem to have been any regard given to the natural world at all other than in the name of conquering it.

What can you do about it, though? This is the world as we received it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a lot of hair pulling and teeth gnashing these days, in government circles, about how to rectify this inheritance. Partially its because the government people have to worry about fiscal responsibility, as related to flooding and storm resilience. It’s also about the fact that scientific opinion now points at the efficacy and effect which a healthy biome has on the welfare and earning potential of the citizenry, and the effect that environmental factors have on the economic prosperity of urban areas. Here, at your Newtown Pentacle – and on my many walking tours of the creeklands – I’ve been known to rattle on about storm water, green roofs, the Maspeth heat island effect, bioswales, and all other the other types of so called “Green Infrastructure” which officialdom has been experimenting with in the attempt to get a handle on this inheritance from earlier generations.

“Gray Infrastructure” is defined as sewer plants, retention tanks, various sorts of concrete structural devices which are found deep below the street – that sort of thing. “Gray” is incredibly expensive, and disruptive to the day to day lives of the citizenry as it disturbs the flow of traffic during construction and also generates noise and dust. “Green” is far cheaper, and uses the mechanisms of nature itself to accomplish the same goal as gray. The corollary of using the “green” approach is that you also get the aesthetic and practical benefits of having vegetation in your neighborhood – trees which shade both buildings and pavement for instance, meaning that summer heatwaves are theoretically less severe in terms of energy costs. Green is a win, win – essentially.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s one of the literally hundreds of outfall pipes you will observe in Long Island City which descend from the elevated highways – in this case an onramp to the Long Island Expressway on Borden Avenue. To my knowledge – there is not a single bridge, elevated highway, or subway in the City of New York which doesn’t ultimately drain into the combined sewer system or – in fact – directly into area waterways. Even the brand spanking new Kosciuszko Bridge that the NYS DOT is building over my beloved Newtown Creek right now will drain into the creek via a system called a “vortex drain.”

This post is not meant as a chide, however, rather it’s meant to point out to anybody in the world of officialdom who might be reading this that there’s a huge opportunity to do something curative around these outfall pipes using the “Green Infrastructure” approach.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That overpass, spillway, and pipe – in this case – are the property of the State government. The drain, sewer, and sidewalk are likely owned by the City government. What if the spillway contained a small rain garden designed to drink up water and catch the trash coming down from the highway? The City wins in not paying fines to the State for clean water violations, and the State solves a problem it caused, and all for the price of a bit of gardening.

These hundreds of outfall pipes and their spillways would make for a brilliant spot to install some of that “Green Infrastructure” mentioned above. As far as maintenance of the installation, local community boards could “adopt” these outfalls and parcel out the care and maintenance duties (trash removal mainly) to their constituent businesses and community organizations (Boy Scouts, Kiwanis clubs, etc.) in the same manner as upstate communities do with the “adopt a highway” program. Win?

What if?


Upcoming Tours and events

First Calvary Cemetery walking tour, May 6th.

With Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day 2017, Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour – details and tix here.

MAS Janeswalk free walking tour, May 7th.

Visit the new Newtown Creek Alliance/Broadway Stages green roof, and the NCA North Henry Street Project – details and tix here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 12, 2017 at 3:15 pm

last straw

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It’s National Cinnamon Crescent Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is a crispy critter today, after yesterday’s Newtown Creekathon. About halfway through, I was wishing that I had a car waiting to whisk me away at the end of it all. Then again, given what traffic is like…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m always spotting cool cars around the neighborhoods, though. Check out that Rolls Royce limo above. It had a bride in it and everything.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This neato Jeep was encountered along Northern Blvd. It looked like a giant matchbox car to me.

Back tomorrow with something a bit more profound, after I’ve rested up a bit.


Upcoming Tours and events

First Calvary Cemetery walking tour, May 6th.

With Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day 2017, Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour – details and tix here.

MAS Janeswalk free walking tour, May 7th.

Visit the new Newtown Creek Alliance/Broadway Stages green roof, and the NCA North Henry Street Project – details and tix here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 10, 2017 at 1:00 pm

minor detail

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It’s National Cordon Bleu day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Totemic exemplars of existential horror are everywhere you look in the Newtown Pentacle. To wit, at the border of Sunnyside and Blissville, you’ll find the Long Island Expressway, which was sited along it back in the 1930’s. Pictured above is the overpass which carries Greenpoint Avenue across the expressway, where a “ghost bike” has been encountered for several years. Ghost Bikes, for those of you not in the know, signify the spot where a bicyclist died after being struck by a motor vehicle. Post facto the installation of this Ghost Bike, the NYC DOT has since installed a bicycle lane, which is a badly placed one given that heavy trucks and thousands of automobiles routinely execute turns on this traffic choked overpass.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The ghost bike, as originally encountered a few years ago, and before the bike lane was striped in.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Walking over to Greenpoint from Astoria the other night, for a meeting between the DEP and the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee, the scenario above was witnessed. It appeared that a vehicle of some sort had taken out not just the ghost bike, but had also snapped the steel signpost it was affixed to. The thing I’d like to point out is that the driver of this vehicle had to have been “busting a move” through the bike lane, which proves a point I’ve been talking about for awhile.

