Monthly Archives

August 2016


Chelsea Now: Hells Kitchen Kids’ Gestures of Gratitude Bound for Canadian Town

August 31, 2016

August 31, 2016

They called them the “plane people.”

When air travel over the United States was suspended immediately after the September 11, 2001 attacks, passengers on international flights from Europe were rerouted to Gander, Newfoundland. The remote Canadian town, home to about 10,000 residents, sprang into action when 38 planes unexpectedly dropped almost 7,000 people at their doorstep.

In honor of their good deed, children attending summer camp at the Hartley House, located on W. 46th St. in Hell’s Kitchen, painted wooden stars with expressions of gratitude for the people of Gander.

The stars will be presented to the town by a group of 12 New Yorkers — made up of members from the 9/11 community, including docents from the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, and volunteers from the 9/11 Tribute Center — on the 15th anniversary of the attacks.

“We felt like we had to go to Gander to thank them from the bottom of our hearts,” said Paul Vasquez, one of the docents organizing the trip. “On a day as sad and tragic as 9/11, the people there did something positive and showed love is stronger than hate.”

Vasquez reached out to his city councilmember, Corey Johnson, to help find students to paint Stars of HOPE — wooden stars meant to be decorated with hopeful messages and displayed in areas impacted by disasters. The councilmember connected the group with the Hartley House.

Johnson went with Vasquez and fellow docent Maria Jaffe on Thurs., Aug. 25, to collect the stars from the kids and speak with them about the sacrifice and kindness shown by the people of Gander.

“By designing and sending these beautifully decorated stars, the kids of Hartley House are showing our City’s deep and everlasting gratitude, and demonstrating that the memory of Gander’s service lives on through the generations,” Johnson said in a statement.

Jaffe explained the idea to make a pilgrimage to Gander first took root this summer when a woman organizing Canada’s National Day of Service in Gander visited the museum.

“Ironically, she came to the museum two weeks after a colleague was describing a book about what happened in Gander called ‘The Day the World Came to Town,’” Jaffe said. “I think the story just reinforced that feeling [that] people are inherently good. They rose to the occasion during a time of great need.”

The woman who met Jaffe at the museum is Maureen Basnicki, whose husband was at a business meeting on the 106th floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower when it was struck by one of the planes. After her husband perished in the attacks, the Toronto resident worked to get Canada to observe a “National Day of Service” on Sept. 11.

This year she’s organizing activities in Gander to raise awareness about the day of service — officially recognized by Canada in 2011 — and invited Jaffe and friends to the town.

“When you think of 9/11 you think of hate and horror, the visuals of the planes going into those buildings. I want to work to change that image,” said Basnicki. “I would rather dwell on the goodness that came about that day.”

When the group arrives in Gander, they will present the stars at schools, churches, businesses, and other places in the community that helped out the stranded airplane passengers. They will also join the town in observing a parade of first responders as well as an ecumenical ceremony held on the anniversary.

Kelly Sceviour, the events coordinator for the town of Gander, remembers the day the planes arrived.

“It was surreal. We started seeing aircraft after aircraft landing,” she said. “And we just did what we had to because we didn’t want anyone to be alone at such a horrible time.”

Sceviour recalled how the local news station would broadcast supplies that were needed and the community would rush to respond. One of her most vivid memories is how the town found ways to entertain a group of children bound for Disneyland by bringing in the town mascot, Commander Gander, alongside some fairies and princesses.

Sceviour said she was humbled by some of the recognitions heaped on Gander for their hospitality. However, she explained it was just part of their nature to be welcoming.

“We would have done this for anyone,” she said. “It’s just who we are. We would never let anyone be stranded or left behind.”

Jim DeFede, whose book “The Day the World Came to Town” recounts how Gander opened itself up to the stranded passengers, said sacrifice and an eagerness to help is a deeply ingrained value among the people of Newfoundland.

“They have this saying in Newfoundland: You can always add a little more water to the soup,” DeFede explained. “Meaning, if our neighbor is hungry, we might not have a lot, we might just have soup for dinner, but we can always water it down and invite our neighbor over to eat.”

He described how the town dropped everything to accommodate the thousands of guests. Bus drivers who were on strike immediately got behind the wheel to ferry newcomers around, kitchens started making fresh food, and pharmacists would fill prescriptions without asking for payment. The whole town opened itself up — packing churches, schools, hotels, and homes with the unexpected guests.

“I think the story of Gander is about how at a time of incredible darkness, when everyone wondered if there was any humanity left in the world, the folks in Gander reminded people there is hope and light,” DeFede said.

