The Newtown Pentacle

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shuddering violently

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Palpable, redolent, and exhausting – that’s me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It has been one heck of a couple of weeks for a humble narrator, and boy oh boy am I beat up. There’s the proverbial “burning the candle at both ends” and then there’s just throwing the candle into a campfire. The latter is what I’ve been up to, and I’ve finally arrived at a short interval whereupon I can relax for a couple of days and “chill.” Busy is better than having nothing to do, but… I like to break words down to reveal their true meaning, and “recreation” is a literal and tangible requirement at the moment. Time to re-create.

I’ve got a book or two which I want to put together, and I’m hoping to have one or the other ready and available for Christmas. Meeting season is also upon me, and it’s time to start annoying the Government people again. Community Board, Superfund, and a new hopeless cause right here in Astoria which I’ve been laying the groundwork for are about to kick into gear. Anything y’all want me to rattle on about with officialdom? Leave me instructions and so on in the comments, and I’ll see if I can get your pet peeve considered and in front of the right people.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a mean season in politics coming, what with all the three term incumbents term limited in both Brooklyn and Queens. On both sides of the Newtown Creek, the “powers that be” are all about to change seats after a long period of predictability. New factions and interest groups will be manifesting themselves and pushing their particular apple carts. As is always the case with “sharp elbows,” things are already starting to get ugly, and we’re nowhere near an election at the moment.

It’s going to be an interesting if mean interval, I think. Epic bullshitting is what I expect to hear and see, in our ongoing ideological war between the “Know nothings” and the “Whigs.” As I’m wont to remind and chide – Civilizations end, but life goes on. Also, the war between the Cowboys and the Arabs has been going on for 18 years now, and there’s no end in sight, but nobody talks about that.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s what sunrise on the new Kosciuszcko Bridge looks like, as a note. Captured this last Sunday morning, which feels like it was a month ago to me. Back Monday with something else that I can’t imagine quite yet.

Don’t know what I’m doing with my time off this weekend, but I’ll have the camera with me. Can’t wait to find out where I’m going to go and what I’m going to see, but you’ll see it here – at your Newtown Pentacle.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


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.

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 13, 2019 at 1:00 pm

dominant concern

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Green v. Gray, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Me and my mates at Newtown Creek Alliance, and in the larger environmentalist community, are always rattling on about Green versus Gray infrastructure. So – what does that mean? Basically, it comes down to taxes and “bang for the buck.” That magnificent new Wastewater Treatment plant in Greenpoint, pictured above, cost billions and billions of dollars. It also took literally decades to build. Technological marvel notwithstanding, the cost of that thing was borne by raising water tax and rates on property owners, who passed it on to their tenants in the form of higher rents. The plant is, after all, owned and operated by a City agency, the Department of Environmental Protection or DEP. DEP also handles delivery of drinking water, the upstate reservoirs which supply it, and a few other things (noise complaints, for instance). The agency was created in a 1983 City charter revision which combined multiple offices, including the various sewer systems of the Boroughs, into the current monolithic organization. They inherited a chaotic situation, with sewerage pipes in the ground that combine the flow of sanitary and storm water which were laid out by the independent cities of Brooklyn, Richmond, or LIC/Newtown as early as the 1860’s. During rain events, the storm water pipes introduce vast overages of water into this combined system, and outfalls – there are 400 of them in NY Harbor – act as release valves for the increased flow. That means that untreated sanitary sewerage is released into area waterways along with the storm water. It’s why you can’t go swimming at the beach in NYC after it rains, and is part of the reason why inland waterways like the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek are Federal Superfund sites. The Superfund situation is costing DEP money as well, which means that taxes and fees on water will continue rising, and so will the rent.