You’re not even safe on the freaking sidewalk.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Bike lanes area a fairly decisive issue amongst some Queensicans. More often than not, the argument against these things involves people protecting their street parking or something. I see bicyclists completely ignoring the street markings for these bike lanes and doing whatever the hell they want to – sidewalks, wrong way, running lights, all kinds of stuff. Everybody has probably ridden a bike at one time or another, everyone has also done something stupid on their bikes – that’s not the point.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I see some truly tragic implementations of this bike lane thing, which were clearly drawn out in an ideological fashion by people who are staring at maps of remote places they’ve never visited. The bike lanes on, and leading to, the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge are ludicrous and actually cause a constant traffic jam mid bridge – it was and is far safer for the bikes to ride on the sidewalk of the bridge than to try and navigate the gravel and debris which litters the GP Ave. Bridge lanes. The ones here at Greenpoint Avenue and the LIE are also a disaster. Again, it’s better for – and is the observed custom of – bicyclists to use the sidewalk to cross the overpass.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s what 5:41 p.m. looks like on a weekday at this intersection. That white SUV in the foreground is the head of a vehicular snake of east bound stop and go traffic which coils all the way back to Midtown Manhattan. It’s so busy that NYPD has permanently stationed traffic control officers here during the rush hours. If there has to be a bike lane on Greenpoint Avenue, lets widen the sidewalk and line it with those concrete jersey barriers to protect both scuttling narrator and the riders of those mechanical contraptions called bicycles. That would be smart.

If this spot can kill a ghost bike… the mind boggles over the implications for one such as myself.


Upcoming Tours and events

First Calvary Cemetery walking tour, May 6th.

With Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day 2017, Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour – details and tix here.

MAS Janeswalk free walking tour, May 7th.

Visit the new Newtown Creek Alliance/Broadway Stages green roof, and the NCA North Henry Street Project – details and tix here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 4, 2017 at 1:05 pm

utterly devoid

with 5 comments

It’s National Potato Salad Day, National Peanut Cluster Day, and National Pancake Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Where to go, what to see, and why bother? Such are the thoughts which intrude and occlude whenever one such as myself leaves the house. Someone else has always gotten there first, and there are certain scenes which – while they never disappoint – I’ve visited literally thousands of times. I’d like to travel abroad, photographing exotic animals and esoteric people, but that would likely involve a good deal of finance, and planning, and I hate to fly. Also, it may be too hot, or cold, and I’ll likely get sunburned. Physical discomfort will likely result, my cherished preconceptions would likely be challenged, or I could end up being killed and eaten by a pack of monkeys.

Ultimately, everyone and everything will eventually make it to Queens anyway so why leave? As the band TLC advised – stick to the hills and waterfalls you’re used to. We’ve got the monkey situation sorted out around here already, there are no uncaged hippos or other large mammalian killers (other than mankind), and I know every possible private spot there is to urinate around these parts. As a note: There are two public bathrooms in Calvary Cemetery, but the one at the Review Avenue gates is often locked. You really, really shouldn’t let loose elsewhere in the cemetery. That’s just disrespectful.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On a recent wander through Calvary, wherein I was exploring the eastern side of the polyandrion, a humble narrator became the focus of attention for a group of Crows. Possibly Ravens, but I don’t know what the difference between the two are. My belief is that they saw my filthy black raincoat flapping about and figured that one of their own had taken to the ground, but I’m an idiot. As is usually the case, for some reason birds aren’t afraid of me. I can walk through a flock of pigeons or sparrows pecking at the ground and they neither scatter into the air nor otherwise acknowledge my presence.

For some reason this is equal parts disconcerting and deeply satisfying.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned above, Long Island City is famously home neither to packs of carnivorous monkeys, nor lurking hippopotamus, or even large feline predators. There are absolutely no giant fire breathing lizards or irradiated turtles lurking in Newtown Creek, which categorically never attacked Maspeth in June or September of 1958.