Both Jaffe and Vasquez agreed that the story of Gander was like “a beacon of light” piercing through a very dark day.

“The story of Gander is so positive and uplifting,” said Vasquez. “To travel there on the anniversary of 9/11, I couldn’t imagine a better place to be.”


DNA Info: LinkNYC Users Watching Porn, Doing Drugs on Chelsea Sidewalks, Locals Say

August 30, 2016

August 30, 2016

CHELSEA — When he arrived in Chelsea with nearly an hour to spare on Thursday, Upper West Sider Michael Lalime stopped at one of the city’s new LinkNYC kiosks.

“It’s awesome,” the 35-year-old said of the kiosk’s free Wi-Fi. “I’m on my way to the first day of a new job, and my phone is almost dead, so I’m charging my phone.”

Still, even the self-avowed fan acknowledged that the kiosks have become something of a hub for the city’s homeless — a common refrain for many critics of the city’s new online portals.

“I mean, yeah, homeless people set up shop around them, but it’s New York City so what do you expect?” he added.

Since the city began replacing telephone booths with the kiosks — which provide free Wi-Fi and allow users to charge their phones, surf the web on a touch screen and make free phone calls — locals have flooded Councilman Corey Johnson’s office with complaints about kiosk “abuse” throughout his district, which includes Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen.

Users have been “creating personal spaces for themselves, engaging in activities that include playing loud, explicit music, consuming drugs and alcohol, and… viewing… pornography,” Johnson wrote in a letter to the city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, which oversees the kiosks.

“I have personally observed individuals watching pornography on the kiosk screens, in view of nearby children,” he added.

On a recent visit to Eighth Avenue — which is slated for a dozen kiosks between West 26th and 31st streets alone — users at multiple sites had propped overturned newspaper boxes and upside-down buckets in front of the screens to use as makeshift chairs.

While users like Lalime see the new devices as welcome amenities, some Chelsea residents say they have become gathering places for people who camp out around the stations on makeshift furniture, take up sidewalk space and watch everything from YouTube videos to pornography on their screens.

“I think it kind of encourages people to hang out,” said Simone Weissman, a Chelsea resident of more than three decades. “The ability to play videos and movies — why do we need that in the street?”

Homeless people use the kiosks as “meeting points” where they smoke pot and drink alcohol, added a Chelsea resident of nearly 25 years.

“They are begging for money while they harass the local residents, creating a disturbance many are afraid to approach,” said Tory, who asked that her last name be withheld.

Like Johnson’s office, Community Board 4 has received “numerous” complaints from residents, business owners and even the NYPD that the kiosks are becoming “a source of inequity, congestion and uncleanliness,” board chairwoman Delores Rubin noted in CB4’s own letter to DoITT at the beginning of August.

Upper East Side residents voiced similar concerns about the kiosks in their neighborhood earlier this summer.

CB4 transportation committee co-chairman Ernest Modarelli said he sees the issues as “unintended consequences” of the kiosks’ installation.

“The real problem is not what they’re watching,” he said. “It’s that we’ve given them an entertainment system with unlimited access to the internet.”

In its letter to DoITT, CB4 suggested changes including installing time limits on the kiosks, reducing their volume capabilities and restricting users’ access to functions like calling 311 and 911 and looking up directions.

A DoITT spokeswoman did respond to questions about the complaints, saying her office was in communication with Johnson regarding his concerns.

Melissa Stern, a representative for the West 20th Street Block Association, said she felt the devices should be redesigned “from top to bottom.”

“It’s a noble experiment,” she said. “But I think it has been shown that it isn’t working well.”

Lifelong Chelsea resident Andrew Rai, however, called the kiosks a “valuable public facility,” adding that a decreased police presence on Eighth Avenue could be contributing to problems with loitering more than the kiosks themselves.

Lalime agreed, adding that concerns about users watching pornography on the kiosk screens seemed unreasonable, given their proximity to adult stores like Rainbow Station and The Blue Store.

“Come on, Chelsea,” Lalime said. “Don’t look if it’s bothering you.”


DNA Info: Students Paint Stars For Canadian Town That Took in Planes on 9/11

August 26, 2016

August 26, 2016

HELL’S KITCHEN — On Sept. 11, 2001, more than 200 airplanes scheduled to land in the U.S. were diverted into Canada as part of the country’s “Operation Yellow Ribbon.”

Thirty-eight of those planes landed at an airport in Gander, Newfoundland, where community institutions and townspeople set up cots and donated platters of food for the more than 6,000 passengers who landed there.

