The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘31st street

pencilled notes

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To distraction, it drives me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the dodges often offered by the governmental crowd is the avoidance of specifics when they’re trying to sell you the latest flavor of kool aid they’ve been cooking up in City Hall. To wit, the Green Infrastructure/bioswale/rain garden story which the NYC DEP “sells and tells” is scientifically valid, but they refuse to prove it so by using numbers. In short – the various wastewater treatment plants which NYC owns and operates, there are 14 of them, have a set engineered capacity for how many gallons of wastewater that they can handle. Given that it rains more than it used to, and there’s also a lot more toilets flushing than there used to be, one option for handling the design capacity overage would be to finance and build a series of additional sewer plants. That particular choice would be expensive, both fiscally and politically. Another option is to increase the amount of open soil in the drainage area serviced by the existing 14 so that instead of going into a sewer, rainfall and other precipitation soaks into the ground and soil. Problem there is that the ground in NYC is largely coated in cement and concrete. What’s the answer then? Rain Gardens, right?

You open up some of the soil, as in thousands of acres citywide, and you’ve extended the design capacity and service life of your 14 sewer plants for another couple of decades. Those thousands of acres would be aggregate, of course, tap holes of small size, scattered around the various neighborhoods in strategic spots which would drink up “x” number of gallons of rain.

You add the open spots up, you’ve achieved the vast acreages. Simple, right?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

According to the building guides used by architects who want to construct things in the megalopolis, a square acre of land in NYC can be expected to accumulate (if memory serves) 22.7 inches of rain per year. Don’t expect one such as myself to accurately calculate the number of gallons that represents, but the idea here is that there is actually a calculable number which can be arrived at. Rain Gardens, which in their current form are about a yard (or meter) long on the short side and about three meters (or yards) on the long side, are engineered structures which Government employees are designing and installing. Government employees – and in particular Civil Engineers – do not “guess” when they’re spending your tax money. There is a calculation somewhere which dictates that “x” number of bioswale/rain gardens equate to “y” number of gallons being diverted from the sewers. DEP has instead constantly told me that they are essentially crossing their fingers and hoping for the best with their “Green Infrastructure” initiative. Even in private meetings, they say this.

That’s when I opine that they are lying to my face, that engineers do not cross their fingers and hope for the best, and I ask them why they are treating this like a state secret. Funnily, I believe that the Green Infrastructure program is fantastic, and represents the sort of lateral thinking which I espouse. Gordian Knot, anyone?

A bit of quick Google fu indicates that a single inch of water covering a square acre would represent roughly 27,154 gallons, and multiplying that amount by 23 gives you roughly 624,548 gallons per square acre. I suck at math, so this is probably off, but “State secret,” right?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Other than wanting to run the shots that were captured during last Friday’s rain storm, the thing that set me off on this topic was actually where I was going on Friday night. The CB1 Astoria Community Board Environmental Committee – which I’m a member of – invited representatives of an outfit called “Solar One” to come and discuss the requirements and nuances of a new series of local laws that address climate change and carbon emissions here in NYC. When queried about how many theoretical acres of NYC rooftop which the new law required for conversion to solar, and what number of kilowatt hours that acreage would result in as far as harvesting power from passive collection, the answer was “it depends” and that “we haven’t calculated that.” Sound familiar?

Why treat it like a state secret? I’m certainly “for this,” and being evasive with answers is not how you create allies who will help sell this plan to their neighbors.


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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

March 9, 2020 at 1:00 pm

utmost fortitude

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There’s always something to complain about.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has mentioned in the past that a singular virtue of the Governor’s “enhanced stations” project – and construction spending – on the Astoria line elevated subway stops along 31st street has been the abundance of street lighting they have introduced to what was formerly a dark and unfriendly series of street intersections. Also mentioned, repeatedly, is the fact that a humble narrator is still somewhat crippled by a crush injury to the big toe of my left foot, and I’ve been trying to “keep it local” as much as possible for the last few weeks to avoid reinjuring or impeding the healing process in the affected phalange. I plan to be back to full capability in the new year, after all.

Accordingly, the residents of my side of Astoria have begun to adjust to a sight often witnessed by the denizens of several other nearby communities – that of a strange old man wearing a filthy black raincoat and brandishing a camera about wherever municipal infrastructure stands naked and revealed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the subject of complaining, or “freelance unsolicited criticism” as my pal Special Ed once called it, right about now that’s all I’ve got to fill my time. One likes to believe that he has weaponized complaint, and milled it down into a quiver of razor tipped arrows which can be fired – with some precision – at an opponent’s vital bits. Ten years of daily blogging… you get good at grousing, I always say. Nobody cares, though.

That’s the intersection of Broadway and 31st street pictured in today’s post, from three different angles. The first looks westwards, the one above south west, and the one below is looking northwards from a different corner.