Gray infrastructure – as epitomized by the 7+ billion dollar sewer plant pictured above – is expensive to build and maintain. That plant can handle an astounding 800 million gallons of wastewater a day, but in the concretized landscape of NYC, a quarter inch of rain falling citywide translates to a billion gallons of storm water entering the system. Newtown Creek alone receives (estimates vary) between 1.4 and 1.8 billion gallons of untreated “combined sewer outfall” annually.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Green infrastructure, on the other hand, is fairly cheap to install and maintain. Green roofs, rain gardens, and open land with plantings either drink up rain or allow it to flow down into the ground and feed into the water table. Additionally, Green Infrastructure ameliorates another consequence of having paved over everything with impermeable material – the so called “Maspeth Heat Island” effect.

Heat islands occur in urban spaces devoid of trees and greenery. Masonry and concrete tend to “hold” heat and radiate it back out. Even at night, the industrial neighborhoods surrounding Newtown Creek are demonstrably 5-15 degrees warmer than the residential ones which are generally well planted. This causes area businesses to spend more on climate control for their spaces, increasing their energy usage footprints and the cost of doing business in NYC. Green roofs, like the one pictured above in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint section, change the equation. They divert storm water and keep the structure below the roof a few degrees cooler.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It can be heinously expensive to retrofit existing building stock’s rooftops to handle the loading weight of a green roof, and since there’s little to no tax incentive to do so offered by City or State, most building owners like the idea but pass on it. Given that we’re in the middle of a building boom here in NYC, and particularly so in LIC and North Brooklyn, you’d think that all of these “Green New Deal” types would be demanding that new construction incorporate “Green Infrastructure” technology into their projects. Sadly, this isn’t the case, as everything is false and a deception in the worlds of Politics and Big Real Estate.

Me? I’m realistic about life in the big City, the bottom line, and personally won’t do anything which I don’t want to do unless I know there’s a hefty fine I can avoid by doing it. The City currently meters the water going up the pipe into apartment buildings, but doesn’t meter what’s coming back out. Maybe if we did the latter, it would encourage the developers of 40, 60, or even 80 story apartment towers to embrace the Green Infrastructure concept and lessen the impact of their projects on the combined sewer system. It’s probably possible to engineer a net positive on the outflows, which might mean rebates from DEP for providing capacity. Who knows?

Or, we can just keep on building giant multi billion dollar sewer plants which cause your landlord’s water bill, and your rent, to continually rise.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


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.

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 12, 2019 at 11:00 am

endless shelves

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Tunnel visions, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Absent friends. That’s all I’m going to say about today’s anniversary of 9/11, other than that we have been at war for eighteen years now, in six different theaters of operation, with no end in sight, and nobody ever talks about that. We also don’t ask where all that homeland security money goes, and why – despite all that funding – you can still just wander into any number of supposedly secure locations in Brooklyn and Queens unimpeded. It’s a different story in Manhattan, of course, but there you are.

Raise a glass to those absent friends tonight, hug your kids, and continue on.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Me? I’m too busy and stressed out at the moment to indulge in anything resembling a normal thought process. I’ve got a big project which will have matured and been accomplished by tomorrow night about 9 p.m. at which point I’ll be able to relax for a minute and gather my thoughts. Today, I’m busy “herding cats” and “managing expectations.” A minefield is where I’m at right now.

Seriously, all I ever set out to do was take pictures of Newtown Creek and the document the season of change in the watershed communities surrounding it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The big project which is stressing me out is a private event, so I can’t really talk about it. There’s been a couple of major projects in the works throughout August which are coming to fruition, but since the universe demands that when I’m focusing on something a cloud of biting insects will appear to torment and distract…

It’s so busy this week that I’m actually dreaming about tasks that I need to crush out, and upon awakening from those little snatches of death… Man, I really need a vacation from Home Sweet Hell.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


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.

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 11, 2019 at 12:00 pm

previously noticed

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Minimalist Wednesday is difficult.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Feature rich and cluttered is how I describe the visual environment that one dwells in. A gauntlet I’ve thrown down for myself is to produce three shots a week which aren’t long focal, do not depict some urban landscape in all of its complexity, and which are somewhat reductive in nature. This ain’t so simple in Queens.

