The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘newtown creek

hushed conversation

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It’s National Cheeseball Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Lots of odds and ends today. A supposition which opines that I live on the most exciting corner in Astoria continues to play out, as evinced by a deployment of the ever reliable FDNY the other night. It seems that one of the neighbors discerned the olfactory evidence of combustion emerging from a storefront occupied by the local bagel shepherds, which was a report which the FDNY responded to with a fairly large deployment. The fellows on the big red trucks soon determined that this was a false alarm, and it all ended up being just another Astoria hullabaloo. 

My suspicions that I live on the most interesting corner in Astoria will soon bear a different kind of fruit, however, as the trickle of water which I reported to 311 as bubbling out of a manhole cover on the next block – about two weeks ago – has now grown into a small flowing stream. Never quiet – here in Astoria, Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hypothetically – due to having had to sign a non disclosure agreement with the State of New York today, one cannot tell you where I am this morning or what I am doing. I am precluded from sharing photographs or discussing my visit to some mysterious location where my camera has been brought to today until some indeterminate time in the future when the embargo on such collected material has been rescinded by NYS officials. There are no specific penalties described for violating this embargo (which is odd), nor was it originally offered with an “expiry” date, which is fairly standard for such situations (an open ended NDA contract for such matters isn’t strictly “kosher” legally, anyway, and there’s also that whole first amendment thing which NYS doesn’t get to suspend). Saying that, a humble narrator made a big stink about the imposition of an open ended image embargo with certain hypothetical people whose offices would be found in some theoretical minor City – which would be found around two hundred miles to the north of the de facto Capitol of New York State at the other end of the Hudson River – and eventually I will be able to describe in some excruciating detail where I went this morning and what I saw at some later date whenever they decide it’s no longer a state secret. 

The photo of the two Kosciuszcko Bridges seen above is merely a decorative addition to this post – filler, if you will – and does not in any way indicate where I am, or what I may be walking upon or over as you’re reading this. The shot was gathered a week ago in Greenpoint, on April 9th, for the legally minded and prosecutorially inclined amongst you. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of the bagel shop which drew the attentions of the FDNY to Astoria one recent night, while waiting for the bagel shepherds to construct a sandwich for me one recent afternoon, one was standing outside in the rain and glowering at passerby when I noticed these two pigeons working a flooded tree pit for bits of food and drinking from the puddles. Our normal flock of pigeons, who live in Astoria in fairly considerable numbers, have lately been harassed by a sudden explosion of super aggressive sparrows. This flock of avian bullies has been chasing the pigeons about, and driving them from their ledges. The Sparrows, on the other hand, have recently begun to be harassed by a bunch of Ravens. The multitudinous Sparrows will be loudly chirping when a single “caw” is sounded, which shuts them all up. Down below, the street cats watch, and wait. Luckily, after the bagel shepherds completed the construction of my sandwich, I was able to remove myself from this internecine urban warfare and return to the tranquil safety of HQ where my little dog Zuzu polices the behavior and habits of all the lower life forms. 

Gang warfare, of the feathered variety, affects us all. It’s best to have an elderly dog around to keep things straight.


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.


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other callers

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It’s International Whiskey Day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is normal, right? Everybody wanders around in industrial neighborhoods at night taking pictures of highly polluted waterways, right? It’s not just me… right?

At this time of the year – when it’s neither hot nor cold, but instead lukewarm – the Dutch Kills tributary of the inconceivable Newtown Creek always displays a layer of filmy “goo,” which is at its most observable during the interval when the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself has dipped behind New Jersey. Not sure if the “goo” is just road salt and snow pellet residues, nor some sort of oil or grease, some effluent introduced by the multiple sewer outlets on Dutch Kills which are offered by the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, or perhaps it’s just the mucoid castings of some hidden water dwelling leviathan.

Me, I lean towards the leviathan theory, because it involves both mucous and a giant monster. Mucous is cool.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One had to tend to a bit of business in Greenpoint last week, and since it was decent out – weather wise – decided to walk home to Astoria. It’s a walk that sounds longer than it is, you just need to take advantage of fact that since the street grid here about is divided and subdivided by highways and rail infrastructure which creates a series of triangles – walk the legs of the triangle and not the hypotenuse until it’s advantageous.

