NY Post Op-Ed: Get a spine, (Christine) Quinn

Christine Quinn 2009 Ribbon Cutting Ceremony WSP Phase I

An Op-Ed worth reading in today’s New York Post by Michael Goodwin on Christine Quinn, New York City Council Speaker, her run for Mayor 2013 (fingers crossed that Mike Bloomberg will be ready to vacate the office by then!), and the lack of oversight by the City Council under her watch:

The council speaker is trying desperately to be all things to all people. She believes she can become the next mayor by splitting all the babies in half.

Stop-and-frisk, wage mandates, economic development, education, union power, taxing and spending — she tries always to thread the needle between competing interests. Only on gay rights is she consistently principled, although her overreach in trying to close down the Chick-fil-A store at NYU revealed a militant streak.

As unappealing as her behavior in that incident was, her approach to other policies isn’t much better. Quinn is no Bill Clinton when it comes to triangulating. Her “third way” is mostly a ham-handed effort to simultaneously pander to opposites.

Thus, she wants the business community to believe she shares its concerns about wage and sick-leave laws, while telling the unions her heart is with them on the same issues. She collected money from both sides, and both now demand their piece of flesh.

Whatever she decides, her formula for governing is doomed to fail because there is no clear guiding principle. If she were to use that calculating, transactional approach as mayor, City Hall would resemble an auction house, with all bidders assuming they would get something for their money. Prosecutors and newspapers would have a field day.

Quinn has been able to get by up to now because she is hiding under the wings of Mayor Bloomberg. His power and money shelter her, and she has repaid him by acting more as a deputy mayor than the head of the legislative branch. He owes her for that, and for organizing the votes that allowed them both a third term.

It is worth noting that, of the big scandals involving Bloomberg’s contracts on technology and other private vendors, none was uncovered by the City Council. Agency oversight has rarely been strong in the council, but under Quinn, it is an oxymoron.

At heart, Quinn is not a reformer. She is a creature of the clubhouse and advocacy worlds, with taxpayer cash and special-interest logrolling the coins of her realm.

If you missed the recent New York Times piece on Ms. Quinn’s home life on weekends in Bradley Beach, New Jersey, it’s worth reading more for its puff piece quality than anything else. (I’ll add link in later.)

In the News…

In case you missed these, worth reading:

New York Times, Can Mom-and-Pop Shops Survive Extreme Gentrification? June 5, 2012

New York Magazine, Jon Stewart’s Take on Bloomberg’s Soda Ban June 1, 2012

Metro NY, New Yorkers Ready to Witness and Record Geese Killing May 29, 2012

New York Times, Amanda Burden Wants to Remake New York. She has 19 Months Left May 18, 2012 (Amanda Burden is Chair of the City Planning Commission. This is a bit of a puff piece but the related comments are amazing and insightful.)

New York Times Covers “Reprieve for Performers in Washington Square Park”

WSP Blog first reported the story on the City reversing course on ticketing and fining performers at Washington Square Park on May 10th; other media outlets followed suit, including the New York Times on Friday, May 18th.

From NYT, “A Reprieve for Performers in Washington Square Park” (5/18):

The show can go on in Washington Square Park.

After months in which the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation handed out summonses in the park to performers who strayed too close to monuments and benches, park officials seem to have quietly backed down in the park, a birthplace of folk music and a haven for poets, activists and buskers.

In a statement, Philip Abramson, a parks department spokesman, said that “the expressive matter rules have not changed,” referring to the regulations seeking to control commerce in busy parks. The rules prohibit the sale of art and souvenirs, and restrict the solicitation of donations, within 50 feet of a park monument or 5 feet of a bench. But, the statement said, the rules generally do “not apply to buskers and entertainers.”

Except, of course, when they do.

