Sweep Up Street Fairs, Please!

One good thing has come from the $4.5 billion of taxpayer money spent to construct the three stations that will comprise the Second Avenue Subway: over the near-decade of destroying small businesses and jobs, and undermining the health of residents, this project that was first (and better) developed in 1929 put an end to the Second Avenue Street Fairs.

I had made an annual ritual of slamming my windows to block carcinogens from burning meat snacks while I hoped to mute the cacophony of screaming drum-beaters who could not find a tune. However, the MTA’s claim that it will finally be opening those subway stations at 72nd, 86th and 96th Streets means that the fairs will be coming back. Hello tube socks and other merchandise that discount stores have rejected! Multiple welcomes to  vendors of rugs and schmattas who appear at every street fair one tries unsuccessfully to avoid! With you all come increased air pollution from busses and cars stalled in detours. Gone will be hours of human life lost while idling in lung-killing traffic. However, we will again finally see what our police officers look like because they will be present making overtime protecting us at these generic events.

Nonetheless, there could be reason for the audacity of hope. Writing in Politico, Laura Nahmias reports that the de Blasio administration plans to make New York City’s ubiquitous street fairs less corporate. Here is her story:

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration is proposing changes to the city’s street fairs intended to end the corporate flavor of many of the festivals, addressing a long-standing complaint from civic groups and elected officials that the fairs are a costly headache and do little to benefit the communities where they’re held.

Under proposed rules scheduled for a public hearing on October 13, at least fifty percent of vendors participating in a street fair would have to be businesses with locations inside the same community board where the event is being held. That proposal marks a major change that could remake the character of the roughly 200 street fairs the city currently allows each year.

The proposed changes, which must undergo a period of public comment before being approved and which would go into effect in 2017, were met with delight by Manhattan City Councilman Dan Garodnick, who has been pressing for reforms to the city’s street fair policies for years.

“My complaint is that they are generic and that they are too frequent with too little community benefit,” Garodnick said.

“A street fair should be a small, friendly community event, which people in the neighborhood identify with and enjoy. Many of them have just become a carbon copy of one another,” he said.

Currently, Garodnick said, the fairs “sell sausages and socks and cell phone cases and pashminas on every block and there’s not a hint of local flavor, other than perhaps the sponsoring organization which they are required to have.”

Since 2004, the city has had a moratorium on granting permits for any new street fairs, after the New York Police Department complained about the excessive burden the fairs placed on its resources. The fairs and festivals, most of which are concentrated in just three community board districts in Manhattan (in the areas around the West Village, Chinatown, Lower East Side, Greenwich Village, Midtown, Times Square, the Flatiron and parts of the Upper West Side), required officers to be diverted from their daily duties and drove up NYPD overtime costs.

New York City earned $1.6 million in vendor fees from more than 300 street fairs in 2010, but the events cost $4 million in overtime pay for the police officers staffing them, the Daily News reported that year.

Meanwhile, outer borough elected officials said their communities were left out of the capped street fair market, putting the burgeoning local businesses of the neighborhoods beyond Manhattan at a disadvantage. And last year, the de Blasio administration began eyeing the possibility of changing the regulations to enable outer boroughs to host more of these events. The administration sent surveys to local businesses and found significant interest in outer borough street fairs.

Under the proposed regulations, there would be geographic distribution of street fairs — no more than 200 street fairs could be held citywide each year, and no more than 100 of them could be located in Manhattan. Each community board would be limited to 20 street fairs annually.

The proposals are “a step in the right direction,” said Jonathan Bowles of the Center for an Urban Future, which in 2006 published a report calling for the city to “rethink” its “bland and generic” street fairs.

“One of the big problems with street fairs was that so many of the vendors weren’t even from New York City,” Bowles told POLITICO New York in an interview. “The fairs week in and week out were dominated by the same few vendors, which is one of the reasons why they were boring and generic.”

Bowles said the city ought to consider opening vendor opportunities at fairs to local and independent businesses from outside of the community boards.

“We’ve criticized street fairs in the past, but not on principle. These could be so amazing for New York City,” he said. In the ten years since the Center for an Urban Future first published its report, many new and interesting street fairs and festivals have popped up, particularly in the outer boroughs, Bowles said.

