The Newtown Pentacle

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Old acquaintance be forgot, all that jazz, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last post of 2016 right here, lords and ladies, coming to you from the Empty Corridor of LIC. As y’all know, my favorite part of the concrete devastations for many years has been the splendid isolation it offered, which is getting all screwed up by real estate development. There’s so many more people around these parts than there were ten years ago… where’s a humble narrator got to go to find some solitude and listen to his HP Lovecraft audiobooks? I suppose there’s always Calvary Cemetery, but…

The Empty Corridor, I would mention, is a term of my own invention. It’s the zone of LIC found down under the Long Island Expresway – or DULIE. You’ve got to stay ahead of the real estate people, I always say.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s an MTA owned railroad access road which isn’t exactly a NYC DOT street, despite it having a “29th street” sign hanging on it. It adjoins the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek, connecting Hunters Point Avenue and 47th avenue. If you send mail to one of the businesses found on this street, you can write the address as “One Dutch Kills” rather than “29th street” and it will be delivered. That’s something I learned in 2016.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the subject of looking forward to 2017, the battle of Queens looms large. The Mayor of NYC announced, a while ago now, that he intends to deck over the titan Sunnyside Yards and build what promises to be a disastrous number of housing units there without a concurrent buildout of infrastructure. Bill de Blasio; the big little mayor, the dope from park slope, the vainglorious ideologue – he’s got another thing coming if he thinks he’s going to wreck Western Queens.

A sleeping activist giant has awoken in this borough, thanks to his homeless hotels, disingenuous neoliberalism masquerading as progressive policy, and his crass Tammany style corruption.


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dread aperture

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There’s so many of us, at least for a couple of hours each day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Scuttling down Skillman Avenue and approaching Queens Plaza, one was reminded of a conversation recently enjoyed with a locally deployed NYPD Commander about the unique nature of this area. For a couple of hours, each morning and evening, this is theoretically one of the most densely populated places on the planet, but the individual members of this population blob are seldom in the neighborhood for longer than a few minutes and they are in vehicular motion (however stunted) the whole time.

To put it simply, the multitudes moving through western Queens during the rush hours, on their way to work or home to other places – traveling by car, bus, subway, railroad, bicycle, or autogyro perhaps – create a statistically irrelevant but nonetheless astounding jump in the “persons per square foot” or population density of LIC. Thing is, lots of people elected to suffer a long commute when they moved to Eastern Queens, or Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Lots of time to read, I guess.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Statistical relevance is part of how planning decisions are made. It big math – “quant” stuff, actually, and beyond my understanding. The theory behind the relevance of statistical information is summed up by that quote from Josef Stalin that a single death is a tragedy whereas a million deaths are a statistic. A lot of policy decisions revolve around, or at least they’re supposed to, the greatest good for the greatest number.

“Greatest number” inherently means that someone gets left out, which translates as “not statistically relevant.” Planning of public works in recent decades has strived to expand and include traditionally marginalized groups, most notably folks with health related mobility issues – thanks to the ADA or Americans with Disabilities Act. A lot of public spaces and City buildings out there were formally denied to people in wheelchairs, since the era in which most of these public buildings were erected, the disabled population wasn’t considered as being “statistically relevant.”

Access to mass, affordable, and reliable transit – which parallels what’s available to “abled” people – still remains a problem, I’m told.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Statistical relevance, I’m informed, is a big part of the algorithm under which the 311 service of NYC was designed to operate. One person from Blissville complaining to 311 about a cat in a tree is low priority and statistically irrelevant, but the City will send somebody out when they can. Twenty people from the same block call 311 about the cat? Help is on the way a lot faster, as the problem is now far more mathematically relevant and the City will send out Superman to investigate and mitigate.

Make me wonder what would happen if everybody who was commuting through Queens Plaza on any given day suddenly called 311 to complain about something.

Then again, I wonder why it is that everyone doesn’t vote on Election Day.