* WSP Blog, City Reverses Course on Performance Crackdown at Washington Square Park; No More Ticketing and Fining of “Entertainers and Buskers” May 10, 2011

Kristin Jones’ “Behold,” Slated for Arbor Day 2013, Has Eye on “Hangmen’s Elm” at Washington Square

Kristin Jones beside the "Hangmen's Elm"

Updated – This past Friday’s New York Times featured Kristin Jones’ “Behold,” “a 24 hour multimedia extravaganza” in appreciation of the city’s trees, slated for Arbor Day 2013. One tree in each borough will be designated as a point of focus.

The tree she has her eye on for Manhattan is at Washington Square – the famous “Hangman’s Elm” (there seems to be dispute over whether it was actually used for hangings) in the NorthWest corner of the park. I did not realize that tree is 330 years old! Incredible.

Jones and her partner were responsible for “Metronome” – the unique clock (or “artwork/digital timepiece, intended as a modernist meditation on the dissolution of time”) that looms above Union Square on 14th Street.

Of the “Hangmen’s Elm,” she says: “All these years this beautiful tree was right under my nose. It makes me angry that I never appreciated it until now.”

From the Times’ article:

… she whipped off her blue-rimmed glasses and, conducting the conversation with her ungloved hands, described her plans for that tree and four others in New York City: a 24-hour multimedia extravaganza of lighting, time-lapse filming, poetry and music, to be called “Behold.”

Ms. Jones wants New Yorkers not only to appreciate the ancient giants in their midst but also to pitch in and help conserve them. In that respect, “Behold” is an artistic intervention.

“Imagine how beautiful she would be all lit up,” she mused, stepping back from the English elm, one of just a few of its vintage left in the city. Ms. Jones assigned it a gender based on, well, women’s intuition. Her intended subject dwarfs her, but then, all of her artistic ambitions are supersize.

The artist suggests that the Parks Commissioner is not a fan of the idea. There’s time to change that by the “target date” of Arbor Day – April 26 – 2013. (Possibly, a New York Times article may help win his favor?)

Of the “Hangmen’s Elm,” Jones said: “This tree kind of chose me.” In addition, “she considers the trees natural wonders given short shrift by the city they nurture.”

On that, she will find many agree.

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Accompanying Photo essay.
Photo: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
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NYT To the Editor Regarding Crackdown on Performers at WSP

Letter, New York Times
Performers in the Park
Published: December 9, 2011

To the Editor:

Re “City Cracking Down on Performers in Washington Square Park” (news article, Dec. 5): I walk through Washington Square every day, and I am always delighted to see the various performing and creative artists there. The square is generally filled with tourists who have traveled from all over the country and the world to see the vibrant culture of Greenwich Village.

Why on earth would anyone issue summonses to people who so enrich the life of New York City?

GEORGE JOCHNOWITZ
New York, Dec. 5, 2011

Interview with Washington Square News

Update 11/29: It’s now on their website here!

I completed an interview with NYU’s daily newspaper, Washington Square News, which appeared last Wednesday (11/16). Their site isn’t set up to have online stories or links so it’s uploaded below.

Chelsea Now Weekly Uncovers the Real Dirt on Artificial Turf; Turf Scheduled for the Mounds at WSP in Phase III

Chelsea Now has a great story about artificial turf in this week’s issue. Washington Square Park is scheduled to get artificial turf at the base of the Mounds (now scheduled for Phase III construction), despite the fact that pretty much everyone is against it.

Excerpts from Chelsea Now article: Hot Footing It: The heat is on artificial turf August 24, 2011

As reported in the March article, Geoffrey Croft (head of the watchdog group, NYC Park Advocates) took, before noon, temperature readings at a dozen New York City parks in July 2010. Artificial turf fields measured over 170 degrees — the highest temperature recorded in his three years of monitoring. By 9:15am, the temperature had already risen to over 140 degrees. “Young children are particularly susceptible, as it can take only two seconds to burn on solid surfaces greater than 140 degrees, according to doctors,” said Croft. …

… “for ten years, the city put down this surface without doing a single test,” said Croft. Patrick Arden, in his article on the dangers of artificial turf, wrote, “Several credible studies had found the crumb rubber contains known human carcinogens and neurotoxic chemicals, as well as lead, chromium and arsenic” (City Limits magazine, “Was New York City’s Shift to Artificial Grass a 300-Million-Dollar Mistake? A Risky Play,” September 2010).