“We’ve seen, since we started writing about this issue, how New York City has benefited from all these incredible markets, like Smorgasburg, the Brooklyn Flea, the Union Square holiday market.

“New York City has so many independent and entrepreneurial businesses, but so few of them have been represented in street fairs that it’s been a missed opportunity,” he said.

But some of the city’s largest street fair operators said they plan to fight the proposed rule. Todd Berman, the head of Clearview Festival Partners, which is one of the city’s largest street fair and festival operators, applauded the idea to make street fairs more inclusive, but called the new proposed regulations “draconian.”

“It is not realistic or achievable to reach the fifty percent requirement that they’re proposing and have the ability to generate a profit off of the event,” Berman said. “This regulation of fifty percent, it’s a death sentence to street festivals,” he said.

Berman, who operates many festivals outside of Manhattan, said the 100 festival cap on all outer-borough festivals was insensitive.

“I think this mayor has run on a platform of this being one city, but the boroughs are clearly being given the short end of the stick,” he said.

Thus ends Nahmias’ story. I would like to see all fairs banished from Manhattan, or at least confined to one area way downtown, or even in midtown where those who like them can find them with confidence. Please leave a comment by clicking on the lines below.

Airing Facts about AIRBNB

If the legal owner/occupant of a residence is in residence when he/she rents out their home, I have no objection. However, if they are not present, if they permit friends, family and strangers to occupy their property, it is their neighbors (as I have learned) who will bear the brunt of visitors’ carelessness, cluelessness and just plain not knowing that every time they drop their combat boots on the bare floor, the person living downstairs will suffer. Here’s a wonderful explanation about the dangers and dishonestly of AirBNB — and why it must be closely regulated — from http://www.gothamgazette.com and the hotel industry.

Please comment below.

Bill Cunningham: Nobleman of Style

Bill Cunningham, the street photographer, cyclist, one-time milliner and incomparable New Yorker died this week at 87 and none will ever take his place. He had such a reverence for life and so keen a sense of the sacred that he was able to discern that even fashion has a soul. His best comment ever on his N.Y. Times blog went something like this: “People say that New York isn’t what it used to be. Are they crazy? (his voice rising) Have they seen the wisteria?”

Here is a selection of his many blogs, a link to the wonderful documentary about him, and photos that I had the gall to snap when I found him at work on his beloved 57th Street:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking Up With The Pope

I really thought this relationship was going to work, especially since this time I wasn’t demanding perfection. However, now it is clear to me that he isn’t the person I thought he was. More to the point, he isn’t the person I wanted him to be.

Things fell apart soon after we got close physically. Well, close physically in that a few Sundays ago I was in Vatican City where he lives rather than in New York where he does not. I have taken some time to decide whether we are truly finished and, yes, we are. He did two things that broke us up:

Papal audience

I felt we were getting closer (see him above red banner looking right at me)

First, he met with Bernie Sanders, a man who also  insulted the laywoman who was supposed to be running the conference where Sanders appeared. She had said his visit was inappropriate. Sanders came anyway and then refused her handshake after he barged in. The prolonged muddle forced me to face the fact that if the Vatican does not want a woman to run a parish church, it probably does not want a woman to run the United States of America.

My former hero said that anyone who thinks meeting Sanders was an endorsement needs a psychiatrist. Maybe Freud could tell us how a man who was in charge of the Catholic Church in troubled Argentina, and who has been a world leader for three years, could fail to understand how meanings are telegraphed to the world. Is the Catholic Church rooted in Rome or in the inscrutable Orient? Interestingly, Bernie has a pattern of being curt to powerful women, but of course he wouldn’t be finding any of those at the Vatican. See Bernie here with Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee. What if he gets to meet Angela Merkel and Christine Lagarde?

