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Bloomie Zones: A Social History of NYC Architecture

by Ann Carroll

New York City waterfronts were centers of shipping and industry for much of its history, but as trucking and air transport began to rival shipping, manufacturers abandoned waterfront neighborhoods for cheap and convenient suburban, or foreign, locales.  Seen as “seedy no-man’s land,” the waterfront was long ignored by city officials and developers alike. Some waterfront neighborhoods, like north Brooklyn’s Greenpoint, maintained enclaves of light industry along with a thriving upland residential community, but did not escape the waterfront decay that came with industrial exodus. Sorely lacking in parks and public space, neighbors fought for access to the large tracts of underutilized waterfront land. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, the Greenpoint waterfront was hotly contested, with Greenpointers fighting to secure the space for community use, and rallying against proposed plans for a power plant and other noxious uses.

Assuming office in 2002, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration launched ambitious plans for waterfront revitalization. The plans largely imagined the waterfront as a site for luxury high rises and public parks. In order to facilitate the radical shift in waterfront use, rezoning was necessary. The seemingly benign objective of the project was the repurposing of long fallow land into thriving residential and commercial zones. Critics of the massive project argued that the rezoning would displace existing low-income communities and threaten light manufacturing. Neighborhoods, like Greenpoint, resisted rezoning, countering the mayor’s vision with community generated 197a plans that outlined strategies for growth while prioritizing existing communities and industry. For Greenpoint, the local efforts were largely unsuccessful; in 2005 the neighborhood was rezoned. Large tracts that were once zoned for manufacturing were shifted to residential or mixed use.

Using the history and evolution of Greenpoint, I will contextualize and explore the way the Bloomberg administration has consistently undermined manufacturing through the use of rezoning and weak zoning, recognizing their waterfront initiatives as a strategy to bolster their realization of a postindustrial city. While Bloomberg presents himself as a pragmatist, whose common sense policies eschew ideology for practicality, Julian Brash, among others, challenges the innocence of the “Bloomberg Way,” arguing that it is “ideological, class-based, and deeply political (Brash 16).”

With this in mind, I will begin my study by examining the mayor’s waterfront vision and his aggressive support of redevelopment. Narrowing the lens, I will situate the Greenpoint waterfront within the larger narrative, giving particular attention to the impact of rezoning on the neighborhood’s native industry. Coming under fire from advocates concerned about the future of manufacturing in New York City, the mayor has implemented measures, including the creation of Industrial Business Zones, purporting to protect industry. I will examine the durability and effectiveness of such measures. Throughout, addressing

 

 

 

the effects of Bloomberg’s policies in Greenpoint, and the city at large, I will argue, along with Brash, that far from being apolitical, such an approach is “deeply political, in that it represents an effort on the part of a specific social grouping to bring urban governance and the physical shape of the city into accord with its interests and desires (Brash 3).”

 

Bloomberg’s Development Agenda

Winning election with a campaign that highlighted his persona as a no-nonsense CEO, Michael Bloomberg lost no time identifying what he saw as the city’s inefficiencies. During his inaugural state of the city address in January 2002, the mayor lamented the “inaccessible and neglected” waterfront, calling for “legislation that will allow old industrial waterfront sites to be converted into housing, parks and other developments.” The inclusion points to the central role of the waterfront in a development strategy that advances sectors in finance, real estate and tourism while turning away from industry.

Much of Bloomberg’s early waterfront strategy galvanized around an ambitious 2012 Summer Olympics bid. Engendered in the private sector, NYC 2012 was the pet project of Dan Doctoroff, who brought the plan to the Mayor’s office when he was appointed Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Rebuilding. A number of new large-scale projects were incorporated into NYC 2012, many of which had been on the wish lists of developers for years. By tying them to the time sensitive Olympics bid, Doctoroff and the elite coalition who shared his enthusiasm, hoped to jumpstart “an array of stalled or wished for urban development projects that had as their raison d’etre the increase of property values in certain areas of the city (Brash 144).” Some inland, some on the waterfront, these projects had in common their scope and the image of the city they projected—a new New York: competitive, postindustrial, and global.