Cutting through the streets around Dutch Kills leads me to that advantageous hypotenuse (which would make a great band name, incidentally) which is Skillman Avenue. A century ago, I would have been able to shortcut on Old Dutch Kills Road from there, but all that’s left of that is a stubby block following the rail tracks near Home Depot which the City calls 37th avenue. You have to work with what you’ve got, though.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is engaged, at the moment, with drawing up a schedule for this year’s walking and boat tours. A recently announced Newtown Creek Alliance tour – the 100% Toxic All Day Newtown Creekathon on April 9th – filled up in about half a day and I didn’t even have time to let everyone here know before it did. I have a feeling we will be repeating this one sometime in the fall, but there’s a lot of neat stuff coming this summer.

On the tours subject – Working Harbor Committee met the other night, and there are several water tours in the offing with that group of maritime educators and enthusiasts. We, as in Newtown Creek Alliance, are going to be announcing several opportunities to visit the Creek by water and on land shortly. Additionally, I’ve got a couple of things cooking with Atlas Obscura that are mighty cool. I’ll be letting everyone know about these and other excursions as soon as I’ve got all the dates etched in stone.


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damaged youths

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It’s National Banana Creme Pie Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sorry gang, another short post greets you today. It’s been one thing after another around HQ, with first a minor injury and now a nasty head cold… a humble narrator just can’t seem to win for losing during the last couple of weeks. A post of some length and profundity will arrive in your inboxes tomorrow, but for today you’ll have to be satisfied with contemplating the weirdly colored waters of the fabled Newtown Creek.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 2, 2017 at 1:28 pm

quainter levels

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It’s Anosmia Awareness Day, in these United States and the United Kingdom.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For the curious – Anosmia is a loss of the sense of smell, which is apparently quite debilitating. One of my old buddies has always wondered about what smell “blindness” is called, and he’s been using “smeaf” for many years so I’m glad to report that there is – in fact – an actual term for it. Seriously though, imagine not being to taste your food or discern a gas leak or smoke – Anosmia is no joke and as serious as blindness or deafness. Of course, given the amount of time I spend at a certain superfund site which defines the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens, Anosmia might be something of a boon. The loss of sensory data I’m currently experiencing is actually centered around touch, and a general numbness seems to be spreading across my skinvelope and ballooning out between my ears.

Pictured above is the fabulous Borden Avenue Bridge, a retractile wonder that the children of Queens would marvel at, would they elect to visit the Dutch Kills Tributary of the lugubrious Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Retractile means, incidentally, that the movable section of the roadway retreats away from its foundational piers, opening a spot for maritime traffic to pass through. In the shot above, you can see the spot which accepts the retractile section. There’s locomotive style rails running across the spot, which carry the truss. Famously, there’s only two retractile bridges in NYC, with the other one (which is decidedly smaller in scale and older in design) spanning the Gowanus Canal at Caroll Street. I guess that today is vocabulary day, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The section of the Long Island Expressway seen above is referred to as the Queens Midtown Expressway by officialdom, and it’s some 106 feet up from the street to its road deck. It opened in 1939, and feeds it’s traffic flow into the nearby Queens Midtown Tunnel (also 1939) leading to Manhattan. A conceit often I’ve often used at spots like this, all around NYC, is to call this “The House of Moses” for NYC’s master builder Robert Moses. The tunnel and QME weren’t projects he started, but they are projects that Moses bullied his way into and took over – as a note. Robert Caro didn’t call Moses the “Power Broker” just to be snarky.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the reasons that I hate all of you equally is exemplified by this all too common site at the littoral edge of Dutch Kills. I’m the guy who wads up personally produced garbage in his pockets and carries it until encountering a proper trash receptacle, so realize that this is a pet peeve of mine – but what the hell is wrong with all of you? You don’t just discard things like cups and food wrappers or plastic bags out of your car window as you move along, do you? Quite obviously, many do. I see this every where I go in NY harbor.

How about you? Shame on all of us for this.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There seems to be some signs of life at this long vacant property along Dutch Kills – the former Irving Iron Works factory. Part of their site has had a cinder block wall erected. Notice that it was built from another installation of blocks which had been literally graffiti’d and that now it’s just a hodge podge of random colors. That’s kind of cool actually.

I’ll keep an eye out. 