Through the Freedom of Information Act, Arden ascertained that a group of doctors at Mt. Sinai Hospital identified several “proven and potential” hazards of synthetic turf made from recycled tires: “excessive heat,” with field temperatures reaching as high as 172 degrees; MRSA, the antibiotic-resistant staph infection that can be acquired through “turf burns;” and chemical exposures.

The Astroturf-style carpet at Chelsea Park and the crumb rubber infill turf at J.J. Walker were both cited for elevated lead levels.  …

According to the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene website’s “Fact Sheet on Synthetic Turf Used in Athletic Fields and Play Areas,” the city is now using “carpet-style or alternative infill materials on all new fields, and implementing protocols to inspect, test and replace any existing synthetic turf fields that may age or deteriorate.” They are “using strict purchasing protocols to select the best synthetic turf products and requiring suppliers to provide information on chemical content, heating absorbency properties, environmental factors and health and safety issues.”

“We forced the city to stop using recycled tires,” said Croft. “City Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is chair of the Parks and Recreation Committee, introduced a few bills that really helped. It was a first step. Up to then, Adrian Benepe [the Parks Commissioner] made fun of it.” …

I am sure part of the reason is maintenance related, but to me that is not a solution,” said Viverito, “and I don’t buy it half the time.” She pointed out that in the “vast parks system” less than .03 percent goes to parks. “If it is the intent to have a park where people can hang out, when the turf can reach past 130 degrees, this is not a good idea. It is counterproductive to what a passive space is. You want to encourage people to come into the park, not turn them away.” …

Viverito declared, “We will continue to put pressure on this administration to do the right thing. It has worked sometimes. Other times they have put their heels to the ground and are resistant.

There’s much more at the article including quotes from athletes using the fields that are quite interesting!

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Previous on WSP Blog: Heard at City Council Hearings on Artificial Turf: “But Where Will the Tires go?”; Mayor Bloomberg says this is “a made-up story” February 10, 2009

In the Media

Construction to Align Fountain with Arch 2008

Just when you thought everyone in the mainstream media had forgotten about the Bloomberg Administration’s decision to align the Washington Square Fountain with Fifth Avenue and the Arch as part of its redesign plan (the fountain had stood regally in its original location for 137 YEARS), I came across this piece from writer Michael Gross at Crain’s NY Business. (This was a couple of weeks ago but still worth noting.)

New York Becoming Wisconsin:

The mayor’s domestication of Manhattan has gone far enough. It’s there in the nanny-state bans on foods, sodas and ciggies; the redesign of nasty, grotty, thrill-a-minute Times Square into a holding pen for clueless tourists; the move of the Washington Square fountain 22 feet to the east so it aligns with the arch and Fifth Avenue; even the routing of quirky neighborhood retailers and their replacement by Duane Reades, bank branches and chain stores—a perhaps unintended but definitely unpleasant side-effect of the mayor’s economic miracle. I recently called Time Warner Center the Short Hills Mall and someone said, “Don’t insult Short Hills like that.” Much as I like the visual vibrancy of the new Times Square, shut your eyes and listen to the voices around you, and you could be in Green Bay.

Enough with domestication. New Yorkers don’t want to be domesticated. We don’t want safe. We sometimes like scary. We don’t even always want clean. We’re not afraid of what’s around the corner; we rush toward it.

More at Crain’s.

For some history, see previous WSP Blog Post: Actually, Mr. Vellonakis, the Washington Square Park Fountain IS already aligned

Wall Street Journal Goes Inside the Washington Square Arch!