“No one asked [the people of Gander] to do it — no one required them to do it,” said Maria Jaffe, a docent at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

She and a small, independent group of docents from the museum and the 9/11 Tribute Center, as well as people who lost loved ones on 9/11, will travel to Gander this September to mark the 15th anniversary of the attacks.

Councilman Corey Johnson’s office connected the docents with summer campers at the Hartley House — a community center on West 46th Street in Hell’s Kitchen — who decorated wooden stars that the group will bring to the town.

“If you speak to any that were there [in Gander], they said they were amazing, they were in awe, they were humbled by how human beings could be so kind to so many thousands of other human beings,” Jaffe said. “[The stars will] serve as beacons of hope and compassion for all to see.”

Jaffe and her group will hang the stars in the schools, synagogues, churches and diners that lent their services to the unexpected visitors a decade and a half ago ago, she said.

She and Johnson spoke with students who painted the stars at Hartley House on Thursday, before she packed them up to bring to Gander.

“I wasn’t alive when President Kennedy was assassinated, but it’s something we all know about,” Johnson said. “For folks that were in New York during 9/11, that were alive during 9/11, everyone sort of remembers where they were when it actually happened.”

While the student artists — who range in age from 10 to 13 — didn’t live through 9/11, many had memories of the date that family members shared with them.

One girl told of a relative who was on the 100th floor of the towers on Sept. 11 but managed to escape.

Another girl’s mother’s best friend was also in one of the towers that day, she said.

“It’s really wonderful that you were all able to participate even though you didn’t experience the event yourselves,” Johnson told the students.

The project was done in conjunction with Stars of Hope, which sends wooden stars painted by children to places that have dealt with tragedy and destruction, Jaffe said.

Students “loved the idea” of making the stars to thank the people of Gander, said Mia Muratore, the program’s after-school and summer camp director.

“When they saw all the stars, and just what they did for these people in disasters… they got very creative with it, and they just thought it was great,” she said.

“It’s such a beautiful message that [the] children are giving to the world,” Jaffe added. “If children learn that at a young age, it will follow them through life.”


Broadway World: NYC Parks Opens Two Newly Refurbished Handball Courts in Manhattan, Brooklyn

August 25, 2016

August 25, 2016

NYC Parks and Fairway Community Foundation are pleased to cut the ribbon on renovated handball courts at Chelsea Park in Manhattan and Coffey Park in Brooklyn. On Tuesday, August 23rd, Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP joined the Fairway Community Foundation and local elected officials to cut the ribbon at Chelsea Park, and today, Parks’ Brooklyn Borough Commissioner Kevin Jeffrey joined the Foundation, as well as City Council Member Carlos Menchaca to cut the ribbon on Coffey Park. Scroll down for photos!

“Handball is deeply ingrained in the New York City park experience, offering a unique and fun way to exercise and play. And thanks to the renovations funded by Fairway Community Foundation, the courts at Coffey and Chelsea Parks received a needed facelift,” said Commissioner Silver. “We are excited to see the community make use of these new courts and we are pleased to be able to open them during the summer months. Parks is always proud to partner with local businesses and organizations to make improvements to parks, and this project with the Fairway Community Foundation was no exception.”

The Fairway Community Foundation Board of Directors stated: “We are proud and honored to be a part in renovating these two parks. Big thank you to NYC Parks for making it happen. We can’t wait to see all the generations of New Yorkers enjoying these parks every day for many years to come.”

“I’m thrilled to see this outstanding improvement to Chelsea Park,” said Council Member Corey Johnson. “In Chelsea, we need to maximize every inch of park space that we have, and that’s exactly what this project accomplishes. I cannot wait to see my constituents take advantage of these newly improved, top-of-the-line handball courts. My deepest gratitude goes to the Fairway Community Foundation for funding these renovations, and to NYC Parks for their exceptional work on this project.”

“Let’s play ball! Handball is a sport that runs deep in Red Hook. These newly renovated handball courts are a welcomed blessing for Red Hook residents of all ages that will also help beautify our public spaces,” said Council Member Menchaca. “Thank you to Fairway and Parks. Let the fun begin!”

With $127k in funding, Fairway Community Foundation renovated the handball courts at Chelsea Park in Manhattan and Coffey Park in Brooklyn over six weeks. At Chelsea Park, 6 handball court walls were stripped, patched, painted and re-striped. The court pavements were re-lined. 2′ x 10′ section of handball mesh was repaired.At Coffey Park, 4 handball court walls were stripped, patched, painted and re-striped. The expansion joints in the court pavements were cleaned and re-caulked, and the court pavements were re-lined.