On the alternative subject of people in my neighborhood getting used to seeing a humble narrator at work, unlike Maspeth or Greenpoint where the residents go out of their way to avoid human contact, Astorians will just stride right up and ask what I’m doing. Such mendacity is part of the reason that I call Astoria my home.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The guy in the food cart with the glowing window seemed rather concerned about my activities, but a quick wave of the hand and his paranoia seemed assuaged. A few people who announced, unheeded, that they didn’t want to be photographed received my usual speech about long exposure shots and that unless they were standing statue still for at least half a minute while in frame there would be little more of them than a ghostly whisper or blurred outline of them in the final shot.

On that subject, I’ve got an idea about how to advance these night shots up a level, and plan on exploring a new set of techniques in the coming weeks. Somebody will end up complaining about that, though.


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Come on a tour!

With Atlas ObscuraInfrastructure Creek! My favorite walking tour to conduct, and in a group limited to just twelve people! December 14th, 1:30-3:30 p.m.

Click here for more information and tickets!

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

December 6, 2019 at 11:00 am

imperfect salts

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Getting my groove on in Astoria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured today are the POV’s from 31st street and Astoria Blvd., which is one of the worst street crossings for pedestrians and bicycles in all of Queens. The construction materials are related to the “enhanced station initiative” that Governor Cuomo introduced a few years back, which has been playing out in incremental stages all up and down the 31st street corridor between Northern Blvd./Jackson Avenue and the terminal stop of the N and W Astoria lines at Ditmars Blvd. One was admittedly skeptical about this when it was described, but – in my opinion, at least – the newly redesigned stations are pretty good. They supply an abundance of light to what has historically been a dark and somewhat menacing streetscape, and the “upstairs” component is pretty clean visually.

Saying that, the corner pictured above which… y’know… has a train station over it and thusly a lot of pedestrians, is terrifying to navigate on foot and particularly so at night.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ultimately, the high volume traffic problem is due to the Triborough Bridge, which spits thousands of cars a day out onto a two block long stretch of local streets which lead to the entrance ramps for the Grand Central Parkway. Why there aren’t express lanes leading directly to the parkway from the bridge is yet another one of those Queens mysteries nobody can answer. The Grand Central Parkway runs through a trench sunk into Astoria Blvd. which stretches from roughly 33rd street to 47th street, where it eventually joins the same altitude as the surrounding local streets. The trench is due to topography, of course, and both sides of Astoria Blvd. for the more or less 3/4 of a mile between 33rd and 47th are heavily trafficked one lane service roads with a parking lane along a fairly narrow sidewalk.

Why not deck the highway and create a green space/park over it? It would save the State a bunch of money in terms of snow removal, create a planted area in place of highway, contain the particulates of auto exhaust wafting off the Grand Central and into the residential streets surrounding the thing, and would likely eliminate the de facto “us and them” factor between the bifurcated neighborhoods of Astoria (one centering around the commercial strip of Ditmars to north and the southern 30th ave./Broadway zones). We’d drink up a lot of storm water with a green space, and break up the heat island effect – and as I’m often wont to point out – there is no greater magnifier for real estate valuations than the presence of a nearby park. Everybody wins – contractors, labor, drivers, pedestrians, politicians, real estate people, even the actual community itself.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over in Brooklyn’s South Williamsburg, where the BQE runs through a similar trench, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams has been talking about something similar for quite a while. They’ve done a bunch of the math for this sort of thing, and it’s not outlandishly expensive as long as conversation about the subject stays away from creating a deck structure that needs to support buildings, only parkland. You’d be able to prefabricate the sections, install them one by one during (relatively) low traffic intervals, and give a section of NYC remarkable for its lack of parklands a new reason for the citizenry to move in and join the party. Also, this would likely end up being a fully union laborer operation, so all the Politicians could wet their beaks at the trough of a happy Building Trade Council. Again – win, win, win.

Why not here in Western Queens? Tell me why this wouldn’t improve things for the people of Astoria?


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Buy a book!

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

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 19, 2019 at 11:00 am

burned out

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Hey, what’s with all this Northern Blvd. stuff?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I know what is to come. In recent years, the NYC Dept. of City Planning was working on something they called “LIC Core,” a planning document centering around Northern Blvd. between 31st street and Woodside Avenue. My understanding is that the planning document has been abandoned, and that the Real Estate Industrial Complex will just be allowed to do whatever they want under the proviso that a politically viable number of “affordable” apartments are a part of their plan. The whole “affordable” thing, and the arithmetic by which the concept of affordability is determined, is a bugbear of political deception which I don’t want to get into.

As mentioned in the past, I’m now a member of Community Board 1 here in Astoria, and before the summer break, a humble narrator was obliged to vote for or against a couple of these projects. Now, when you’re on a community board – and I seem to be the only person in Queens who adheres to this – it’s meant to be like serving on a jury. The petitioner presents their facts, you make inquiries, and then you vote. In the case of two large projects just a few blocks from my own home, I voted yes. Here’s why…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Close to transit, shopping, and City services? Check. Best use of the land? Well, I don’t think used car lots are the best use of the land within one to two miles of the East River. How densely populated is the area already? Well…. let’s just say that when the kids want to experiment with cannabinoids well outside the purview of their parents or just see how loud their car stereos are, the side streets along Northern Blvd. are where they go, as it’s a ghost town at night after all the car lots and mechanics shutter their doors. People sleep in their cars along these blocks, or on cardboard boxes piled up against the walls.