While the Olympic bid was unsuccessful, the swiftness, scope and ethos of the project define Bloomberg’s approach to development. His projects imagine the city as a luxury brand, meant to draw “the best and brightest” with state of the art entertainment complexes, well-designed parks and public spaces, plentiful well-located office space, and luxury apartments. His policies give cohesion to years of ad hoc efforts on the part of elite developers, bankers and other powerful stakeholders to reshape the city into a wealthy bastion of privilege. This strategy distances itself from the city’s industrial past, and in the process, from the middle and working class New Yorkers who were able to survive and succeed because of relatively well paying manufacturing jobs.

Recognizing a city-wide decline in manufacturing is unavoidable, but it is bad policy to ignore the small, yet thriving, manufacturing that remains. Such an approach is fueled by a “philosophy that holds that the city’s future prosperity lies in the expansion of pricey residential enclaves and office districts, and that many mixed-use neighborhoods…are undergoing an inevitable, unstoppable transformation that entails the dispersal or disappearance of their industrial land uses (Wolf-Powers 1).” This philosophy is at the heart of the mayor’s massive rezoning of the Greenpoint-Williamsburg waterfront, except that rather than reflecting this inevitability, it insures it.

The administration’s approach to industry, especially around the period of the Brooklyn rezoning, imagined manufacturing of any kind to be incompatible with the city they were shaping and marketing to the world. The city was either to be a decaying relic of industry, or a shining entirely postindustrial beacon. City planning advocates at the Pratt Center for Community Development take issue with this assumption, arguing “in a city of the size and diversity of New York, economic development need not be seen as a zero sum game where the ability to take advantage of growth opportunities in one sector is inevitably tied to the demise of other viable sectors (Pratt xi).” Rather than threatening new sectors of the economy, local manufacturing is convenient, and sometimes necessary, for their operations. Light manufacturing thrives in Greenpoint-Williamsburg partly because its goods are easily accessible to clients in Manhattan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greenpoint’s Industrial History

Serving as a home for decades to heavy industry, Greenpoint has a long and dirty history. The neighborhood manufactured plastics, built ships and was a center of porcelain and glass production. Over the years, the city burdened the north Brooklyn neighborhood with more than its fair share of service facilities, including a sewage treatment plant, multiple waste transfer stations, and a garbage incinerator. Add to that an underground oil spill that ranks among the worst in history, and Greenpoint has a well-deserved reputation for being one of the most toxic areas of New York City. Residents of the neighborhood have struggled for years against toxic uses, fighting to remediate polluted land and improve the quality of life for its residents. Neighbors built grassroots alliances to successfully challenge a proposed power plant and to insure that the garbage incinerator, shuttered during an accident, remained closed.

Though residents fought to be free of the noise and pollution that came from heavy industry, they embraced light manufacturing. Small, successful manufacturers including specialty food, fashion, and furniture producers increased steadily in the area throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Serving as models of creative, design-oriented manufacturing and providing local jobs, these businesses illustrated that “Greenpoint-Williamsburg is just the type of neighborhood in which light, clean, specialized industry can thrive—helping to make the city’s economy more diverse and competitive overall (Wolf-Powers 1).” The area showed that, protected by zoning and supported by the community, a vibrant, mixed-use neighborhood was possible.

Working off of the solidarity and momentum generated during the power plant opposition, neighbors came together to create a 197a plan. The 197a process, added to the city charter in 1989, allows communities, through their community boards, to submit locally generated plans outlining their priorities and vision for the future of their neighborhoods (Angotti 154). Submitted to the City Council for approval, the plans are meant to “serve as a policy to guide subsequent actions by city agencies (Angotti 156).”

Approved by the City Council in 2001, the Greenpoint 197a plan identifies as “major objectives:” the revitalization of Greenpoint’s historic waterfront, including accessibility to the public, and the need to build upon Greenpoint’s historic mixed-use character. The plan highlighted environmental concerns and included the interests of the most vulnerable in the community, stressing the importance of affordable housing.  Job retention was emphasized, especially through “encouraging clean, non-polluting industry to remain in the neighborhood…by identifying areas as industrial sanctuaries and continued designation as M zones (CB1 41).” The plan explicitly sought to “lay the groundwork for rezoning…in Greenpoint (CB1 2).”