Fairway was looking to refurbish a part of a park that is “quintessential New York City”, and chose handball courts.

The Fairway Community Foundation aims to empower and invest in the people and places that make our communities great. Forged in the trailblazing spirit of Fairway Market, the Foundation serves up big ideas for a big city, pulling together some of the hardest workers and brightest thinkers in our community to cook up unique, innovative projects that say thanks in bold new ways.

Acquired by Parks more than 100 years ago, Chelsea Park remains one of the most popular and widely used parks in lower Manhattan. With basketball courts, baseball diamonds, multi-purpose asphalt surfaces, and plenty of space to sit down and take a break, be sure you bring your best game.

Coffey Park, named for Michael J. Coffey (1839-1907) – the former state senator, alderman, and district leader representing Red Hook – has a spray shower, play equipment with safety surfacing, swings for children, benches, game tables, picnic tables, basketball courts, an asphalt baseball diamond with a backstop, two flagpoles with yardarms, hippopotamus animal art, and crocodile-shaped benches.


The Real Deal: NYC pols slam Port Authority over bus terminal

August 25, 2016

August 25, 2016

A group of New York City politicians penned a scathing critique of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s controversial plans to replace its bus terminal on West 42nd Street, demanding that the agency overhaul its process.

In an op-ed in the New York Daily News, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, State Senator Brad Hoylman, State Assembly members Richard Gottfried and Linda Rosenthal and City Council member Corey Johnson accused the Port Authority of not giving local residents a say in the plans for a $10 billion new bus terminal.

“What the Port Authority has done to date is anything but considerate of taxpayers, commuters or its neighbors,” they wrote.

The politicians also criticized the agency’s decision to rule out building a new bus terminal in New Jersey, arguing that “no alternatives should be off the table.”

The agency began planning for a new terminal in 2013, launched a design competition and picked five proposals. The winner is set to be announced in September. In their op-ed, the politicians demand that the Port Authority “terminate” the design competition and go back to studying possible alternatives.


NY Daily News: The Port Authority needs to start over on replacing Manhattan’s bus terminal

August 24, 2016

August 24, 2016

Let’s be frank: Our transportation infrastructure, the engine and lifeblood of any region, is underfunded and woefully underserved. The Port Authority Bus Terminal, one of the largest and busiest terminals in the world, accommodates 232,000 passengers and more than 7,000 bus movements every weekday, and it desperately needs improvement.

As we look to replace the terminal, we have an opportunity to re-think and transform our regional transportation in order to find solutions that work for the public it is intended to serve, as well as the region as a whole.

We all agree that there should be a new bus terminal in Manhattan, but we need to plan for it responsibly. Early cost projections range from $7.5 billion to over $10.5 billion, so there is an obvious need and legitimate concern to make sure that we find a solution that works for everyone.

Some reports have tried to paint our concerns about the process that the Port Authority has created as a battle between New York and New Jersey. We do not view it this way. In fact, it is the Port Authority who has attempted to pit New York against New Jersey by explicitly amending its original Design + Deliverability Competition parameters to say “No bus terminal will be built in New Jersey.” That is counterproductive.

What the Port Authority has done to date is anything but considerate of taxpayers, commuters or its neighbors. As we plan for the bus terminal’s replacement, no alternatives should be off the table.

The Port Authority has set itself to pursue a single course of action from the start for terminal relocation that is based on a draconian and expensive use of eminent domain. They did this without looking into how the project interacts with the planned Gateway rail tunnel, or with a revamped Penn Station, or completing its own Trans-Hudson Commuting Capacity Study, or consulting anyone outside its own bureaucracy.

As elected representatives, it is incumbent on us to make sure that the people who must live with the bus terminal replacement are given a chance to have a say — something the Port Authority has gone to great lengths to make sure does not happen.

Residents on both sides of the river need look no further than the series of “stakeholder meetings” the Port Authority has tried to slap together this month after being called out for skipping basic planning steps like talking to affected communities. The Port Authority issued a set of guidelines for these meetings as unfair and undemocratic as the course of action that would use eminent domain in an area with historic buildings, affordable housing, many locally owned businesses, and a church. One of the guidelines goes so far as to state, “Competitors are also not expected to answer any inquiry or questions.”

With rules like these, how can we feel any confidence that the Port Authority is looking out for the residents of both New York and New Jersey?

The days when major infrastructure decisions were made behind closed doors, and eminent domain was used to destroy and displace local communities with little regard for their impacts, should be long gone. That is why we have demanded the immediate termination of the Design + Deliverability Competition until proper planning can be completed, all alternatives studied — and the Port Authority allows input that gives the public a real voice in its future.