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baffling lack

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It’s Setsubun Day, in the nation of Japan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As described in yesterday’s post, the 21st of January was a pretty foggy day, which is something I consider pretty. One made it a point of visiting several distaff locations around Long Island City to capture the scene. The shot above is something that all of you reading this will be able to personally enjoy sometime in the very near future, when the Smiling Hogshead Ranch expands its operations up to the abandoned trackway of the Montauk Cutoff.

The photo above depicts the most photogenic of NYC’s subway lines – the IRT Flushing, or 7 line – exiting the elevated tracks of the Court Square Station and traveling on its way to Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One spent a bit of time up on the tracks, as I ran into an old friend while making my way up there and we spent some time catching up while I waved the camera around. The cutoff is brutally bare during the winter months, as all of the self seeded vegetation surrounding it is deep in hibernation. During the warmer months, it’s positively verdant up here – an island of green amidst the concrete devastations of Western Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Disturbingly, the Queens Cobbler seems to have visited the Cutoff recently, leaving behind one of the totemic “single shoes” signaling that he or she was here. The “Queens Cobbler” is the name I’ve assigned to a likely serial killer who claims human lives all around the Newtown Creek watershed, leaving behind a single shoe to announce that their latest hunt has been successful.

Someday, the NYPD will happen upon a hidden warehouse room in LIC or Maspeth filled with footwear and gore, and on that day – the metaphorical and literal “other shoe” will truly fall. Back next week with something completely different at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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modern matters

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It’s Street Children’s Day, in the Republic of Austria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dutch Kills, a tributary of Newtown Creek which abruptly turns north off the main channel three quarters of a mile east of the East River, is entirely contained within Long Island City. It’s crossed by five bridges – the LIRR bridges DB Cabin and Cabin M, the Borden Avenue Bridge, the Queens Midtown Expressway truss, and the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge. Dutch Kills, like all of Newtown Creek’s tributaries and the main channel itself, is lined with a toxic sediment referred to as “Black Mayonnaise.” This sediment is composed of coal tar, petroleum and refining byproducts, industrial waste of various provence and typology, as well as human excrement deposited by NYC’s open sewers.

At its northern terminus, Dutch Kills is across the street from a CUNY college and several charter schools serving high school and junior high school aged kids. One of the most significant build outs in recent real estate history is happening less than a quarter mile from that spot, along LIC’s Jackson Avenue in an area referred to as “Court Square.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Due to a non functioning railroad swing bridge at Dutch Kill’s junction with Newtown Creek’s main channel, there is absolutely zero maritime industrial activity along the tributary. The bulkheads along its reach generally date back about a century, to a massive “improvement” conducted around the time of the First World War which saw the marshes and swamps it fed drained and both the Sunnyside Yards and the Degnon Industrial Terminal constructed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The streets surrounding Dutch Kills offer fleeting glimpses of the waterway, and many of them are not City streets at all but “railroad access roads” owned by the MTA. You can almost always smell the waterway before you can see it, and whereas I can tell you a few spots to access the water, none of these are “legal” and all involve trespass of private or government property. You can legally observe it from the Borden Avenue or Hunters Point Avenue bridges, however.

At it’s terminus – or “turning basin,” there are two abandoned oil barges rusting and rotting away into the water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Illegal dumping, the native art form of the Borough of Queens, is practiced hereabouts with relish and abandon. The DSNY garbage bin in the shot above appeared on 29th street back in November, and I’ve been watching it steadily fill up and overflow. DSNY doesn’t seem to remember where they put it, as I haven’t seen it empty since the day it arrived.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Amidst the sheens of oil and grease you’ll observe on Dutch Kills, which are both historic and newly spawned, there are what the NYC DEP would describe as “floatables.” That’s government code for garbage that’s either been flushed or has been swept into the sewer grates on every street corner in NYC. In the case of Dutch Kills, the “sewer shed” that feeds these floatables into it extends all the way to East Elmhurst and Woodside to the east, Sunnyside and Astoria to the north, and the rapidly growing Long Island City which Dutch Kills is a part of.

The sewer plant that handles this burgeoning area was opened in 1931, and Fiorello LaGuardia cut the ribbon to open it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There is going to be a meeting tomorrow, the latest of many, of the Newtown Creek Community Advisory Group (CAG) on the first of February. If the shot above looks good to you, and you’d like to see more of the same – don’t come. If you care about not having a billion and a half gallons of raw sewage a year spilling onto mounds of poisonous and century old industrial waste, do come. Pipe up, we need voices and perspectives from outside the echo chamber.