Unfortunately, two years later, when the Department of City Planning began to outline their proposal for rezoning the Greenpoint-Williamsburg waterfront it was clear that there were no real provisions to preserve light manufacturing or ensure affordable housing. The rezoning was prompted by Doctoroff’s Olympic bid, which included a major aquatic park on the Williamsburg waterfront. Once again, the community joined forces to resist the proposed plan, arguing that it would end local manufacturing, and displace low-income residents. The community board forcefully opposed the proposal, contending “the question that the city fails to address is how to protect the existing community, comprised predominantly of working class families…and small businesses, from development that encourages displacement and threatens to reduce rather than improve the quality of people’s lives…” (CB 1 2)

The board took aim at the city’s proposal to designate some areas where existing manufacturing remained as “mixed use” or MX zones. This new designation creates neighborhoods that can include both light industrial and residential uses. MX zoning allows the property owner to determine land use, giving them the opportunity to convert former manufacturing spaces into higher rent residential and commercial spaces. The community board argued that MX zoning “favors residential development over industrial…development,” and so “is not effective for maintaining a mixed-use neighborhood (CB 1 7).” Rather than acting to protect industry, the designation is “more accurately seen as a transitional area out of which industrial users are gradually being priced (Wolf-Power 21).” To counteract the negative impact of MX zoning, they recommended a modified MX district that would include detailed provisions intent on protecting light industry. After months of struggle and negotiation, the community was able to gain minor concessions, but overall, the 2005 rezoning of Greenpoint-Williamsburg resembled the city’s original proposal. Vast tracts of M zoned land were converted to residential and commercial use.

Illustrating the Bloomberg administration’s disregard for community based planning, the rezoning “sent a message to communities that even after more than a decade of community meetings and a couple of years of negotiating changes to the plan with DCP, the principles of the community plan could be abridged. DCP would be free to use its zoning powers as it saw fit and disregard community plans (Angotti 168).” By neglecting to incorporate the interests of the community into the overhaul of their neighborhoods, Bloomberg’s administration clearly signaled whose interests they serve-the consortium of elite stakeholders who stand to profit from development of waterfront land, and those who can afford to live, play, and operate businesses there. Community Board 1 recognized they were not alone, seeing Bloomberg’s strategy employed throughout the city, they characterized their apprehension as “a concern that not only focuses on this rezoning proposal but exposes the overarching problem that is slowly creeping into many communities throughout New York City, namely, that communities are being disproportionately reorganized rather than equitably revitalized (CB1 2).”

Weak Zoning

The vibrant mixed-use quality of Greenpoint-Williamsburg throughout the eighties and nineties was due in part to a type of mixed zoning enacted in the late 1970s. The City Planning Commission designated Special Districts in which manufacturers and residences were allowed to coexist, but encroachment on the part of both was limited. This was the type of detail-oriented zoning that the community sought during their pre-zoning negotiations. Instead, the administration insisted that an unregulated, market driven approach would determine the “best use” of the city’s land. The policy demonstrates the mayor’s neo-liberal philosophy, which essentially defines “”good” governance at the municipal level…by the ability of formal government to assist, collaborate with, or function like the corporate community (Hackworth 11).”

Critics of the mayor’s postindustrial policies did finally elicit response from the administration when the Mayor’s Office of Industrial and Manufacturing Businesses was created in 2005. The office created Industrial Business Zones (IBZ), areas designated to protect clusters of existing manufacturers. Incentives like tax credits were offered to encourage manufacturers to relocate within these districts, and grants and training assistance were offered to promote and protect businesses. Sixteen IBZs were established throughout the city, including two in the rezoned Greenpoint-Williamsburg. Seen as concessions to manufacturing advocates, the IBZs cover 22 of the approximately 180 formerly M-zoned blocks (Angotti).

Supporters of manufacturing fear the mayor’s actions are basically “too little, too late.” The administration pushed through several huge rezoning projects before engaging in any substantial studies of the affected areas. IBZs are seen as a step in the right direction, but they have several weaknesses. Most importantly, because they are not protected by legislation, they are vulnerable to alteration or elimination by future administrations. Without robust legal protection, the zones lack the kind of security needed to attract businesses.