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Failure is often the only option, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been on a holy tear of late on the real estate development and gentrification situation here in Western Queens. I’ve been pissing off a bunch of people I know in government by doing so, and have received the usual “who do you think you are?” accusations and chides. My standard response is “I’m a citizen, and how dare you act like some sort of landed gentry towards me when ultimately all you’ve got is a government job.” It was common sense when I was growing up that taking a government job (as opposed to working for a corporation) was all about the security and pension benefits. What you didn’t get in terms of annual salary today, you’d get back in the long term during retirement. In my neighborhood – DSNY was considered a good career bet, as well as becoming a teacher, as they had the strongest Unions with the best “bennys.” My pal “Special Ed”‘s dad told us all that we should seriously consider becoming court bailiffs.

Of course, that’s my “working class” outlook at work, and back then the gub’mint wasn’t the pathway one took in pursuance of eventually securing a high paid corporate consultancy job.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Something happened during the Bloomberg era, however. “Gubmint” jobs suddenly accrued a new status and the suits from corporate America began to talk about “service.” They took the pay cut, accepted a position at this agency or that, and began applying the rules of business to government policy. Now, don’t get me wrong, these are pretty clever folks and the amount of brain (and Rolodex) power they brought with them to lower Manhattan is impressive. Problem being, they have an inherently profit based modus operandi due to their experiences in the “real world.” The “Gubmint” ain’t supposed to turn a profit.

Thing is, most of these “Gubmint” people aren’t from “here,” and they seem to regard New York City with a thinly veiled disgust.

For example – remember when Dan Doctoroff described the Sunnyside Yards as “a scar” he saw from his office window in Manhattan a couple of years ago? Mr. Doctoroff was born in Newark, but grew up in Birmingham, Michigan and then attended Harvard University. A suburb of Detroit, the demographics of Birmingham are 96% Caucasian (according to the 2000 census), and a mere 1.6% of the population of Birmingham lives below the poverty line. The median income for a household in that city in 2000 was $80,861, and the median income for a family was $110,627. Not exactly East New York, or the South Bronx, or Astoria. Mr. Doctoroff is famously Michael Bloomberg’s right hand man and the fellow who ran Bloomberg LLC while his boss was Mayor, and is accordingly quite affluent. He’s the very definition of the “one percent” and a leading member of the “elite.” I don’t imagine Mr. Doctoroff goes fishing in his penny jar for bagel money when it’s the Thursday before payday, has never had to “borrow from Peter to pay Paul,” or lived in financial fear that the City DOB might impoverish him with an unexpected order to repair or replace his concrete sidewalk.

In other words, what in hell does Dan Doctoroff know about life in working class Queens?

Doctoroff and his cohorts created the term “affordable housing” which the current Mayor has made his own. The question often asked is “affordable by who”? The Citizens Budget Commission boiled that down in this post from last year. The upshot of it is that in order to create this so called “affordable” apartment stock, which is unaffordable to the low income people it’s meant to serve, the rent on “market” rate apartments actually has to go up to cover the cost. This redistribution of wealth hits the middle and working class on two fronts – higher monthly rents, and the application of their tax dollars to subsidize the real estate development which reluctantly includes the so called “affordable” units.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personal experience from having actually grown up in NYC suggests that whomever the politicians and planners set out to “help” end up getting hurt.

Having grown up in what would be considered a “low income” family under modern terms, we members of the Waxman clan migrated to the outer edges of the City (Brooklyn’s Canarsie section) where housing was found that we could afford. That’s where relative affluence and dire poverty comingled, and created a culture. This was possible due to a preexisting infrastructure of subways and highways that allowed egress to and from the commercial center in Manhattan, but there were still plenty of jobs to be had locally. Manufacturing, commercial, shops. If you played your cards right, you could earn a living and never once have to go into the City. That’s changed, and the ongoing loss of this manufacturing and commercial side of the working class economy is excaberated by this affordable housing craze which perceives any large footprint lot as being a potential development site.