Our big problem are the vampires, of course, who lurk in the shadowed rafters of the Long Island Expressway during the day, as well as the elevated subway tracks around Queens Plaza and Roosevelt Avenue. There are reportedly “things” down in the sewers which the NYC DEP refuses to acknowledge, bizarre abominations and parodies of the primatological branch which IND platform based commuters sometimes spot moving about in the fuligin shadows of the subway tunnels. The MTA denies their existence too, calling them “urban legends.”

There are the rat kings, the cockroach collective consiousness, and the aboriginal horrors which lurk at Hallets Cove – but that’s another story. If you ask the U.S. Coast Guard, they’ll deny those reports offered by professional sailors of a sea monster dwelling in the turbidity of Hells Gate, one which only emerges during powerful thunder storms.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

doglike lopers

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The concrete devastations, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As I’ve mentioned several times recently, an effort is under way to revisit a number of spots which I’ve not set foot in for a while. When I first began wandering around Newtown Creek and the neighborhoods surrounding it, a point was made to visit every single block, but in recent months and years, temporal exigency has caused one to travel along “efficient” routes to get from Point A (A as in Astoria) to Points B, C, and so on.

Accordingly, since I seem to have all the time in the world at the moment, I’m taking the road less travelled and revisiting a few locales which have been off my radar for a bit. To wit, pictured above is the view from 53rd avenue at the angle between Sunnyside and West Maspeth, looking west towards the BQE/LIE interchange.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Prior to the installation of the two highways, roughly 75-80 years ago, this was a place where working people still lived. There was a neighborhood here, at the western border of Newtown’s Maspeth section and the eastern border of LIC’s Blissville subdivision. That’s when Robert Moses, with his New Meeker Avenue Bridge (Kosciuszko Bridge), and Brooklyn Queens Connecting highway, and Long Island Expressway came to town. Zoning decisions made in Manhattan during the post WW2 era rendered this area as “M1” – meaning it is designated for heavy manufacturing usage only.

Regardless of how the City people decided this land should be used, residential usage continued and there are still a small number of fairly ancient homes found peppered in amongst the warehouses, factories and construction oriented tower crane storage yards hereabouts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Funny thing is that this neighborhood is – observationally – one of the last places in NYC where you can “leave your front door open.” Saying that, when I use the term “concretized devastations of Western Queens” this section of industrial Maspeth is what I’m usually thinking of.

Most of the surviving homes I see in this neighborhood are typified by what you see above, wood frame row houses which date back to around 1900 or so. There’s a few older houses nearby which are a bit “grander” and speak to an earlier incarnation of this area. A few have disappeared “under my watch,” and have been replaced with bland cinder block warehouse or industrial buildings. Can’t really speak to “who” lives here, amongst the cranes and highways.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All I can tell you is that they have an amazing view. This POV is on the rising bluff which once led to a prominent hill to the south called Berlin. The next highest prominence to the west would have been Laurel Hill, which Calvary Cemetery was carved into. This section of Maspeth was actually called “Berlin” until the First World War, when it was changed for obvious reasons to West Maspeth. To the east, the land’s declination rises until it meets a ridge which signals the beginning of the terminal moraine of Long Island nearby Mount Olivette and Lutheran Cemeteries. That ridge, which sports the same sort of rocky geology that lends its name to Ridgewood, is “real” land. Everything west of Laurel Hill is elluvial fill deposited by glacial process and sediment delivered by flooding from the Newtown Creek and East River.

Climate change and rising sea level wise, this likely will be the East River coastline someday.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looping around to the south, as the BQE and LIE interchange cut off egress east/west, an ad hoc art gallery is encountered. Illegal dumping, as I’ve often opined, is the unofficial nativist art form of the Borough of Queens. Combined with long fence lines that are covered in crude graffiti, you’ll encounter several installations along this route which offer intriguing intellectual postulates from the local artistic community.

Everything here is artisanal, incidentally.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The reality of these installations are that this is simply a convenient place for a low level building contractor to dispose of construction debris without having to pay a dumping fee, but allow me to stay “high brow” in my assessments.

These dumpers really do seem to pay some attention to composition and color, however.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

53rd avenue terminates in a parabola which carries it into 43rd street, a colonial era pathway that once connected to Newtown Creek from Bowery Bay in Astoria. The road transected the properties of (amongst several other famous Dutch and English family names from the colonial era) the Riker’s, Skillman’s, and Alsops along its route, and according to the historic record – it was paved with crushed oyster shells. All that changed, of course, when first the Long Island Railroad and later Robert Moses came to town.

