The Alleged “Cure” Is Worse Than The Disease: Why NYC Ought to Stop Spraying Toxic Pesticides — Central Park/Upper West Side to Be Sprayed Early Friday Morning

Updated

Should we be killing lady bugs?

My first foray into grassroots activism in New York City was in year 2000 when I first became aware of the mass pesticide spraying being conducted to allegedly stop the spread of West Nile virus. I read an article in the New York Times about the effects this spraying would have on the ecosystem, down to the smallest insects. I later learned about the problems the pesticide had on human health but honestly it was the wildlife and the insects that first got my attention and my concern. I went to a meeting and immediately became involved in the No Spray Coalition and, for the last 12 years I have been involved, through our lawsuit against the City of New York, media work, organizing, and on-the-ground activism.

Year 2000: Pesticide spraying of pregnant women and kids on streets of Harlem – video shown in federal court and all news channels

Via the No Spray Coalition’s attempt to get a TRO (temporary restraining order) to STOP the spraying in 2000, that year in federal court, our lawyers showed footage (shot by two volunteers who followed the trucks) of one of the spray trucks careening through Harlem with its toxic brew covering kids, a pregnant woman, people walking out on the street with no warning. That evening, this footage and news of the law suit was shown on every New York City news channel.

The spraying has gone on year after year since then, it gets less attention each year, and less media coverage – that does not mean that it is less problematic. Members of the No Spray Coalition, including myself, met with the City’s Department of Health in January of this year, the final one of two meetings that they agreed to, mandated by the court. This was a result of the settlement of our lawsuit in which the City made some concessions to the health effects of pesticides. You’d never know it from the way the spray program is continuing this summer.

Manhattan has not been sprayed in years; in recent years, the Bronx, Staten Island and Queens get the brunt of it.

In the wee hours of the morning, Friday, August 31st, trucks will be blanketing the Upper West Side of Manhattan from 58th Street to 97th Street, West End Avenue to West Drive – including parts of Central Park – from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m.

The pesticide the city is using Anvil 10+10 is comprised of sumithrin and piperonyl butoxide, the former is a suspected neurotoxicant and hormone disrupter; the latter a suspected carcinogen.

Local Law 37 passed by the City Council in 2005 – advocating the city’s use of IPM (Integrated Pest Management) first – Is this how it was supposed to be implemented?

In 2005, the City Council passed Local Law 37 which was supposed to incorporate IPM (Integrated Pest Management) into the city system. With the West Nile Virus spraying, the Department of Health grants itself an “emergency” exemption every year for every occurrence and the person who grants the exemption to the Vector Control office of the Department of Health is the Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Health. So there’s basically no real oversight of how this is handled.

I’ve been told the The Department of Health cut their budget for larvaciding this year – larvaciding is a preventative measure and the CDC says the most effective one.

I called the Department of Health press office and asked some questions that went beyond the information that was in the press release:  FOUR mosquito pools had “infected” (West Nile virus) mosquitoes in Manhattan? Where were those pools? Is a mosquito pool the same as a trap? What is the criteria for spraying? — It was fairly clear that no one from the press is asking these detailed questions because the answers to those questions were not quite so rehearsed as the others, if they were answered at all.

You have a greater chance of getting hit by lightning than getting West Nile Virus

2600 people die each year in New York City from the flu – the question of whether West Nile Virus is a credible “health threat” looms large. Most who get it won’t even know they have it. Yes, for some people, they may have more severe symptoms but that is not a reason to be exposing EVERY PERSON across countless blocks to these toxic pesticides which weaken our immune systems and make someone who might be susceptible to West Nile virus more so.

Anvil 10 + 10 – Pyrethroid Pesticide

The pesticide the City is spraying — “Anvil 10 + 10″ — belongs to a class of adulticides known as pyrethroids, which are endocrine disruptors. They mimic hormones such as estrogen, and may cause breast cancer in women and drastically lower sperm counts in men. Pyrethroids have also been associated with prostate cancer, miscarriages and preterm delivery, asthma, toxicity to many vital organs including the nervous system, liver, kidneys and the gastro-intestinal tract, skin rashes, itching and blisters, and nausea and vomiting.

Anvil contains the cancer-causing chemical piperonyl butoxide, which the Environmental Protection Agency lists as a suspected carcinogen. It also contains Sumithrin — a synthetic toxin, made in the laboratory — as well as benzene-related chemicals (which the label calls “inert ingredients.”)

