The Newtown Pentacle

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A few shots from Penny Bridge, along Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was a busy weekend for a humble narrator, and had to show my face in public for a couple of events. Had a bit of time afterwards that was productively spent, as a photographer friend and I hit a couple of “sweet spots” along that troublesome cataract of municipal neglect called the Newtown Creek whereupon I got busy with the tripod and the clicking.

Pictured above, the Koscisuzcko Bridge project is moving along nicely.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One seems to be obsessed with longish exposures of rotting piles these days, can’t tell you why. Give me a centuried mass of lumber groaning with ship worms and wood lice sticking out of the water and I’m happy.

Other people like seeing family or friends, I’ve got decaying maritime infrastructure. What can I tel you, I’m all ‘effed up.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking westward, towards the Shining City.

See y’all tomorrow, and check out the offer for the “Infrastructure Creek” walk I’ll be conducting on October 1st.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Monday, October 1st, 6:30 p.m. – Infrastructure Creek – with Atlas Obscura.

Join Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman as he leads an exploration of the city’s largest sewer plant, tunnels, draw and truss bridges, rail yards, and a highway that carries 32 million vehicle-trips a year over flowing water.

Tix and more details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 24, 2018 at 11:00 am

leaping monster

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How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator is taking a break this week, and single images will be greeting you sans the verbose drivel they’re normally accompanied by. It’s a rather busy week that I have ahead of me, but look for a strange old man wandering about the concrete devastations of the Newtown Creek with a camera. That’ll likely be me.


Tours and Events


Dutch Kills Dérive. Free!
Saturday, September 8, 2018, 9:30 AM – 12:30 PM with Flux Factory

Drowning in our own muck and mire, modern society must transmute its existence into that of an allegorical baptism in order to emerge a society of water protectors. The historic facts of exactly how our civilization has transformed the historic Dutch Kill waterway into a sewershed will act as both a numbing analgesic and a point of illumination. Tickets here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 5, 2018 at 11:00 am

Posted in Brooklyn

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alternate demands

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It’s just Grand, ain’t it?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is fascinated by certain pathways around Brooklyn and Queens. The combined pathway of Greenpoint and Roosevelt Avenue (Greenpoint’s East River face to Flushing) is an example. Grand Avenue/Street is another, which ultimately connects Williamsburg’s east river coastline with Astoria’s east river coast via a circuitous route that visits Bushwick, Maspeth, Elmhurst, and the north side of Jackson Heights along the way. Robert Moses introduced a few interruptions to Grand when he was widening and creating modern day Queens Blvd., but I’ve often made the case for Grand as being an immigrant superhighway leading out of Manhattan’s Lower East Side via first Fulton’s ferries and later the Williamburg Bridge.

Mr. Steinway used to operate a trolley on this route, which crossed the Newtown Creek at the 1903 iteration of the Grand Street Bridge pictured above, found some 3.1 miles from the East River. The modern day Q59 bus more or less follows this old trolley route, for the morbidly curious.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the eastern side of the Grand Street Bridge is found a wholly canalized tributary of Newtown Creek called the East Branch. The East Branch receives a lion’s share of the combined sewage flow that stains the reputation of the waterbody, due to a massive outfall found about a block away at Metropolitan Avenue. In the early days of European civilization hereabouts, this area was renowned for shellfish and game birds, and the water flowed nearly all the way to the Onderdonk House over on Flushing Avenue.

You can see the aeration system installed by the NYC DEP to oxygenate the water which they pollute with raw sewage  operating in the shot above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Politics are politics, and depending on what point in history you’re describing, that concrete plant has either been a part of Brooklyn or Queens. Today, it straddles the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens. 

The county lines, as well as the election districts, are controlled by an innocuous official named Gerry. Gerry Mander is the latest member of the Mander family to hold this position, and his relatives have found similar occupation all over the country. Gerry Mander is ultimately the reason things are the way they are.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Shot from the Brooklyn side, this shot depicts the southern side of the crane district of industrial Maspeth. That little building at the left side of the shot? That’s the DEP’s 14.5 million dollar aeration pump house, which uses electrically driven motors to expensively and constantly puff 8,100 cubic feet of pressurized air into pipes which were expensively installed in pursuance of oxygenating the water. This expense was required, because DEP has other pipes which are releasing untreated sewage into the water every time it rains, and it would be too expensive to stop doing that.

As a note, $14.5 million is what they said it would cost, I have no idea what the final number was, nor what it costs to operate the thing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the new Koscisuzcko Bridge in the shot above, or at least the first half of it. The entire project, involving the demolition of the 1939 model K-Bridge and the creation of two new cable stay spans under the management of the NYS DOT, while keeping traffic flowing on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway is meant to cost $1.2 billion when all is said and done. This is a fairly major project, however you see it. It’s a BIG bridge, found roughly one mile west of the tiny Grand Street bridge.