43rd street still exists in a fairly unbroken line from Astoria to Northern Blvd. and then crosses the Sunnyside Yards south into Sunnyside where it crosses Queens Blvd. and Greenpoint Avenue. When it crosses under the Long Island Expressway overpass, it resumes its pre municipal consolidation name – Laurel Hill Blvd.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The “43rd street” you encounter in this section of industrial Maspeth, however, is disconnected from the northern section. The last homes on 43rd street went “bye-bye” just a few years ago, due to a smallish construction project going on in the area. With fewer people watching, and caring, the artisanal illegal dumping in this area has amplified.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the shot above, you can discern why I sometimes refer to this section as the “crane district.”

You can also plainly see the sharp rise in altitude hereabouts. This is, as mentioned, largely an industrial zone. There’s a lot of heavy industry going on. Warehouse operations, severely heavy truck traffic, waste transfer stations – Newtown Creek is just a few thousand feet to the south.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of Newtown Creek, that smallish construction operation I mentioned earlier is the Kosciuszko Bridge replacement project, which crosses the waterway. If memory serves, that means that something like a half million vehicles a day pass through this pass between Berlin and Laurel Hills. The Kosciuszko Bridge was opened in 1939, and the Queens side approach was built into a shallow valley found between the two landforms, and over a lost tributary of Newtown Creek which was called “Wolf Creek.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s that, then. See you next week, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 16, 2016 at 11:00 am

tangible miasma

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The native art form of Queens, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Long has one postulated that the native art form of Queens is illegal dumping. It is accomplished with a compositional flair and attention to detail that Brooklyn and the Bronx can only dream of. When you spend as much time as I do around the Newtown Creek and the concrete devastations surrounding it, this becomes obvious.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I was heading over to Greenpoint recently, to accomplish some sort of folderol, when the tableau above was observed in LIC’s Blissville section. This was on Greenpoint Avenue, incidentally.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The dumped mattresses exhibited the tell tale signs of a bedbug infestation, so I was using my telephoto zoom lens to capture shots of it – not wanting to get closer to the things than I needed to.

Bedbugs… brrr…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m not sure if bedbugs can leap, or jump, or propel themselves through the atmospheric void in some unknown manner which would indicate that they can fly like Superman, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

Bedbugs, or “vantzen” as my grandmother would have called them, are grotesque human predators. Vampire insects. The stains on the mattress covers are actually produced by their fecal matter and are literally digested human blood.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Grossed out, I propelled myself across the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge which spans the lugubrious Newtown Creek. Whatever ails you, parasite wise, will likely be cured by the therapeutic poisons of the Newtown Creek. If Newtown Creek doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger… that’s what I tell myself all the time.

Newtown Creek, is there anything you can’t do?

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.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

sojourns beyond

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A man needs a decent hat. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After conferring with a friend who is known for his regular display of sartorial excellence, regarding queries as to his current preferences for a haberdashery, a humble narrator found himself heading to the South Side of Williamsburg to purchase a summer hat. Famously, “I wear a lot of hats” – which is how I often describe the complicated web of non profit organizations with whom I’m associated. Saying that, I’ve always favored “old fashioned” hats in my normal round, the sort of things commonly observed on male heads until the early 1970’s – fedoras and the like. I used to have a place near Port Authority where I’d shop for my chapeaus, but that operation is long gone, and burnt away by the fires of gentrification. 

Accordingly, I found myself in a cab heading to Williamsburg (where those fires burn hottest, oddly enough) from Astoria last week. Normally, I’d walk it, but I was still convalescing from a nasty cold which I was suffering from and didn’t want to overexert. Since the logical route involved the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and a trip across the Kosciuszko Bridge and over my beloved Newtown Creek, I had the camera ready to go and was firing the shutter the entire way. 

Pictured above – Calvary Cemetery in Blissville. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One hopes that before the 1939 model Kosciuszko Bridge is demolished that a chance to properly shoot Newtown Creek from up here comes along, rather than just using an insanely high shutter speed and the “spray and pray” technique. “Spray and Pray” is basically a series of blind shots, where you point the prefocused lens in the general direction of a subject and hold down the shutter button with one hand and with the other – you cross your fingers and hope your luck is good. 

The whole ride took around 15 minutes, which is kind of lucky. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above is from that rooftop in Greenpoint that I mentioned the other day, and it’s a lot more in tune with what one normally goes for – a composed shot with a thought out field of focus. Hopefully, I’ll get to do something similar from up on the “Kos” someday after the BQE is rerouted onto the new span, and before they demolish the old one. 

As far as the hat buying went, I went to “Bencraft” on Broadway and South 8th nearby the Williamsburg Bridge Plaza and bought a spectacular Panama for a reasonable price. Seriously, if it wasn’t for the Orthodox Jews of Brooklyn, there wouldn’t be a single haberdashery left in the entire City of Greater New York.  

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, June 25, 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Sunday, June 26, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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