Spraying in Parks = Bad Idea (Again, Should We be Killing Lady Bugs?)

Spraying increases the mosquito population and kills the mosquitoes’ natural predators including dragonflies, bats, frogs and birds.

Spraying parks is particularly horrifying because there is a natural balance there and it harms many of the living beings that inhabit the park, as well as, again, the mosquito natural predators. Some years ago, when I was handing out flyers at Prospect Park before another round of pesticide spraying, a woman told me she walked through the park the morning after it had been sprayed and encountered endless numbers of ladybugs on the ground dying. Should we be killing ladybugs? I don’t think so.

Another resource on the pesticide being used.

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** When I first read the Department of Health press release I thought this round of pesticide spraying was taking place TOMORROW morning not later tonight (Thursday) into Friday morning 8/31. A small clarification, instead of writing “Friday morning August 31 between the hours of 1 a.m. and 6 a.m.,” stating “EARLY Friday morning” would have made a world of difference. I am sure there are people who made the same assumption and do not realize their Upper West Side neighborhood will be pesticide sprayed imminently. **

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Late Summer 2012: After More Than a Year, The Washington Square Fountain’s (Side) Plumes are Back On!

Plumes On!

After more than a year not functioning, the Washington Square Fountain Plumes are Back!

The new fountain debuted, with side plumes, in May of 2009. At some point in June of last year, the side plumes (or jets) stopped working and remained that way. I wrote about it in August (“It’s the Prime of Summer 2011: Is Something (New) Wrong with the Washington Square Fountain?”) and have wondered about it since. So imagine my surprise as I sat by the fountain yesterday and it slowly dawned on me that something was different.

No Plumes Summer 2011

2012: What a difference a plume makes!

No idea what caused the push to repair whatever the problem was but … yay! (I reached out to the Parks Department to find out some more information. We’ll see if there is a response.) It truly makes a difference. Scott who took these shots – thank you! – decided to sit down by the Fountain when he realized the plumes were on; he noted, “There’s less room to sit” but was in agreement it was nice having them on. Repaired just as the summer is coming to a close, the side plumes make the Fountain experience fuller somehow.

Top and Bottom Photos: Scott Steinbaugh
Middle Photo: Cathryn

Have a Problem and Need Someone to Talk To? Free Advice Girl Arrives at Washington Square Park

At Washington Square Park, you never know what you’ll encounter – whether it’s hula hooping, opera, tarot readings, bagpipes, Red-tailed hawks, and more — now, there’s something new to add to the list, of particular value when you’re grappling with how to pay the rent, the guy or gal who just doesn’t call, the boss who is giving you grief …

For the last two months, Lisa Podell, aka Free Advice Girl, has plunked herself and her sign down at varying locations throughout the park offering just that – free advice. What originally began as a “one day thing”  – she wondered if anyone would sit down – has now turned into a regular occurrence; she has fans, is never lacking for people to talk to, and a Facebook page.

I spoke to her recently about some of the people she’s encountered, why she chose Washington Square Park, ways the idea could expand into other NYC public spaces, and more.

How did the idea come about?

I’ve grown up at this park. I’ve always had this [idea] in the back of my mind but I was scared I’d be judged and thought no one would talk to me. I’m a mentor and work with students and adults with behavioral issues. I wanted to do something with my free time that could help people. I originally was going to do it for one day to show myself I could do it. As soon as I put up the sign, two or three people were there ready to talk.

What do you give advice about?

It’s a diverse community — there’s homeless, college students, tourists, people who work around there… I’m having substantial, challenging, thought-provoking conversations with strangers. I’ve talked to a father whose daughter won’t talk to him and suggested some strategies how to get back in her life. Sometimes someone is looking for good place to eat. People sometimes come up to me with substantial issues that I’m not qualified to address so I started keeping a list of resources – shelters, food kitchens. There are young people who stop by who just moved here [to NYC] with no money, no place to live. I suggest places to look for jobs, apply for scholarships.

What has the experience been like?

I’m not telling [the person] what to do. What I do really well is I listen, ask questions… break you out of your point of view, see what you’re dealing with with new eyes. They’re [the people who sit down] choosing to come to me and they’re ready and open to whatever the discussion becomes. It becomes a powerful experience with a playful element to it.