If a building went up in the 1970’s or 80’s, which included low income housing, that had a separate entrance or “poor door” there would have been bloody riots.

The reason for that is the City planners and “Gubmint” officialdom were mostly native New Yorkers who lived in and were loyal to the neighborhoods they oversaw, and who understood that “it’s not all about Manhattan.” Doctoroff and his acolytes see the City as the solution and not the problem. The looming infrastructure crisis this rapid development is causing will impoverish the City. A century ago, when the newly consolidated City of Greater New York was being similarly developed – the politicians built the subways and sewers first, then they sold off or awarded the adjoining properties at bargain prices to their cronies like Cord Meyer and Fred Trump.

The infrastructure investments made between 1898 and 1940 allowed NYC to grow beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Unfortunately, these days we are doing the opposite, and allowing the buildings to be erected first. The bill for all of the municipal machinery will come after the population loading is finished.


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Burnt, literally and figuratively.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator feels a bit swollen in the brain today, a sensation which is coupled with a mild case of sunburn. Yesterday found me onboard a boat for the Waterfront Alliance’s annual conference, and one took advantage of the fantastic weather as much as possible by being out on deck after I had captured the photos which the WA asked me to get. Accordingly, my skinvelope is exhibiting the characteristic radiation burns one might expect after exposure to the emanations of the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in earlier posts, a sudden flurry of activity has occurred in the last few weeks, which has been quite a distraction.

A recent event which I attended was here in Astoria – a visioning session conducted by the NYCEDC in pursuance of the BQX Street Car system as proposed by Mayor De Blasio – was actually quite interesting. I’m working on a fairly in depth series of posts exploring the idea, and next week I plan on walking the 16 mile route of the BQX to provide some sort of tangible visual documentation of the plan and route.

More on this one is coming.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Two events which I’m looking forward to will be occurring the weekend and week of the 21st – a walking tour of the Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek in Greenpoint with Atlas Obscura, and a boat tour of the Brooklyn waterfront with the Working Harbor Committee on the 26th.

Come with?

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, May 21st at 3:30 p.m. –
A Return to The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek,
with Atlas Obscura, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Click here for more details.

Thursday, May 26th at 6 p.m. –
Brooklyn Waterfront: Past & Present Boat Tour,
with Working Harbor Committee. Click here for more details.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

May 13, 2016 at 1:15 pm

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Back in session.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The good news about my recent two week break is that it allowed an interval in which a humble narrator could really drill down and focus in on how lousy a human being I am. Lots of 3 a.m. staring into the bathroom mirror, accompanied by vast introspection and self loathing, has been accomplished.

Unfortunately I didn’t get much done, in terms of getting “out” and doing my “thing” for a variety of reasons. A few Newtown Creek oriented meetings were attended, however. Notably, I was at one with some high ranking DEP officials at the sewer plant in Greenpoint, where presentations on the final stages of construction of that mammoth facility were offered (I also went to the Bronx Zoo, but that’s a different story).

It seems the Nature Walk phases two and three, which will create a corridor between Kingsland Avenue and the current entrance to the NCWWTP Nature Walk on Paidge, are slightly delayed but funded.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The DEP reported to the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee – which I’m a member of – that “NCMC” (as it’s called), will continue to exist throughout these final stages of Nature Walk construction and that DEP has renewed the contract for our technical advisor and community liaison – a wonderful and quite clever guy named Steve Fleischacker. This is great news. The DEP then moved on to report on the “Waste to Energy” project they’re doing with National Grid.

The “Waste to Energy” thing, in a nutshell, boils down to DSNY collecting organic (food waste) garbage then delivering it to a waste management facility over at the tripartite border of Greenpoint, Ridgewood, and Bushwick for processing into a “macerated slurry.” This slurry will then be trucked over to the sewer plant, where one eighth of the total capacity of the sewer plant has been committed to the production of methane gas – which the National Grid people will incorporate into their system and then sell to their customers.