In addition, the designation allows for the development of several non-manufacturing uses in the zones, including hotel, office buildings, and “big-box” stores. Problematic for multiple reasons, these uses often garner higher rents, making them more attractive to land owners. Studies show that ““Big-Box” retail establishments have adversely impacted manufacturing activity because they increase competition for space, pay marginally higher rents, and increase traffic. At the same time, they leverage far fewer jobs (Pratt 1).” Hotels present a particular problem because “they create…a quasi residential use which starts mitigating against manufacturing because people complain and there’s conflict, and that can take an area down the road to where it becomes less useful to manufacturing (Lander).” This kind of conflict arises in the new MX zones, as well, with the same kind of pressures put on manufacturers.

With the MX zoning designation and the implementation of IBZs, the Bloomberg administration gives the appearance of protecting industry, but the measures lack real muscle and are impermanent policy moves. Seven years later, some of the promise that manufacturers saw at the inception of the IBZ model has diminished. Funding and staff for both the MOIMB and IBZs have been slashed and little attention is given to manufacturing as the Mayor continues to push forward with his waterfront initiatives. It is clear the Bloomberg administration is not as dedicated to preserving manufacturing as it is to promoting his own pro-development agenda.
Conclusion

Brash argues that “the city’s Olympic bid was driven by a class-bound imagining of the city as a place of ambition, meritocracy, competition, and internationalism (Brash 53).” Bloomberg may have lost his Olympic bid, but he did not allow that to slow the momentum of his development strategy. In a relatively short period of time, the CEO mayor has transformed neighborhoods, altering their physical and cultural fabric. In a city the size and density of New York, even small changes in land use can have profound impacts on communities. In order to create the kind of luxury city that would attract Bloomberg’s “best and brightest,” he launched “ an aggressive transformation of (New York’s) physical form in order to produce an environment appropriate to the needs and desires of well-educated professionals and those businesses in the financial, media, and business services sectors that employed them (Brash 121).” In the process he effectively closed the door on manufacturing, and the blue-collar middle class jobs it provided New Yorkers.

Bloomberg’s sweeping rezoning and development agenda consistently disregards the voices of existing communities, in favor of drawing potential new elites to the city. In lieu of community-based plans, the administration allows developers and bankers to determine land use, prioritizing profit over the needs and wishes of long time residents. Cloaked as common sense, his approach asserts a neoliberal agenda that serves the interests of an elite minority, and chips away at the regulations and institutions that protect the poor and middle class. The result is a politicized restructuring of New York into a less vibrant and inclusive city.

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An Epistle from ExxonMobil About How They Will Wreck the Sidewalk

ExxonMobil dropped off a letter today at the apartment, no stamp or name and addressed only to “Dear Neighbor” in a tipped haphazard typewriter’s letters. This intimacy is creepy from one of the most massive entities in the world. Did ExxonMobil just drop by and leave a letter, being sorry they had missed me?

Anyway, the letter, below, is about the Greenpoint Petroleum Remediation Project, the endless process by which ExxonMobil is removing the Greenpoint Oil Spill from underneath my house, then refining and selling it – an ineluctable win-win.

The letter tells us that “soil boring activity” is about to wreck the sidewalk on the block. Reassuringly, the letter claims it “poses no health or safety issues for you.” Sweet. I’m sitting on top of 30 million gallons of oil, plus the Meeker Avenue Plumes, many of my neighbors have devices in their basements to capture benzene vapors escaping the spill so they don’t breathe them in inside their own homes – but there is no health or safety risk when they dig out the sidewalk to “further assess the remediation progress.”

Sick, ExxonMobil! I’ll just kick back and let the good times ride for “only a few days” and then “a few weeks later” and then some more “boring will be performed” and then the place will be “reasonably restored to previous or better conditions” and they promise to be “efficient and courteous”! And no doubt they will. Just ask Baton Rouge.

(originally published at greenpointers.com)

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Church of the Ascension Occupied for Sandy

Church of the Ascension on Java Street has been Occupied. The church, which began helping coordinate relief efforts (with Councilmember Steve Levin) for Hurricane Sandy survivors immediately after the storm, has just been more formally Occupied by Occupy Sandy, an off-shoot of Occupy Wall Street. The Greenpoint site is largely replacing the 520 Clinton Street location at the Church of St Luke and St Matthew in Clinton Hill, after a December 23rd two-alarm fire at that location which fire officials have called “suspicious” and Church Father Chris Ballard called “arson.”