I was speaking to a man who is a musician who performs in subways and parks and he told me “You need to know more about opportunities for people who are struggling, not the shelters but places like the Bowery Mission. You don’t know what to tell them because you don’t live on the streets.” I respect what everyone brings to me. It teaches me how to respond to different people.

Do you move around in the park?

Yes. The new benches get really hot in the sun, and, fortunately for me, they’re empty so I put a blanket down and usually switch to different benches. Ownership still happens in the park… there’s a culture in the park.

What is your background?

I went to college and graduate school at NYU. I studied drama at Tisch. I didn’t want to be an actor so I went back to (graduate) school for education studying educational theater which finds ways to integrate theater into education. I received a dual masters in educational theater, grades K-12 and English education, grades 7-12. [Now,] I teach in public and private schools and work for small businesses. I do adolescent mentoring where I travel to students’ homes. [The issue is] usually not an inability to learn the content but [schools] don’t teach how to study for a test, teach them how to manage their time, and manage procrastination.

I really love one-on-one [interactions]. I’ve always wanted to be a therapist; it’s a role I’ve played in my life.

How often do you set up Free Advice Girl at the park?

I wake up every morning excited to go to the park. I typically go every other day for 2-3 hours.

Did this meet or exceed your expectation?

It completely exceeded my expectations. I’ve always been very shy; I’d rather not be noticed. And I took a big risk. The most effective conversations take 10 minutes. It’s amazing saying stuff out loud… I’m here for whatever experience happens. It pulls people out of their every day. For people walking by, it’s something they don’t see. They stop and smile, take a picture. The ability to create that in people’s every day makes me feel alive.

There’s a wealth of information and interactions and weird stories. Doing this brought up the question – what if there was an opportunity to talk to someone in public spaces in New York? At Port Authority? [As a resource] for homeless people, rich people to go to… The more I do it, hopefully the more opportunities there will be to keep creating and keep growing whatever this is.

Why did you choose Washington Square Park?

I chose the park because I thought people would be receptive to it. Something about Union Square Park doesn’t feel as friendly or open. The park has always been a creative source for me.

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You can write to Lisa or find out when she’ll be at the park via the Free Advice Girl Facebook Page.

NYC Parks Department Not Complying with 2008 Law to Monitor Disparities and Track Private Money Amidst City’s Public Parks

The New York Times reports today that the city’s Parks Department has not been complying with a 2008 law passed by the New York City Council to  “shed light on how much money was flowing into different parks across the city.” Disparities between parks across the five boroughs have been a concern, with private money allocated to specific parks, primarily located in Manhattan, not revealed and properly documented.

The legislation “required the Department of Parks and Recreation of New York City to prepare an annual report that would detail, park by park, the contributions of nonprofits and other private donors.”

At the time the law was passed, the Parks Department went on record as agreeing that it was a good idea and even suggested that it played into the Bloomberg Administration push for “transparency” (the pretense of which many of us would question).

However, surprise! The documentation from 2010 was never listed on the city’s web site and, even if it had been, it is sorely lacking in its compliance, missing data that would properly shed light on the true state of affairs in our city’s parks, the intent of the legislation. In addition, the 2011 report is seven months overdue.

From the Times:

It [the 2010 report] fails to list the city’s largest parks nonprofit, the Central Park Conservancy, which spent $28 million during that period. Other major parks groups, including the Union Square Partnership, the Madison Square Park Conservancy and the Friends of Washington Square Park, are also missing.

Stopping there for a moment. These other “major parks groups” — Union Square Partnership, Madison Square Park Conservancy, one is a BID (Business Improvement District), the other is obviously a Conservancy –are really well known. Friends of Washington Square Park? I’m not even familiar with that. (I’ll come back to that later.)

Nonetheless, Alan Gerson reappears. The former City Council Member, who previously represented the district which encompasses Washington Square and is now under Margaret Chin’s purview, so to speak, was a member of the Parks Committee, and is quoted in the story. (I wonder if Gerson will run again against Margaret Chin – who has been so disappointing – next election; that would be interesting.)

“It doesn’t reflect a real effort to comply with the law,” Alan J. Gerson, a former councilman who sat on the parks committee in 2008, said.

“Whether it’s for schools, or parks or any public place, the public should know where the private money is coming from and what it’s buying. It’s basic good government,” Mr. Gerson, a Manhattan Democrat, said.

“That’s what we wanted to establish,” he said.