Anyway, I learned enough from my break-up with former longtime love Ralph Nader to know that I had to avoid the Socialist from Vermont. Trust me, with Ralph I felt the burn (although there was also my underage thing with JFK). But back to my more recent break-up:

The second final straw was His Holiness’ trip to Lesbos and his airlifting of three vetted Syrian Muslim families to Rome to set an example to us all. Problem for me here is that a few nights earlier, while returning from a visit to Emperor Augustus’ Altar of Peace, I turned on to the Via della Conciliazione where it meets Saint Peter’s Square. Living in New York City, I should be used to suffering humanity by now, but the street’s doorstops writhed with men, including refugees, bedding down under thin blankets, homeless and possibly hungry. I sped past them, fearful and somewhat ashamed. Perhaps His Holiness will soon walk a few hundred meters from his dwelling place to meet these men and to highlight the needy we have literally underfoot. And here’s my other nagging question – why not denounce leaders and movements that drive people from their homes rather than urge the faithful to spare despots by ameliorating crises that should be solved at their roots?

Okay, perhaps I am just a little bitter, but you know how when you look back over a failed relationship you see something that should have brought you to your senses months earlier? Something that lights up a situation like a drone strike? I should have paid more attention last October when he called “dumb” some anguished people of Chile who had strong reason to believe that the new bishop he appointed had collaborated in the sexual abuse of children.

Sometimes breaking up is ultimately not so hard to do. I am starting over. I recall the joy I had with the Dalai Lama. Sure, over the years I got used to him and took him for granted, but he never let me down. Yes, we come from different religions but he lives the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount. Of course, as stated I have been wrong before but I remember my happiness of years gone by and so I will reach out to him on Facebook. The guy I am leaving can take consolation – the Dalai Lama qualifies as a refugee!

Please share your thoughts by clicking on the headline OR on the blue (sometimes grey) bubble at the top of this post. Thanks!

Diversity Is MIA at Halftime

 

Since this year’s Oscars nominations inspired a worthwhile discussion of diversity, I’ve been waiting for the entertainment media to say more about inclusion – or the lack of same – at the Sunday Super Bowl halftime show. None of the vanilla-talking CBS announcers mentioned the appearance of The Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles. Nor did I hear those boys mention Gustavo Dudamel, the charismatic music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. If they did, it wasn’t enough, even though they fell over themselves promoting Beyoncé and Bruno Mars. (Chris Martin, not so much).

On Monday the twitterverse and post-show analysts gave Chris Martin flack for being less vivid than Beyoncé and Bruno Mars. He received scant credit for generously inviting them to join him on the show in the first place. Nor was Coldplay’s front man hailed for inviting The Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles to back him up. Perhaps he would have gotten his props if he had featured dozens of women cavorting in thongs. That worked for others.

I was in on the Dudamel-YOLA secret because I am a regular listener of the classical music station WQXR. It became my go-to background station when I realized it would keep me in my chair. Stravinsky’s rousing Firebird, unlike Katy Perry’s Firework, is impossible to sing or dance to (except for those on pointe).

WQXR hosts in the week leading up to Feb. 7 mentioned that Dudamel would be appearing with YOLA, the group of disadvantaged young musicians he founded. This led me to believe that I would see something generous as well as fun at the Super Bowl halftime. I thought the uninitiated would discover the joys of classical music. Not at all, as it turned out. However, one did see some diverse if uncredited faces behind Martin as he ran around bringing the camera to as many of them as possible. Asians! Latinos! Possibly a blonde! Parts of a few kids were glimpsed in the tight shots of Martin, Beyoncé and Mars, but mostly it was their clothing.

Those kids were happy. I’m hopping mad. So here’s my new song of choice: Coldplay’s Life in Technicolor. Since it includes singing, working hours I will go with Vitamin String Quartet’s version.

Please comment below, especially if, unlike me, you heard mention of Dudamel or YOLA. This is a blog of facts

Let There be Light Rail

Proposed Connector Route

Courtesy of Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector via New York Daily News.