The K-Bridge, with its approaches and onramps, involves about 1.1 miles of active highway. Actual construction started in 2014, and the project is on schedule for completion in 2020. Six years.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Alternatively, the NYC DOT has just announced that they will be replacing the 1903 vintage Grand Street Bridge. God only knows what this one’s going to cost. It’s 227 feet long, roughly 19 feet wide, and NYC DOT has just released an “RFP” for replacing it that anticipates demolition and construction taking seven years.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 10, 2018 at 11:00 am

imaginary conversation

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A public service announcement from the Newtown Pentacle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The City of Greater New York, like many of the other older North American East Coast cities, uses a combined sewer system. What that means is that sanitary waste water pipes, leading from the sort of domestic tackle pictured above, enters into an underground sewer pipe which also handles storm water. When the weather is dry, the municipal agency tasked by NYC with handling the flow (the Department of Environmental Protection or DEP) does a fairly passable job. When the weather is wet, however, things start getting ugly. A quarter inch of rain, citywide, translates into a billion gallons of storm water entering the network of pipes, junctions, and weirs hidden below the streets. This additional volume of storm water surges into the shared pipes, and the mixed up storm and sanitary water ends up having to be purged out into area waterways via open pipes. There are about 400 of these “Combined Sewer Outfalls” in NYC.

As you’d imagine, the DEP is fairly careful about handling this, and to their credit – working diligently to correct this situation. Not always willingly, of course, but they are in fact “doing something.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Massive “gray infrastructure” investments like the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment plant in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint section are part of the story. Designed to handle in excess of 800 million gallons a day of what the DEP staff refers to as “honey,” this particular plant is the newest and largest of the 14 sewer plants the agency maintains. If you flush a toilet anywhere in Manhattan below 79th street (and in small sections of Brooklyn and Queens), your “honey” is headed here via a pump house found on the corner of East 13th street and Avenue D on the Lower East Side. A technolological marvel, the NCWWTP is unfortunately unique in DEP’s property portfolio. The Bowery Bay plant in Astoria opened during the Great Depression in 1939 for instance, and the oldest operating plant in DEP’s system is in Jamaica, Queens which opened in 1903 (and last received an upgrade in 1943).

The stratospheric costs of upgrading their plants has caused DEP to embrace a bit of lateral thinking in recent years, which is where conservation and “green infrastructure” come in.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Green infrastructure takes several forms. There’s what the DEP used to call “bio swales” which a clever Deputy Commissioner has recently rebranded as “rain gardens.” This program will, when you put together all of the rain gardens citywide, have opened up a fairly large acreage of open soil for storm water to enter the ground via, rather than dancing along the concrete until finding a storm drain. The emerging technology and policy that they’re still figuring out are “green roofs.” The problem with retrofitting old structures for green roofs is that more often than not, the roof is structurally the weakest section of a building. The other problem is convincing building owners that there’s a benefit in spending time and treasure on them. 

A humble narrator is a back room conversation kind of fellow, and the ears I’ve been whispering in for the last few years have been filled with this crazy idea of creating a municipal code requirement – in the same way NYC requires fire stairs and suppression systems, lights on the front of your house, sidewalks of a certain size and specification and so on – for storm water neutrality in new construction. I’ve been told it’s up to DEP to request codifying it, as it’s not up to City Planning or anybody on that side of City Hall. The Real Estate Industrial Complex people I’ve mentioned this to are generally into it, as a green roof would be a saleable amenity which would enhance their offerings and wouldn’t increase their construction costs noticeably.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Friday, August 3rd, 6:30 p.m. – Infrastructure Creek – with Newtown Creek Alliance.

If you want infrastructure, then meet NCA historian Mitch Waxman at the corner of Greenpoint Avenue and Kingsland Avenue in Brooklyn, and in just one a half miles he’ll show you the largest and newest of NYC’s 14 sewer plants, six bridges, a Superfund site, three rail yards with trains moving at street grade, a highway that carries 32 million vehicle trips a year 106 feet over water. The highway feeds into the Queens Midtown Tunnel, and we’ll end it all at the LIC ferry landing where folks are welcome to grab a drink and enjoy watching the sunset at the East River, as it lowers behind the midtown Manhattan skyline.