The church, Occupy Sandy’s first Greenpoint location, will serve as an office hub for the various Occupy Sandy locales in the city and as a headquarters for “volunteer dispatch operations” to the Rockaways, Gerritsen Beach, Red Hook, Coney Island, Staten Island, and Sheepshead Bay, where survivors continue to struggle with little help aside from volunteers like Occupy Sandy and others.

Occupy Sandy will also use the locale to offer a regularly scheduled orientation for new volunteers interested in helping in the ongoing long-term relief effort. More information is available on the Occupy Sandy website.

Greenpoint’s response to Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath began immediately after the storm through City Councilmember Steve Levin, and both Church of the Ascension and Greenpoint Reformed Church.

As recently reported in the Greenpoint Star and DNAinfo, there are Greenpoint residents still suffering the affects the storm including moldy basements and problems getting insurance or government to help with necessary cleanup funds.

(originally published at greenpointers.com)

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Greenpoint Responds to Hurricane Sandy

The Greenpoint Reformed Church‘s volunteers prepared more than 1,000 bag lunches over the weekend, on top of thousands of meals prepared by the Church’s volunteers throughout the week as a relief effort for those affected by Hurricane Sandy.

The volunteers of the weekly Wednesday hot meal at the Church’s Soup Kitchen led the organizing of up to 60 simultaneous volunteers preparing lunches and hot meals. Bag lunches included peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, juice, chips, cookie or granola bar, and fruit. The lunches were provided to Greenpoint’s Church of the Ascension on Java Street, where Councilmember Steve Levin has been coordinating drop-off donations and deliveries to Red Hook, Coney Island and Gerritsen Beach.

Many of Brooklyn’s neighborhoods are reeling in the devastation left by Hurricane Sandy. The city itself, without having done door-to-door inquiries, admits 40,000 – 50,000 people will need shelter. (In addition to the already 30,000 people homeless in the city on any given night.) Reuters quoted Mayor Mike Bloomberg as stating that, “We don’t have a lot of empty housing in this city. It’s a problem to find housing.” This despite homeless advocacy group Picture the Homeless’ findings that there are enough vacant properties in the city to easily house over 200,000 people, and then some.

I, along with thousands of other North Brooklyn residents, treked into Queens today to grab the 7 train into Manhattan. Why? Because the city has decided, by opening the schools and demanding that city workers return to work, that all workers can return to work – putting pressure on all of us to commute any way we can, or risk losing our situation. If the city actually cared about the communities that have been devastated, they would encourage us all to volunteer and help out, instead of working our usual dayjobs as though nothing happened.

Elsewhere in the city, ad-hoc volunteerism leads the response, not the city government. One volunteer from West Harlem, Ely, reported of volunteering in Staten Island: “We got there and per the Occupy Sandy site, ended up in New Dorp High School to drop off all goods. Later we walked to New Dorp Beach where the damaged houses were. We helped (loading our carts with garbage) move garbage bags from small alleys to a larger street where garbage trucks were picking up garbage. They still need a lot of cleaning.”

As the Red Cross continues to draw criticism for its lax response to the crisis in Brooklyn and Staten Island, and the city continues its tepid response, it is only community groups, churches, Occupy Wall Street and thousands of individual volunteers that are responding to the needs of victims of Hurricane Sandy. While mainstream news continues to cover the Mayor’s carefully staged storm updates and delight in power returning to lower Manhattan, activists and volunteers are beginning to write and post about their experiences online, revealing a deeply disorganized city unable or unwilling to respond to a population in dire need.

Governor Cuomo tweeted Sunday night, “#sandy #safety: Shivering, confusion, memory loss & drowsiness may be symptoms of Hypothermia, #staysafe” with a link to a CDC info page on Hypothermia. As though anyone suffering these things would be on Twitter, checking tips from the Governor. The disconnect is astounding.

If people left homeless by Sandy held up an Occupy sign, would they get Bloomberg’s attention?

As tens-of-thousands of New Yorkers remain without shelter, food, warmth, water, or any sign that help is on the way, this becomes Bloomberg’s well-earned legacy: those he couldn’t stop and frisk, he let eat cake in the wake of Sandy.

originally published at greenpointers.com

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greenpoint, elsewhere

‘Greenpoint’ is arguably now a term for rock climbers. According to climbing blogPlanet Mountain the term means ‘climbing a sport route with the holds but using trad[itional] gear such as nuts and camming devices.’