The city’s Independent Budget Office concurs with the problems. Doug Turetsky, its chief of staff, states, “It’s clearly not the most illuminating. You’d want to see more detail in terms of specific amounts.”

Some things are peculiar in the article — the current Parks Committee Chair, Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, who has been somewhat of a champion of changes in the Parks Department’s structure, declined to comment. A spokesperson for Council Member Helen Foster who represents the Bronx and was the previous Parks Committee Chair said  that Ms. Foster “did not feel she remembered the legislation.”

The Parks Department declined a request by the Times for an interview with a Parks Department “official” and offered no rationale for the incomplete data. My guess is that this data would not reflect favorably and that’s exactly what the City Council was pushing for – to see what – and how – resources are allocated to, say, Central Park vs. Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx.

As for the “major parks group,” Friends of Washington Square Park (an organization, as I mentioned, with which I’m not even familiar), via a Google search, I see that it is now listed on the Washington Square Association’s web site (and given pretty much equal ‘billing,’ so to speak, listed on a line with the organization’s name). That seems a bit, uh, dubious. However, such is the world of the city’s parks under the Bloomberg Administration.

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Previously at WSP Blog:

Privatization, Concessions and New York City Parks October 8, 2010

Bagpipes at the Park


On Saturday, I was sitting near the Arch and I heard bag pipes emanating from somewhere in the park. They stopped and so I basically forgot about them; my attention diverted elsewhere. As I was leaving, they started up again and I snapped this pic of a young woman playing near the LaGuardia Place entrance on the southern end of the park! They were really nice to hear. It’s a distinct sound … it feels regimented and yet celebratory and meditative all at the same time.

New Posts Coming …

Sorry for the limited posting this week. Got thrown off course by some computer troubles (and a new project). To be resolved shortly.

Always things to report… Thanks for stopping by. More to come … soon!

Cathryn.

The Washington Square Arch — Is it Leaking (Water)?


I write this partly in jest but there was some kind of water issue happening by the door to the Arch on Monday. My delay in posting this is due partly to computer issues (fun!). Above is a photo of the magnificent Arch taken from Fifth Avenue Monday. The photos BELOW show the door to the Arch (the door is on its western side — if you’ve never noticed the door, it is to the right when you are at the front of the structure) leaking water or pooling water. What’s even more unusual is that the last rain was on Saturday, a decent amount, and these photos are from Monday.

It’s always fun to write about the Arch but this is, um, a bit curious. You’ll also notice this major lock that is on the Arch door which appeared in the last year. (I’ve noted it before ..)

Majorly locked Arch door (water at bottom)

Curious…

I wonder if any of this is in relation to that strange structure (in retrospect maybe that was the opening to access the top) that was popping up from the top of the Arch a few weeks back. I questioned the Parks Department about it – even sent them a photo – with no response. I have another thought on that (to be continued…).

New York Fringe Festival Takes Over 1 E. 8th Street (at Fifth Ave.) for One Month as “FringeCentral” HQ

“FringeCentral” – 8th Street & 5th Avenue

1 East 8th Street, just off Fifth Avenue, is now “Fringe Central,” home to Fringe NYC (officially the New York International Fringe Festival), now in its 16th year, with events running through August 26th.

The festival set up at the 8th Street location — previously home to …  a Duane Reade? a CVS? (I can’t recall … either that or a bank?!) — in late July. It’s just being used temporarily. It looks sparse – but festive! – and pretty much as it did when I’d peek in before with its “For Lease” sign adorning the window — with a few chairs, colorful signs and people added to the mix. It has a warehouse feel and seems to work for this purpose; the location had been sitting vacant for awhile. A nice change of pace for sure!

FringeNYC began August 10th and is “the largest multi-arts festival in North America, with more than 200 companies from all over the world performing for 16 days in more than 20 venues.” There will be 1200 performances in all.

Heading from the Park, you can pick up a program, tickets and encounter other events at the site. Hours are 12 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Find the schedule here.

New “Mounds” at Washington Square Park Taking Shape – but in what form?


The somewhat controversial “Mounds” at Washington Square Park are starting to take some shape in the Southwestern mid-section of the park. Originally part of Phase II of the park’s redesign, they were moved into Phase III construction, going on now. I’ve always been a little confused by the Mounds — as I indicated in this post from 2008 — but I also respected the passionate ‘fight’ for them, what they offered and perhaps also represented to people with a longer history at the park.