Of course, that’s when the lying started, but if you walk out of a meeting with DEP and they haven’t fibbed at least once – then you know something is really wrong. DEP claims that there will only be six truck trips a day between the Waste Management facility and their own, but didn’t count the DSNY truck trips through Greenpoint. When I asked them to define “truck,” they all started leaning in and whispering to each other, and finally admitted that by “truck” they’re mean a semi tractor trailer pulling a massive 50,000 plus gallon tank through mostly residential streets.

That’s for Month one of the “waste to energy” project, by month twelve, they anticipate doubling the number of truck trips. They also haven’t done the math on months thirteen to twenty four yet.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

NYC DEP, which manages both the sweet (drinking) and tainted (sewerage) water systems for the megalopolis, is the very definition of the “permanent government.” There’s a hidden world of “lifers” and bureaucrats who actually run the agency, but the commissioner levels of management are directly tied to the political vagaries of NYC. In the last ten years, I’ve seen four executive teams come and go. They all make promises and commitments to the community, but when a new political order is decided on at City Hall and the Mayor moves someone new into the job – they are not obliged to honor the commitments of their forbears.

The DEP officials assured me that as long as the current Mayoral administration is in place, their promises are exactly that. For what DEP’s promises are worth and the realities of a “politics first” approach to municipal management, and an interesting look at the expediencies of City Hall – I suggest a read of this recent whistleblower NY Times article describing the “Water Tunnel #3” scandal.

Also, tour season is upon us again, so if you want to actually get a read on how repellant a human being I am in person – click the link below and come out to Greenpoint next Saturday for “Obscura Day.”

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April 16th, Obscura Day 2016
“Creek to Creek Industrial Greenpoint Walking Tour” with Mitch Waxman and Geoff Cobb.

Join Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman and Greenpoint historian and author Geoff Cobb for a three-hour exploration of the coastline of Greenpoint. Click here for more info and ticketing.

consequential consistencies

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It does seem to be Creek Week, doesn’t it?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In yesterday’s post, I told you about Deadman’s Curve in Maspeth, and we explored 57th avenue – the former “Creek Street.” The shot above looks eastwards towards Deadman’s Curve from the former Penny Bridge LIRR stop at Review Avenue. The water facing property is currently owned by John Quadrozzi Jr., who is a major land holder in the Red Hook and Gowanus areas. The property seems to be mainly used for storage and maintenance of heavy construction equipment these days.

As the name of the LIRR stop would imply, this is also the former location of Penny Bridge, which connected Brooklyn’s Meeker Avenue to Queens’s Review Avenue. Additionally, the Roman Catholic Church used to run a ferry service from Manhattan to Calvary Cemetery which docked nearby.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Review Avenue, the stretch of it that runs along Calvary Cemetery, is where the first large scale petroleum refinery in the United States was founded – Abraham Gesner’s North American Kerosene Gas Light Company, which would become first the New York Kerosene Gas Light Company and then be acquired by Charles Pratt and Standard Oil and rechristened it as the Queens County Oil Company. Queens County Oil’s bulkheads are the ones that the Blissville Seep oozes petroleum into Newtown Creek from.

If you follow Review to the west, you’ll find the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge and a pair of roads which descend downhill on either side of it. They take you to, and from, Railroad Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The eastern side of railroad avenue was formerly the home of the Van Iderstine company, who had their own rail spur down here which was populated with Van Iderstine’s distinctive black tank cars. As the name of the street – Railroad Avenue – would imply, it’s all about the tracks down here and on the western side of the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge you’ll find the LIRR’s Bliss Tower and Blissville Yard.