Famous climber Kurt Albert developed the practice of painting a red X on spots in his climbs that he did not need to step or grab onto, finally painting a final X when he completed his ascent. This introduced the term ‘redpoint’ to the climbing world – of which I personally haven’t climbed anything but stairs and walls in years.

Several message boards featured the usual eye-rolling at naming anything. One postpointed out that ‘It’s actually called real rock climbing.’

Greenpoint’s name was, as the story goes, coined by Dutch sailors in the days of New Amsterdam. Sailors traversing their way up the East River would spy the jut of vegetated marshy land where Freeman and Green streets now end and exclaim ‘Green Pernt!’ before having a refreshing dip in Newtown Creek.

Of course, the area also used to be called Cherry Point and who knows why?

The OED contains no entry for ‘greenpoint.’ Nor does any other dictionary searched – aside from the Urban one, which cites the Brooklyn neighborhood.

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November 17th on 16th

Tomorrow is November 17th. How many thousands of us will come out with Occupy Wall St? How many children and mothers and elderly will I see and remember to scold myself for ever being afraid of a cop? What Unions will join? How many students? And dayshift people? Homeless and teachers, religious folks. Signs that will make me laugh.

Since the world that is trying to be created will be new to us, it might be strange to even try to imagine its form. But we can imagine its meaning. We can imagine standing over the river. Will we be able to see Greenpoint?

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Talking Greenpoint and Occupy Wall Street with Assembly Member Joseph Lentol

Joseph Lentol has been the New York State Assembly Member for Brooklyn’s District 50 (which includes Greenpoint, Williamsburg and Fort Greene) since 1983. He is also Chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Codes, tasked with reviewing criminal justice legislation. He previously served as Assistant District Attorney in Kings County before he began holding elected office in 1972.

I spoke with Assemblyperson Lentol over the phone on October 19th.

JC: So I wanted to get your thoughts on the Occupy Wall Street protest. I’m wondering what you think of them, and if you’ve spoken with any participants?

JL: I certainly have been thinking about it a lot. Unfortunately, I haven’t spoken to anyone and I didn’t realize until Amy [Cleary, Lentol’s Communications Director] told me that you suggested it was a Greenpoint resident who was the person who was pepper-sprayed by the police department. By the Deputy Inspector, I guess. And later featured in the Daily News and New York Times articles.

So I guess the first thing I can say is that I’m really proud of what they’ve done down on Wall Street because they’ve exercised what we consider to be the founding fathers’ gift to us, which was a democracy and the first amendment in action. So this is what the founding fathers believed in and wanted to promote when they founded a country and adopted a constitution.

So some two hundred and fifty years later, it still holds true.

I have received dozens, if not hundreds of emails on the topic and answered all of them and even spoken to several participants. Or people who are interested, I should say. My sense of it is that these people are frustrated. They are well meaning and they are peaceful. And they’re right.

The most interesting thing that I can tell you about is that there’s almost like a cyclical situation that seems to occur in the history of the United States of America. Where we have come across a situation like this. For example, in the 1900s we have the Robber Barons. John D Rockefeller and all of the industrialists that wanted to take what they could get from our economy, and did. And they created all of the Trusts. And then several later the Trust Buster, Teddy Roosevelt, who wasn’t even from my party, came along and he was the Trust Buster. And that kind of was a correction, at the time, when the Trusts were broken up. And not to far along later you had Wall Street again rearing its ugly head in the Great Depression, when the stock market collapsed and again, there were a lot of greedy people who were taking advantage. A lot of rich people getting richer and poor people getting poorer and what resulted was the Great Depression. And the New Deal had to come along to take us out of that. And that was a correction.

We established a lot of policies in the New Deal that would be a correction so that people would be able to enjoy some prosperity. And they did! For a lot of years, through the 50s and the 60s America a pretty good country, at least economically. In other ways it wasn’t.

JC: So do you see the OWS protests as a reaction against economics in the country, exclusively?

JL: This is the same kind of situation where you’re having a correction. We’re seeing a correction in action. Where a lot of rich people have taken advantage of the poorer people and have gotten their way. Either with government or their way with the economy. And the bankers that people down on Wall Street are complaining about have gotten their way. And now it’s the people’s turn to try and bring about a correction because the people are the ones that are suffering. Kids can’t pay their student loans, they can’t get mortgages, they can’t borrow money from the banks, and they’re fed up and tired of it. They can’t get a job! And something has to give, somebody has to do something.