The Door (Easy to Miss)

Well that’s the Washington Arch to you (and me). A reporter from the Wall Street Journal gains access to inside – and top of – the Arch.

Inside the Washington Arch:

“We don’t allow people up here,” the [NYC] historic preservationist explained. “The stairway is quite dangerous and the roof is quite fragile. If we allowed the public up here, the roof would fail quite quickly.”

That’s a pity because the view from the top of the arch is unparalleled, quite literally at a crossroads of the city’s history.

Looking north, you get a clear shot all the way up Fifth Avenue. The skyscrapers of Wall Street rise to the south, the construction of the Freedom Tower proceeding apace and now clearly visible. Just below you is the park itself, brittle and beautiful in the winter morning light, and the genteel Greek Revival townhouses of Washington Square North.

Mr. Krawchuk [Parks Department] said that in 1917 a group of “Bohemians” led by the artists Marcel Duchamp and John Sloan and the poet Gertrude Drick broke into the arch and climbed to the roof. “They had a picnic and a party and drank tea late into the night,” he said, though one suspects stronger beverages might also have been involved. “Gertrude Drick read a proclamation declaring the free and independent state of Greenwich Village. Sloan did an etching of them all huddled here in the early morning hours.”

I’ve always secretly wanted to go to the top of the Arch. One Christmas Eve, a few years back, the door was left ajar and I stepped in the entryway and peeked up the stairs. I was tempted. I could almost see as much as the pictures that accompany the article show (Parks Department must have put restrictions as such). The view from the top does sound quite impressive; as for now, I can only imagine.

Photo: Daniella Zalcman

New York Times Launches “Citizen Journalism” Sites

Updated 12:06 p.m.

On Monday, the New York Times launched five test “citizen journalism” sites called “The Local” focusing on two New York City neighborhoods – Clinton Hill and Fort Greene, both in Brooklyn – and three (?) New Jersey neighborhoods – Maplewood, South Orange, and Millburn.

According to an article in Friday (2/27) Editor & Publisher, “Most of the contributions will come from local residents, with a Times staffer overseeing each site.” The E&P writer, Joe Strupp, asked Times’ editor of “digital initiatives,” Jim Schachter, about “the dangers of having inexperienced non-journalists doing reporting for the sites.” To which, Schachter replied, “I don’t think we would expect to get the exact same thing that we would get from a New York Times reporter. (WSPB Note: let’s hope not.) One of the qualities that we bring to the plan is our good judgment.

Interesting that the Times jumps on the “citizen journalism” trend (instead of, say, initiating it) — the article acknowledges it as a “growing world” — and yet disses the sites that already exist; sites which have managed to communicate, gain readers and attention, without the Times’ imprimatur.

Schachter adds: “It is a grassroots effort, to see if there is a new kind of journalism we can be part of.”

For “The Local” of Brooklyn, the Times will also use community journalism students from CUNY Grad School of Journalism.

Then there’s this: “The mission is to educate the community about how to be citizen journalists and contributors,” Schachter added. “There are ‘place’ blogs everywhere. We have to create a real quality community that figures out the answers to questions on the minds of people in each place.”

Do you think that’s really the mission?

On the Maplewood blog (which is not far from where I grew up), I read an interesting story about a wrangle between a possum and a dog (both survived). Tina Kelley who edits the NJ section is from Maplewood. Maplewood, South Orange, Millburn – all sort of similar. Whereas Andy Newman, who edits Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, lives in Park Slope which is very different from those neighborhoods. We’ll see how this one plays out.

As someone who writes a “place blog” (albeit very specific and not about a neighborhood per se), I think they should figure out a new way to do it. Not jump on what community and neighborhood bloggers figured out for themselves. A. long. time. ago. Of course, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the Times writing about neighborhoods. That’s a good thing. If you look at the sites; however, it just doesn’t seem different from what other bloggers are already out there doing.

What do you think?