New York and New Jersey are in desperate need of modern transportation facilities, but good public planning doesn’t rely on shutting out public discussion or a refusal to explore alternatives. We cannot allow short-sightedness to condemn generations of future neighbors and commuters to pollution-clogged neighborhoods and endless seas of traffic. That is not right, it is not acceptable, and we will not allow this project to continue so long as the PABT ignores local communities in this way.


Curbed NY: St. John’s Terminal redevelopment continues to elicit concerns

August 24, 2016

August 24, 2016

West Village residents raised many of the same concerns brought up at a community meeting in June at a public hearing organized Wednesday by the City Planning Commission on the transfer of air rights from Pier 40.

The Hudson River Park Trust, which manages the pier, reached an agreement with the developers who want to transform St. John’s Terminal across the street from Pier 40. For $100 million, the HRPT would agree to transfer 200,000 square feet of air rights from the pier to the Terminal site for developers Westbrook Partners and the Atlas Capital Group to build their massive project as planned. That money would be used by HRPT for much needed repairs on 3,500 piles supporting the pier.

The City Planning meeting was organized in such a way that five people would speak against the project, and five for. But prior to the public testimony part of it, a representative for the developers, and Rick Cook of COOKFOX Architects (the firm is designing the St. John’s project) presented plans for the development.
As of right, the developers could build a 50-story hotel, and two buildings with retail, office, and event spaces, according to DNAinfo. But through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), that this project is currently in the middle of, the developers are hoping for the Terminal site to be zoned residential, and along with the transfer of air rights, they want to construct five buildings with a mix of market-rate condos, affordable housing, particularly senior housing (30 percent of all housing would be permanently affordable), an office or a hotel, and a large amount of retail.

That was a major point of contention for many at the meeting, including the commissioners. Many questioned whether the developers intended to bring “big box” stores to the location. A large, affordable grocery store was the exception, but those who spoke against the project said that if the redevelopment did in fact go through, the city should ensure that the retail portions are for local businesses.

“The project is ludicrously oversized,” Andrew Berman, the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVHSP), said at the meeting. Many members of his organization also testified, voicing their concerns about the project. “The project will be overwhelming to the surrounding area, and will not provide enough public amenities.”

Parking and traffic was also a major point of contention. The developers are intending to create 772 parking spots at the development. Commissioner Larisa Ortiz wondered if the large amount was necessary especially when the city was trying to reduce the number of cars on the street. The developers’ representative argued that it was essential to selling the market-rate apartments.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer wondered instead if the parking could be replaced by indoor recreational spaces that would support the local cultural organizations—creating rehearsal studios or theaters were among the suggestions she put forth.

Traffic was a major concern too. Many who testified argued that the streets around the development at 550 Washington Street were already bottlenecks, and that hundreds of new residents would only worsen the problem if there weren’t major infrastructural improvements to address the ongoing concerns.

“I will not approve a project that doesn’t adequately address the needs of the community,” City Councilman Corey Johnson, who represents the neighborhood, said at the hearing. “There needs to be traffic congestion study before this project moves forward.”

Even those who were technically speaking in favor of the project, such as the members of the local community board (Manhattan Community Board 2) expressed concerns about the overall scale of the Terminal’s redevelopment.

“As is, the project is monolithic, forbidding, and inward facing,” Anita Brandt, the chair of the land use committee at CB2, said. She said that the developers had been very open to discussions, and were forthcoming when the community board provided feedback, but that they didn’t actually witness any of their suggestions being incorporated into the project as it was presented on Wednesday.

Paimaan Lodhi, the vice president of urban planning and data analytics at the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) however was on board with the project citing the much needed repairs to Pier 40, and the affordable housing the project would bring to the neighborhood.

Most people however were in agreement with those aspects of the project at least. They certainly wanted to preserve Pier 40 as a community resource, and were happy about the affordable housing (if not the amount and the income threshold), but they were concerned if this was the best way to go about it. Members of the GVSHP demanded that the city prevent the HRPT from transferring any more air rights if this project moved forward, and to designate the not-yet-landmarked section of the South Village to protect it from such development.

Others opposed to the project were concerned if the $100 million from the air rights transfer would actually be enough for the repair work. The president of HRPT, Madelyn Wils, has continually argued that it will, and that the offer currently before them is the best way to move forward. The meeting on Wednesday was simply a chance for people to testify. The Commission will now review these materials and then vote on the project at a public meeting later on. The City Council will then have a final say on the project before it can actually move forward.