Tix and more details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 3, 2018 at 11:00 am

last cleaning

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Utopia, along the East River?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One had an interesting but short chat last night, with the always interesting and sometimes chatty Robert Singleton of Greater Astoria Historic Society, about a piece he had recently written for a magazine about colonial era Maspeth and how he framed his tale around the desires of those long ago and far away colonists seeking “utopia” in the so called “new world.” I haven’t read Bob’s piece yet, but I’m sure it matches up with his normal high standards (Bob is who I publicly call “the acknowledged expert” on the subject of colonial era history in Western Queens). It did spark a few thoughts in my mind though, on the utopian eidolon which drew so many of our ancestors to what would become the United States. For native born 21st century citizens of the United States and Canada, “freedom” is a fairly abstract idea, but to our predecessors who undertook the dangerous journey from Europe to North America it was crystal clear what they were trying to leave behind.

It’s hard to imagine in modernity – the iron grip of the Hapsburgs, the Tsars, the Ottomans, the Popes, even the relatively “liberal” enlightened despots and parliaments of Western Europe – maintained a choke hold on thought, science, business, religion, and dissent in their lands. Especially after the French Revolution, and the appearance of Napoleon the antichrist, these governments maintained networks of domestic spies and employed forces of “Secret Police” to maintain their franchised version of “order and stability” at all costs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Utopia is what Americans, and New Yorkers in particular, have been chasing since the first Dutchman cut down a few trees in what was once a forest that stretched from coast to coast, to began clearing a spot to build a house. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and prosperity? That’s the American Dream, right? The pursuit and concept of “utopia” in the years leading up to the Civil War of the 1860’s eventually morphed into “progress” in the late 19th and entire 20th centuries, and is currently being conceptually framed as the quest for “equity” and “fairness.” Translating that for those of you who aren’t wise to these DEP currents: ‘Murica.

Chasing the utopian ideal in the United States has actually resulted in and spawned a modern day dystopia, with a government that maintains the status quo with a domestic spying network and literal armies of police – both public and secret – who are tasked with maintaining order and stability at all cost. Ironic, isn’t it?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over the years, I’ve had friends who espouse all sorts of solutions and often radical visions of how to “fix” America. Socialist and Communist leaning folks want to institute a one size fits all approach with a super powerful central authority that dictates behavioral and social norms via the redistribution of private wealth through the “state,” not realizing that at no time in history has this not resulted in the appearance of an “elite” group of administrators and politicians that resemble nothing other than “born to the manor” nobility. Business and militaristic focused people want a system of lassez faire government whose only role is “ensuring the general welfare” and national defense, which historical precedent suggests as resulting in the subjugation of individual liberty and fostering military adventurism and leads to the formation of an elite group as well. Both are extremes, neither results in “utopia.”

What’s the way forward then? What can we do to answer the dreams of our forebears? Do we launch colony rockets into space, hoping some future version of the Pilgrims or Waloons can figure it out? What is Utopia?

As mentioned, a chat with Bob Singleton is often interesting and thought provoking.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Friday, August 3rd, 6:30 p.m. – Infrastructure Creek – with Newtown Creek Alliance.

If you want infrastructure, then meet NCA historian Mitch Waxman at the corner of Greenpoint Avenue and Kingsland Avenue in Brooklyn, and in just one a half miles he’ll show you the largest and newest of NYC’s 14 sewer plants, six bridges, a Superfund site, three rail yards with trains moving at street grade, a highway that carries 32 million vehicle trips a year 106 feet over water. The highway feeds into the Queens Midtown Tunnel, and we’ll end it all at the LIC ferry landing where folks are welcome to grab a drink and enjoy watching the sunset at the East River, as it lowers behind the midtown Manhattan skyline.

Tix and more deatils here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 31, 2018 at 1:00 pm

pregnant pauses

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Announcing two free boat tours, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This Saturday is the Waterfront Alliance’s “City of Water Day” event, and with NY Waterways, the folks at WA have given me the opportunity to bring two boat loads worth of people to the fabulous Newtown Creek. The tours are free (there is a $5 registration fee during ticketing) and will be 90 minutes long. There’s a ten a.m. and a twelve p.m. tour, both of which will include a fully narrated history of the East River and the Newtown Creek. Navigational issues and timing dictate that we are going to be visiting the first half of the Creek only, which is as far as the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge roughly one and a half miles from the mouth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ticketing links for the tours (as well as a couple of other offerings I’ve got going this weekend) are at the bottom of this post. Sights you’ll see up close from the water include the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment plant, SimsMetal Recycling, Allocco Recycling, the Pulaski and Greenpoint Avenue Bridges, and the coastlines of Long Island City and Greenpoint. The East River section seen and discussed will be the equivalent stretch from Manhattan’s Pier 11 (Wall Street) to 23rd street. That gives you Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg Bridges as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Come with? My colleague from Newtown Creek Alliance – Will Elkins – is going to be sharing the microphone duty with me on the Newtown Creek, exploring the meaning and manifestations of our “Reveal, Restore, Revitalize” motto at Newtown Creek Alliance.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Saturday, July 14th – City of Water Day Newtown Creek Boat Tours – with Waterfront Alliance, NY Waterways, and Newtown Creek Alliance.