As mentioned in Monday’s posting, a good way to stay interested in what you’re doing is to set a few rules and limitations for yourself, so in the tradition of Newtown Pentacle “series posts” like “Project Firebox,” “Maritime Saturday,” and so on – you’ve got “Minimalist Wednesday.” Something to do, right?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is an obvious solution tot he problem, optically speaking, which is to use a shallow depth of field aperture setting to isolate out an object from its background. The object above was a bit of heavy chain attached to a utility pole, but you get the idea. The shot above is cheating, imho.

What I’m looking for… man, I don’t know what I’m looking for but I know it when I see it. Or at least, I hope I will.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To wit, this little scenario encountered in Greenpoint. I have no idea what the purpose of this array might be, but that – that’s what I’m looking for.

Anyway, that’s Minimalist Wednesday for you.

This post is being written on Monday, btw, and as you’re reading this, I’m ostensibly down at the Kosciuszcko Bridge opening ceremonies and taking lots and lots of very complicated pictures involving the Governor. My plan is to get all of that to y’all in Friday’s post, as I’m sure that I’m coming back home with hundreds of pics from the K Bridge event(s).


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


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.

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 28, 2019 at 11:00 am

dissecting room

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This little piggie went to the urgent care?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Somehow, a humble narrator broke a toe last night while conducting a tour of Newtown Creek. No crack or pop was sensed, but upon returning to HQ, the sort of purplish red bruise one associates with a broken bone was present, and this morning the spreading hematoma flower on my left foot confirms it. Of course, that means that tonight’s walking tour will be very interesting indeed. Not too much you can do for a busted toe, I’d mention, you just use tape and splint it up to the one next to it.

Luckily, it’s a minor toe, and is basically the Delaware or Luxembourg of the foot. Sigh… I’m just falling apart these days, a delicate flower lost in the concrete devastations of Western Queens and North Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, one has always had the ability to psychologically isolate pain and “put it in my pocket” when it’s inconvenient, with the notable exception of dental issues. Can’t escape from tooth and mouth problems, they’re wired too closely to the brain. A life of disappointment, resentfulness, and emotional tumult coupled with an all too human physique which often lets me down has also caused one to actively cultivate “anhedonia” – a bodily and emotional numbness – as a defense mechanism.

Anhedonia keeps you even in an ever changing and often hazard rich world, I tell ya.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The good news is that the toe doesn’t hurt much at all. It just feels like I’ve got something stuck to it, due to the swelling. The bruise looks awful, but is pretty cool actually, as far as internal bleeding goes. Let’s see what happens to old Mitch today…

Maybe one of my ears will just fall right off, or a pinky finger will spontaneously combust. Take a guess. There’s still some spaces open for tonight’s Greenpoint Walking Limping Tour available, so for those of you who enjoy watching me suffer – a value add on the ticket price.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Upcoming Tours and Events


Thursday, July 25, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Greenpoint Walking Tour w NYCH20

Explore Greenpoint’s post industrial landscape and waterfront with Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman.

Click here for ticketing and more information.


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.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 25, 2019 at 1:00 pm

obviously recent

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End to end, and where your poop goes, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s a view of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant over in Greenpoint, the newest and largest of NYC’s 14 sewer plants. The eight egg shaped structures which define the facility are bio digesters. What that means is that they contain cultures, in industrial amounts, of the same bacteria that the human gut carries. After undergoing several stages of filtration – mechanical, aeration, and so on – NYC’s brew of sewage and storm water is pumped into those eggs whereupon the bacteria go to work. The micro critters consume what’s left of nutrients in the “honey” (which is how the wastewater engineers of the DEP refer to the stuff) and both the digestive process and their biologies sterilize the stuff. The DEP spends a lot of time making sure that the environment inside the eggs is conducive to this biological action, which includes maintaining a constant interior temperature that matches that of the human body.

It seems that we humans have a remarkably inefficient gut, which is why we fart when consuming too much food. So too, does the sewer plant get gassy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Those four cylinders burn off the waste gases produced within the eggs, which largely take the form of Methane. As this turns the sewer plant in Greenpoint into one of the largest point sources of “greenhouse gases” in NYC, the DEP is working with the National Grid company in pursuance of harvesting the methane, which would be chemically modified a tad and added to National Grid’s “natural gas” supply and sold to customers. One is fairly familiar with both this partnership and the process, and the wheelings and dealings behind it, and it’s pretty problematic.