It’s not simple to come up with an answer of exactly what to do, and think that’s why their message is a little bit foggy and you don’t understand why they can’t come up with a concrete message. But you know, they’re out their in the wilderness because that’s what this is. It is a wilderness. And they don’t know, necessarily, where the problem lies or how to correct it. And an administration in Washington that’s trying to deal with, and we’ve got people on the other side who take a different view of how to deal with it, and as a result there is inaction and gridlock.

JC: So how you been down to the OWS demonstration? Have you seen it?

JL: No, I haven’t, but I plan to go. But I haven’t seen it. And I’m sorry that I haven’t, but I haven’t gotten there.

JC: I’m sure you read about the pepper spraying on the 24th, and then the many arrests several days later on the Brooklyn Bridge. Why do you think that city is responding in this way?

JL: Well, let me preface that by saying that by and large, I think that for a protest of this size and scale the mayor and police commissioner who control the NYPD have been in my opinion fairly supportive of the first amendment rights of the protestors. And the mayor has expressed that. I know that deep down he may have misgivings about keeping them there in the park, but I think he genuinely believes that people have a right to protest. Tempers wear thin, passions run high, anger is misdirected. And I think that’s what you’re seeing with the police department problems.

And it happens in all demonstrations that I’ve seen over the years. It’s one of the lessons that we learned in history and that’s why we have the Citizens Complaint Review Board. And now the situation is a lot different than it was in those days. You know, like the Vietnam War protests and other protests that happened in the past. Because people have videophones, they have cameras. It’s much easier to sort out what happened at these incidents. I wasn’t there, I don’t know what happened when all of these incidents took place, so I can’t really condemn, having not seen it firsthand. But I hope that if there was police brutality that it’s is dealt with swiftly and a just conclusion is reached. And if there was not police brutality, that the officer’s names be cleared, as well.

Above all, I believe that these incidents should not infringe upon people’s right to protest and dampen the message that the protesters are trying to create.

JC: One of the issues OWS is dealing with is homelessness, perhaps particularly because the homeless are a part of the movement and life in the park. You have been working for years on the homeless problem in Greenpoint. With what you know about OWS, do you think they offer solutions to the problem?

JL: The homeless problem is certainly related to what’s going on on Wall Street. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. You know, if you don’t have a house, you don’t have a mortgage, you don’t have a job, and you can’t get a loan – so what are you gonna do, live in the street or live in your car? The homeless problem is related to what’s going on. We’re gonna see a lot more of it if the present situation is allowed to continue and the protesters aren’t successful, in my opinion.

The city is only interested in the big picture. All of the homeless that they have to deal with. And they want to put them in as many mass shelters as they can, rather than really trying to deal with the solutions to the problem, which are the causes of homelessness. And creating affordable housing for people to live in. Because, you know, at the rate we’re going you know the city was very good, they built a lot of luxury houses but where do the poor people live? There aren’t any services for a lot of Polish speaking people that have a lot of problems in this neighborhood. And the city is not concentrating on that, they’re concentrating on the big picture of homelessness and just trying to warehouse them away so that nobody sees them. And that’s not the answer to the problem, we’ve been doing that for thirty years. And it hasn’t solved the homeless problem, has it? All it does is make it worse. …Either they don’t want to solve the problem or they don’t care.

JC: There is an Occupy Brooklyn movement. There’s been two GA’s. What do you think of that? And what you might think of an Occupy Greenpoint movement?

JL: I think it’s great. I think that an Occupy Greenpoint or Occupy Brooklyn, as long as it was peaceful and law-abiding, I think the many people in Brooklyn could benefit from sharing in the ideals that the Wall Street folks are fighting for. We have high unemployment here, some of the highest poverty rates, and a great need for services. And I believe that needs to change.

 

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Skywriting Above NYC

Walking east along Nassau Avenue this afternoon, I saw many heads looking up, and followed their gazes.

Above the city two planes were busy writing a message in the blue sky, although this insufficient number was cut to one plane eventually, so that by the time the message was complete the beginning had disappeared.

“Lost Our Lease,” the skywriting finally read. The message appears to be a project called The Sky is the Limit/NYC, by Kim Beck, supported by Friends of the High Line. The project “consists of fleeting messages from advertising billboards and storefront signage” including phrases like “Last Chance,” “Now Open,” or today’s “Lost Our Lease.”