Welcome to DUGABO – Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Van Iderstine was a nightmare of a company, incidentally, or at least their occupation was. They were renderers, which means that pack animals, butcher scrap, rotten eggs, barrels of abattoir blood – even dead circus elephants – would be brought here to be broken down into components. What exited the factory was tallow.

Believe it or not, they weren’t the most ghastly operation along this stretch of the Lower Montauk tracks, just the smelliest. I can tell you stories about the yeast distilleries…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of smelly, the modern occupation of the Blissville Yard is garbage. That’s the Waste Managemnt garbage train you see above, which is shipped around and about by the New York and Atlantic freight line. NY&A services two Waste Managemnt facilities on the Creek – one here in Blissville and the other in Brooklyn’s East Williamsburg along Newtown Creek’s English Kills tributary.

Something like 30-40% of all of NYC’s putrescent (black bag) waste comes to Newtown Creek to be processed and shipped off in green boxes such as the ones above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Railroad Avenue is one of those cul-de-sac streets along the Creek where there’s only one entrance or exit and which – if you get in trouble or hurt, it’s going to be damned difficult to explain to the 911 operator where you are. At the west end of the street is Sims Metal Management’s Newtown Creek dock, on the east you’ll find Waste Management’s Green Asphalt works, the same company’s putrescent waste transfer station, and the Marlyn industrial park which hosts such luminaries as LeNoble Lumber and A&L Cesspool. Personally, I’d call Sims for help, as they’re closer than any hospital and I know a couple of guys who work there.

This is, incidentally, some of what you’ll find located between Review Avenue, the Lower Montauk tracks, Railroad Avenue, and Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Blissville Yard connects to the DB Cabin railroad bridge, which connects Blissville Yard to the Wheelspur and Hunters Point Yards in Hunters Point, and which crosses the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek. There’s also a connection to the M Cabin bridge which leads to the abandoned Montauk Cutoff tracks and Sunnyside Yards.

Freight traffic on Newtown Creek heads east into Maspeth and to the Fresh Pond Yard, eventually meeting the switch to the New York Connecting Railroad through Woodside and Astoria, which leads to the Hell Gate Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Down towards the end of Railroad Avenue, one encountered this immolated automobile.

As mentioned multitudinous times, I cannot resist this sort of thing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This car wasn’t just burned up, it was thoroughly incinerated.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the sort of stuff you’ll see on Railroad Avenue, here in DUGABO, in the Blissville section of Queens, along the lugubrious Newtown Creek.

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It’s all so depressing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A somewhat random series of images greets you today. As endlessly mentioned in recent posts, I’m bored boredity bored bored, tired of winter already, and literally dying for something interesting that isn’t horrible to happen. This horsey ride over in Sunnyside… I wish they made adult versions of these things so I could at least have something to look forward to after the goal of achieving fifty cents was accomplished.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Spotted this arrangement over in LIC, on Jackson Avenue. I don’t think that the Union guys consciously create compositions when they’re doing their thing, but they are often responsible for moments of true rapture.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The literal dust bin of history was stumbled across at the Vernon Blvd. street end in LIC’s DUPBO, where some thoughtful soul had disposed of a series of history textbooks and what seemed like an entire library of Time Life WW2 hard cover photo books.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While I was there, in LIC I mean, exploitation of one of the many holes in the fencing of the LIRR Hunters Point yard was undertaken. I’ve got a catalog of these holes and POV’s, incidentally, which includes the entire Sunnyside Yards and follows the Montauk line all the way back to Ridgewood. For those of you who live in Bushwick, Ridgewood, or East Williamsburg – two words – Scott Avenue (bet Randolph and Meserole).

Trust me, but be there early or late.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For some reason, I’m fascinated by laundromats at the moment, a subject which I’m planning on discussing with my team of physicians. This one is in Park Slope, where I somehow ended up one day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over at Central Park Zoo, there are Grizzly Bears. Their names are Betty and Veronica, and I have no idea which one this is. Where’s Archie, ask I?

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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 4, 2016 at 11:00 am

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