As part of the Waterfront Alliance’s “City of Water Day” event, I’ll be conducting two free 90 minute boat tours heading to Newtown Creek, leaving from Pier 11 in Manhattan. We won’t be visiting the entire Newtown Creek, as a note, due to time constraints and navigational issues, but we will get a good mile and a half of it in.

Tickets and more details

Ten a.m. departure here.
Twelve p.m. departure here.

Saturday, July 14th – Exploring Long Island City – with NY Adventure Club.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail?

Tickets and more details
here.

Sunday, July 15th – Penny2Plank – with Newtown Creek Alliance.

There are eleven bridges crossing the modern day Newtown Creek and its tributaries, nine of which are moveable bridges of one kind or another. Other bridges, forgotten and demolished, used to cross the Creek. The approaches to these bridges are still present on the street grids of Brooklyn and Queens as “street ends.” Newtown Creek Alliance and a small army of volunteers have been working to transform these “street ends” from weed choked dumping grounds into inviting public spaces. This walk with NCA historian Mitch Waxman will take you there and back again, discussing the history and current status of these street ends and the territory in between.

The tour will start in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint, and end in Queens’ Maspeth nearby the Grand Street Bridge.

Tickets and more details
here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

entire household

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4th of July fireworks from the Kingsland Wildflower Green Roof in Greenpoint.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator was lucky enough to have gotten himself invited up onto the green roof at 520 Kingsland Avenue on the 4th of July, and accordingly I showed up with my holsters loaded up. I brought two distinct camera rigs, spent a bit of setup time encoding my “fireworks recipe” into them, and got busy.

The fireworks recipe is anywhere from f.8-11, ISO 200, and 3-5 seconds exposure. You’ll want to preset focus and set your lens to manual focus (remember to turn any lens stabilization off), use a tripod and a cable shutter release, and ensure that the white balance is set to something consistent (I used “daylight” for these during capture, and adjusted the temperature a bit in camera raw during developing). 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Kingsland Wildfower green roof is a co production of Newtown Creek Alliance, Alive Structures, the Audubon Society, and the Broadway Stages company which owns the structure. The green roof is 22,000 square feet, found at 520 Kingsland Avenue in Greenpoint alongside the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, and is roughly 1.3 miles from the East River where – of course – the annual 4th of July fireworks display plays out.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few of the government facilities, like the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, decided to get in on the whole Fourth of July thing. They normally light the digester eggs up with a purplish blue light, this time around it was sequencing through red, white, and blue. I used my iPhone to gather video of it, if you’re interested in checking that out – click here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My main camera, the trusty Canon 7D, was loaded with a lens I refer to as “old reliable.” This is the one I left on autofocus, as I was constantly moving the point of view around and zooming in and out. Normally, the fireworks recipe involves locking in an infinity focus manually achieved, but “old reliable” is a trooper.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The lesser secondary camera I brought is a consumer level Canon Rebel. It’s nowhere near as “smart” as the 7d, but it was set up with my second best lens – a Sigma 18-35 wide angle which was prefocused and set to manual so that it didn’t go hunting for focus in between shots. The camera was set up, and the cable release lock button engaged.

It sat on top of its tripod and just clicked away.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To the east, roughly 3/4 of a mile distant from 520 Kingsland and 2.1 miles from the East River, the new Kosciuszcko Bridge also got in on the light show act. Lit up all red, white, and blue.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Saturday, July 14th – Exploring Long Island City – with NY Adventure Club.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail?

Tickets and more details
here.

Sunday, July 15th – Penny2Plank – with Newtown Creek Alliance.

There are eleven bridges crossing the modern day Newtown Creek and its tributaries, nine of which are moveable bridges of one kind or another. Other bridges, forgotten and demolished, used to cross the Creek. The approaches to these bridges are still present on the street grids of Brooklyn and Queens as “street ends.” Newtown Creek Alliance and a small army of volunteers have been working to transform these “street ends” from weed choked dumping grounds into inviting public spaces. This walk with NCA historian Mitch Waxman will take you there and back again, discussing the history and current status of these street ends and the territory in between.

The tour will start in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint, and end in Queens’ Maspeth nearby the Grand Street Bridge.

Tickets and more details
here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 9, 2018 at 11:00 am

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