Details on the meeting – time, place, etc. – can be accessed at this link. We could really use some Queensican bodies and voices in the room.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As evinced by the corpse pictured above, life has actually begun to recolonize this waterway in recent years. The presence of higher mammals hereabouts speaks to an ecosystem that is beginning to recover from centuries of industrial and municipal abuse. Of course, nothing is going to save a raccoon from getting ground into hamburger by the wheels of a semi truck.

At Newtown Creek Alliance, we’ve been cataloging and observing for a while now. There’s more than seventy individual species of birds for instance – including Great Blue Herons and Ospreys – living along the lugubrious Newtown Creek. Their presence speaks to a growing population of prey animals (fish) present in the water column, and to a broader environmental recovery happening along this industrial waterway at the literal center of NYC.


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awestruck party

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It’s Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution, in the states of California and Virginia.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Throw your hands in the air, like you just don’t care.

That’s what most of the residents of Queens do when the subject of Newtown Creek comes up. That’s Brooklyn’s problem, not ours. Then I tell them about how the decisions affecting Queens are being made by the “transplant hipsters of Brooklyn” whom they revile, and that whereas Brooklyn is going to be getting new parks and other municipal goodies out of this Superfund thing… Queens is largely being left out of the equation. That riles the north shore peeps up a bit, but they still don’t get involved. Since the people of Queens are disinterested, so is elected officialdom.

Fish, or cut bait. If neither, then get out of the way.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve always chalked it up to topography. If you’re in East Williamsburg, or Greenpoint, Newtown Creek is part of your life whenever you open your window. The Brooklyn, or south side, of the Newtown Creek hosts residential properties which are literally across the street from the bulkheads. The Queens, or north side, communities generally have a buffer zone of industrial buildings and highways separating them from the water. Newtown Creek is a half mile from residential Sunnyside.

In Queens, they complain about truck traffic, hipsters, and gentrification.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We are at a critical juncture, Newtown Creek wise. The science from all parties involved in the cleanup is beginning to be compiled. The DEP, in particular, is about to lock itself into a quarter century long program of construction and strategic maneuvering. Around a year or so from now, the oil and gas people will be doing the same and committing to a strategic course.

Ultimately, EPA will be doing the same thing and deciding on their course of action, but given the current political crisis in the Federal Government there is no real day to day guarantee that there will be an Environmental Protection Agency which resembles the current one.

What do clean and accessible waterways mean to President Trump and Steve Bannon?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There is going to be a meeting, the latest of many, of the Newtown Creek Community Advisory Group (CAG) on the first of February. If the shot above looks good to you, and you’d like to see more of the same – don’t come. If you care about not having a billion and a half gallons of raw sewage a year spilling onto mounds of poisonous and century old industrial waste, do come. Pipe up, we need voices and perspectives from outside the echo chamber.

Details on the meeting – time, place, etc. – can be accessed at this link. We could use some Queensican bodies in the room.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shots in today’s post were gathered on the eastern side of the Newtown Creek, in Ridgewood and Maspeth. The environmental conditions in these industrial buffer zones are off the charts bad. You don’t have to look far to find dead birds, rats, all sorts of unlucky critters who innocently wandered in here. It wasn’t the Creek that killed them, it was the hundreds of heavy trucks.

As a note to Maspeth and Ridgewood residents – this is where the trucking you complain about comes from.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a vision of what the future can hold for generations unborn that we have all been working for and towards. An industrial canal which also welcomes recreational boaters. An industrial canal which was the most significant job creation engine NYC has ever seen and which can be so again. A mixed use waterway in which business and the ecology operate hand in hand.

Ever heard of the “Maspeth heat island effect”? It’s the reason why your energy bills are so high during the summer, and it’s caused by the complete lack of green space in these industrial neighborhoods, which causes temperatures hereabouts to be ten or more degrees warmer during the summer than in surrounding communities. Is that Brooklyn’s problem? What about the trucks, or the garbage trains?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This post is meant to scold, and compel. Get involved, whatever your point of view is. The political elites of our City will not care unless you care.


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