The alternative, however, is to do nothing and continue pumping millions of tons of methane into the atmosphere annually.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over in Manhattan, at the corner of East 13th and Avenue D, is the Manhattan Pump House. If you’re in the City and flush a toilet anywhere south of 79th street, your “product” is coming here. I’ve been inside this structure, which plunges multiple stories down into the ground (it’s actually deeper than it is tall). All of the “flow” goes into that cylindrical structure on the left side of the facility, which is called a “surge tower.” There’s a black maelstrom visible from the catwalk, which spirals down into a pipe laid across the bottom of the East River and then eastwards deep under Greenpoint and to the plant.

So, that’s where your poop goes.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


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.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 24, 2019 at 1:00 pm

grinding halts

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Problems not of my making are annoying.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One continues to struggle against changes made without my consent or direction to paid services like WordPress and Flickr, but those are just the tip of a personal iceberg that offers a continually shifting footing. The trick to being productive in the digital age involves consistency on the part of the content creator, which is dependent upon the predictability of technologies used to bring the content forward and present it. The sudden insertion of advertising into this page, which I don’t see a dime from and is the digital equivalent of a business card stuck into your door jam, just annoys me as it breaks up the narrative offered and introduces a coarse visual esthetic. What I see being inserted involves a series of banner ads which revolve around some quack selling snake oil for sufferers of stomach issues. You? Leave a comment and let me know, I would beg of you.

Extortion is what’s at work, as WordPress is essentially blackmailing me into forking over some filthy lucre to them in order to make the ads stop, and causing the site to work and look the way it used to. It’s not like I’m freeloading, Newtown Pentacle is already, and has been, coughing up money annually for the privilege of publishing with WordPress. WordPress just wants more. They want to monetize me, and by extension – you. Apologies are offered, I should have this situation solved soon but it means forking over extortion monies.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The service which serves the photos here is Flickr, which has been owned by Yahoo for more than a decade and was recently purchased by an outfit called Smugmug. The Smugmug people are modernizing a lot of things at Flickr right now, but a particularly annoying “gotcha” they’ve introduced bars me from logging into my paid account via the desktop computer which I use to process and deliver photos via. This has added to my workload in several annoying ways, making even the rather straightforward task of setting up posts from a template labor intensive. My desktop is a few years old, but still quite capable at doing what I need it to. The technology companies seeking to monetize me, however, are all fairly insistent that I should buy a new box, which would aid them in their profit seeking. A new box would see me paying a monthly subscription fee to Adobe, give Apple further opportunities to isolate me into their walled garden, and remove any vestige of control over the desktop environment that I currently have.

Today’s post was constructed using three different devices, when I used to use just one. That’s how many “workarounds” are now involved.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Can’t fight City Hall, don’t be a luddite and embrace change, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, right?

As a note, I remember installing Adobe Illustrator off of about a dozen floppy discs onto one of the first Macs with a color screen at a Madison Avenue agency back in the early 90’s. I’ve been around the digital world since it emerged, and have profited off of my technical acumen and understanding of it over the last three decades. Tech companies have always been somewhat predatory, but we seem to have entered a new era in this regard. I don’t mind paying out for technologies, but forced upgrades accompanied by a diminishment of services enrages a humble narrator.


Upcoming Tours and Events

June 15th – Exploring the East River,

From General Slocum Disaster to Abandoned Islands – with NY Adventure Club.

June 15th is one of those days in NYC history. In 1904, more than a thousand people boarded a boat in lower Manhattan, heading for a church picnic on Long Island — only 321 of them would return. This is the story of the General Slocum disaster, and how New York Harbor, the ferry industry, and a community were forever altered.

Join New York Adventure Club for a two-part aquatic adventure as we explore the General Slocum disaster, and historic sights and stories along the East River, all by NYC Ferry.

Tickets and more details
here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 3, 2019 at 1:30 pm

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