Greenpointers watching the events unfold were wry about the inability of the planes to deliver a full legible message. “Good use of money,” one man said, carrying his infant back inside. Several people wondered why they didn’t just write “#OWS.”

When contacted, artist Kim Beck replied that only one plane was used for the skywriting said the each piece had a “nuanced range” of meaning.

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Carcinogenic Plumes in McGolrick Park Area

 

There are two enormous spills beneath the northeastern-most pocket of Greenpoint: the Greenpoint Oil Spill, and the Meeker AvenuePlumes. Exxon Mobile has been working on the cleanup of the spill since 1991, with a seemingly endless patience.

The plumes, however, are just hanging out in two pools beneath the neighborhood, inching towards Newtown Creek. The oil spill floats atop the aquifer beneath the neighborhood, the plumes lie beneath it.

The plumes are the accumulation of chlorinated solvents – tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE) – which are used in dry-cleaning and cleaning metals. These solvents were spilled or dumped into the ground of Greenpoint for many years, the biggest historical offenders including Acme Architectural Products, Spic and Span Cleaners and Klink Cosmo Cleaners.

Last week the EPA released a report stating that TCE is a ‘carcinogen to humans.’ As explained by those who read more EPA literature than I, the big deal is that the last time the EPA said much of anything about TCE was in 1987, when they stated that TCE was a ‘probable’ carcinogen. In addition, it also is a ‘human noncancer health hazard.’ Double yikes.

Paul Anastas, of the EPA, promoted the findings as ‘an important first step, providing valuable information to the state, local and federal agencies responsible for the health of the American people.’

‘TCE’s movement from contaminated ground water and soil, into the indoor air of overlying buildings, is of serious concern,’ the EPA stated.

According to the EPA, there are 761 Superfund sites nationwide that are contaminated with TCE.

Many people in Greenpoint have had the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) come by to install vents that trap and release these vapors into the outside air, instead of allowing them to move around inside a house. Many havenot.

Dangerous vapors can intrude a home without being seen or smelled by residents. Greenpointers interested in having their homes tested for vapor intrustion can contact the DEC.

(originally published at greenpointers.com)

 

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Investigation of the Creek

 

The largest polluters of Newtown Creek and environs have agreed, with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, to look at the damage. This will be the first step in the process of cleaning up Newtown Creek, which was declared a Superfund site last year by the EPA. The $25 million “investigation of the contamination” will be a process of several years, according to the EPA, before possible remedies can be suggested.

Since the discovery of the Greenpoint Oil Spill beneath northern Brooklyn in 1979, pressure has mounted, at glacial speeds, to form such an agreement. Newtown Creek, an estuary that meets the East River and separates Brooklyn from Queens for three-and-a-half miles, is one of the most polluted waterways in the country.

The six parties in the agreement include Phelps Dodge (now owned by Freeport-McMoRan); Texaco; BP (using Google Earth, take a look from above at the BP tanks {which used to belong to Amoco} sitting on the shores of Newtown Creek, for just about the Howdiest welcome to NYC one could find); National Grid (which used to be Brooklyn Union Gas Company, they operate the enormous Keyspan Greenpoint Energy Center); ExxonMobil (who is already busy pumping the oil out from beneath the neighborhood); and the City of New York (lots of sewage made its way straight into the Creek for many years, in the time before it was cooked in the building and disposed of as fine bacteria).

The investigation, which will begin this summer, will inspect not only the Creek, but surrounding soil and air. Many homes in the neighborhood have already been equipped by the EPA with devices to deter renegade benzene vapors from the Oil Spill from hanging around inside the homes. What else can’t we handle?

For a look from the polluters point of view, peruse the ExxonMobile Greenpoint Remediation Project website. There is a video which speaks glowingly of the 21 recovery wells currently sucking the oil out from beneath the neighborhood, a combined effort between EM, BP and Chevron Texaco. The three claim to “have recovered more than 11 million gallons of oil” already, which is equivalent to the official amount given for the Exxon Valdez spill.

The recovered oil is what they call “Free Product,” meaning it is floating around in the world uncontained. Perhaps also meaning that they get to refine and sell it.

originally published at Greenpointers.com.

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