I suspect, however, that they are becoming “cable-net play” structures and less “the Mounds” (which were also referred to as “the three hills”). There’s not really anyone overseeing what’s going on; the people who had been fighting for them with former Council Member Alan Gerson have long been silent.

What will be the end result be? It will be interesting to see. It would be great if Community Board 2 stepped in and asked for an update now that there is a new Parks Committee chair! (At last! Rich Caccappolo, who I do not know, has replaced Tobi Bergman, who had been Parks Committee chair for way too long.)

The Mounds are supposed to remain six feet high. This photo represents a ‘first look’ but doesn’t really look like they are going in that direction. Also, unfortunately, despite protest, they will be covered in artificial turf.

In the video that’s linked to below, one Mounds’ advocate states, “They are places of spontaneous play which is different from play equipment which sort of mandates play. The Mounds allow spontaneous play, discovery, risk taking, all the things that are part of growing up.”

It seems to me they are being turned into the opposite of this and will be “play equipment.” It would be good if there was some actual tracking of what the final result will be (before it is too late).

Go here to read this refresher on the Mounds; originally published December 16, 2008: What’s Up with the Mounds? Why People Like Them.
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Also, this links to another video of the Mounds being used for sleigh riding a few years back and is very sweet.

Washington Square Park Administrator Departs; Search on for New WSP and Union Square Park Administrator

Updated — Scoopy’s Notebook in The Villager first reported on Thursday that Rebecca Ferguson, park administrator for Washington Square Park, has left the building, so to speak. Ms. Ferguson arrived about the time this blog began, sometime in early 2008 as Phase I of the park’s redesign first got underway. I’m sure it was not always an easy job maneuvering between the city’s Parks Department’s ‘wishes’ and the community’s. As time went on, she seemed a little less congenial but mostly cordial and efficient. It was clear she had a mixed response to this blog. The Villager says she’s gone off to a “plum job with the National Parks Service” (I have to wonder who the source was – “plum job?”). Ms. Ferguson began with just Washington Square under her purview. At some point in the last few years, she was also given oversight as administrator over Union Square Park.

The Village Voice is wondering who will replace Ms. Ferguson and therefore oversee Union Square and Washington Square. However, I’d say the Voice is stretching a bit in saying that Ferguson was somehow behind or at all instrumental in the “crackdowns” at Union Square (for artists) and Washington Square (for musicians). That was clearly coming from up ‘above’ in the ranks at the Parks Department. I do agree that it’s worth paying ‘attention’ to who is chosen as her replacement.

Victoria Bekiempis at The Voice writes:

However, there’s good reason to pay attention to this kind of development (as boringly administrative and bureaucratic as might seem) , even though it’s still unconfirmed.

As we have been reporting, Parks and Rec recently has seen its fair share of scandal and shakeups.

Aside from three lawsuits on the issue of artist vendors, longtime Commish Adrian Benepe quit in June, and will be replaced by Veronica M. White.

Because she has no related experience whatsoever, White has been billed as the “Cathie Black” of parks.

In addition to heat faced by these top honchos, it’s important to point out that Ferguson has also gotten flak.

Not only are Washington and Union Square Parks largely the epicenter of the artist-vendor controversy — some have criticized Ferguson’s management for failing to protect parkgoers’ safety.

This last bit was in relation to Union Square and some problems the park was experiencing although I’d never seen her name linked to that. With the presence of the Union Square Partnership, the BID “overseeing” the park, I’m not sure how the responsibilities were shared, what was brought to the attention of her bosses at the Parks Department, how they responded, etc., so I would be hesitant to criticize for that.

At the end of the day, it will be interesting to see how long it takes to find a replacement, will that person handle both parks at the onset, and who will it be. It is an important job and helps Washington Square Park run smoothly — that person oversees pretty much everything that goes on (whether on site or not), schedules events, handles maintenance and care of the park, etc. — and it’s often, it seems, done on close to a shoe string budget. (Note: I don’t really know this for sure but issues of maintenance have been mentioned before.)

The Parks Department’s budget has been cut by the Mayor(s) and the City Council by about 2/3rds over the last 20 years and needs to be increased so they are not endlessly privatizing our parks. If money was spent on maintenance and upkeep the way it has been, during Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure, on splashy redesigns and other schemes, our parks would be in much better shape overall.

That being said, I wish Rebecca Ferguson well and we’ll see what happens next!

(Links to be added.)