Just like when you’re on a jury, your CB vote is supposed to be based not on personal prejudices or preconceived notions, rather it’s meant to be guided by the presented facts and informed by your personal knowledge of the area. Saying that, my queries and comments to the various entities seeking to develop residential properties in the neighborhood revolved around topics that longtime Newtown Pentacle readers will find familiar – green roofs, truly public space, stormwater capture, hospital beds, school desks, and transit. Also, what are you going to plug the building into, since our electrical power system hereabouts… frankly… sucks.

Also – since this has come up a few times during the summer when I was talking to the press about unrelated Newtown Creek business – I in no way speak for CB1, and if you want an official opinion of the group on anything, talk to the Chair or call the office and ask for one. I’m still new to the Community Board, and getting to know not just my fellow members but also the procedural norms under which it operates. My plan for the next set of sessions, which begin again in September, is to show up and observe the way things work and then vote my conscience on the various issues presented. What you read here is from my personal POV, and all opinions are my own. If I’m speaking “officially” on behalf of any of the groups which I work with, I’ll state that. Otherwise, it’s just some schmuck with a camera mouthing off again.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Saying all that, and I’m still startled at the number of people who have willingly made their homes in Queens Plaza, living along Northern Blvd. seems like a poor choice. You do have fairly regular bus service, but the closest subway stops (other than the 36th street R/M) are all several blocks to the north – in Astoria proper – along Broadway. I’ve long called this stretch of Northern Blvd. the “Carridor” as it’s a super wide primary automobile and truck route that offers some of the scariest street crossings in all of Queens. Really, Steinway at Northern… brrrr…

At the moment, I’m spending some effort on recording what’s found on the Carridor right now, in order to create some kind of record before it all gets swept away by the forces of modernity and the rapacious hunger of the Real Estate Industrial Complex. The history of NYC is a story of wrenching, and quite sudden, change. Take a picture when something catches your interest, as it might not be there tomorrow.


“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 27, 2019 at 11:00 am

contraband nature

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It’s National Jelly Donut Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been on a non stop run across the City of Greater New York for the last six weeks, and my dogs are barking. Haven’t been to Staten Island (except by water, twice) or the Bronx at all, but tomorrow I’m going to Plumb Beach nearby Sheepshead Bay to attend a lecture on Horseshoe Crabs which, as it turns out, is being led by my tenth grade biology teacher. Small world, big City, I guess. The shot above was captured at the Grand Avenue station in Elmhurst, where I’ve been three times in the last six weeks, but was just passing through.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above was gathered onboard the new Citywide Ferry Rockaway service, which left from Pier 11 in Manhattan and proceeded to Bay 108 in Rockaway in about fifty minutes with a stop in Sunset Park. I was puzzled as to the end goal destination, across the street from the DEP’s Rockaway waste water treatment plant. B 108 isn’t exactly “Main Street” if you know what I mean, but putting two and two together, I figure that the City probably owns the land there due to the Rockaway Plant’s long tenancy and it was likely the only affordable spot along the Rockaway waterfront where you could install the dock.

Pictured, of course, is a NY Water Taxi rather than a Citywide Ferry boat. The Water Taxi was exiting Erie Basin while performing part of its’ IKEA ferry route.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Wandering around Astoria one recent day, this coal chute cover was encountered and I decided to do a bit of detective work on the address embossed into its legend. The folks at Greater Astoria Historic Society host a page which describes the various name changes that the streets in Astoria have assumed over the years, which provided for some of the hard slog footwork in translating “329 9th Ave., Astoria, L.I.” into the modern day street grid.

What was once known as “Kowenhoven St.” in a city of Newtown called Astoria, which was later renamed as “9th avenue by the independent municipality of Long Island City, became 38th street in the Borough of Queens and a part of the Consolidated City of Greater New York in the early 20th century. The sections of Belcher Hyde Fire Insurance Maps included in today’s post date from 1919, and still carry the LIC era street names and addresses.

– Belcher Hyde map 1919

Broadway is always so named, and Steinway Street was once an avenue but is still named after the local Piano Baron, and 31st avenue used to be called first Jamaica and then Patterson Avenue. 9th street is now 38th street, and if I’m reading the map correctly, the street address (329) of the Atlantic Iron Works would correspond with that of the no longer extant Public School no. 6 (which is a whole other story) and is coterminous with the modern day “Sean’s Place” playground.

– Belcher Hyde map 1919

As a note, the track lines indicated are Trolley, or Streetcar tracks. The arrival of the IND subway line was still a few years away at the stage of the game, and the “cut and cover” work was likely underway but not indicated.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

June 8, 2017 at 1:00 pm

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