Kudos to Mayor Bill de Blasio for proposing the Brooklyn Queens Connector, a light rail that will improve transportation along 16 miles of the East River waterfront. It’s a New York City-only undertaking (without the complications of state, federal or Metropolitan Transportation Authority involvement). Tax revenues from increased property values are expected to cover its $2.5 billion cost. Contrast that with the $4.5 billion, two-mile Phase 1 of the Second Avenue Subway, which will go from 96th Street to 63rd Street and Lexington Avenue. This required boring through rock, mining out tunnels and designing and building station stations with elevators and escalators. Brooklyn Queens Connector rails will be embedded in existing streets. Groundbreaking is tentatively scheduled for 2019-2020. If the Second Avenue Subway (a plan conceived in the 1920s) is extended north and south, one hopes future phases will be light rail and not the costly, wasteful, destructive construction that we have seen on the East Side for years. When the Second Avenue subway opens in December, 2016 (if it does) the public will see how little it gets for its money – two rails, not four as in the Lexington Avenue line, and new stops only at 96th, 86th and 72nd Streets – none in the 14 blocks between 86th and 72nd Streets. Certainly, there are concerns about de Blasio’s proposal and hopefully the review process will improve it further. The light rail was plan is based on a report commissioned by a group called Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector, who can serve as a model for what non-profits could achieve.

Does NYC Support Democracy?

Manhattanites who vote are still scratching their heads over this last ridiculous “election” in which six Democrats ran unopposed for six judicial positions. As a poll worker, from 6 a.m. to 9:42 p.m. on Nov. 3 I wallowed in the spectacle of seeing voters come to terms with the fact that they were participating in a sham. They had no say in whether or not nominees would take office. In effect, in full view, the fix was in. This raises the oft-asked question of whether or not we should “elect” judges. Of course we seldom know anything about them in the first place, but pity the citizen who tries to learn about a potential judge. Most did not feel the need to submit their bios to a voter guide.

Do you see a choice?

Where’s the Choice?

Tuesday, when distressed citizens asked me if they had any choice at all, I pointed out their options: 1) Vote as directed. 2. Write in their own candidates. 3. Scan the ballot without marking it.

Three of some 100 voters in my district told me to void their ballots because they saw no point to any of it. There were other reactions to the situation as well. Two sets of parents audibly exhaled and proceeded to “privacy booths” to mark their ballots with their kids. (One is led to wonder about the value of secret ballots when the only choice a voter has is whether or not to participate.) Several who identified themselves as Republicans studied the sample ballot taped to the wall, mumbled about Donald Trump, and stole out into the night. I rejoice that New Yorkers generally support the principles of the Democratic party, but I am concerned that extremists and Know Nothings are hounding moderates from the  party of Eisenhower. Couldn’t Manhattan Republicans manage to nominate even one judge?

In some parts of the city, notably Republican Staten Island where a Democrat became District Attorney, real elections did take place. Thus some of the estimated $13 million dollars the Board of Elections pays citywide to hold an election was well-spent. As for myself,  I am left with pressing questions. Why did I not think to write in Joseph F. Crater and William M. Tweed? Who are the fools – the ones who turn out to cast a ballot or the ones who stay home? Finally, what can we do now that a great big democracy serves so few? Please comment in the box below.

Summer in the City 2015

Image

It’s all over but the heat and humidity. Labor Day effectively ends summer, but memories of pleasant NYC surprises remain, such as people dressed in white gowns and tutus en route to Diner en Blanc, most lugging tables and chairs. I came upon them with a French friend who thought it was very New York until we discovered that the whole thing originated in Paris

Clearly something is going on

Clearly something is happening…

Is NYC really this clean?

Is NYC really this clean?

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Then there is St. Paul’s Chapel, a reminder of the world’s good wishes for New York and the USA after 9/11 and all the missed opportunities since..

Letters, Drawing and Paper Cranes to the People of NYC from Around the World

Letters, Drawing and Paper Cranes to the People of NYC from Around the World

…plus the amazement of finding farmers among the tourists in Rockefeller Center. The ice rink is so 20th century.

Take that, Union Square!!

Take that, Union Square!!

Chic West 29th Street with the Ace Hotel and Yaohlee’s boutique becomes the site of Friday worship when the mosque is full:

The call to prayer was heard

The call to prayer is heard

The greatness of the city is seen in simple things:Summer (2)

Most amazing of all, the vendor would not let me pay him for using his stand as a photo op!

Read This Book!!

Since the days of former president Paul LeClerc, the trustees of the New York Public Library have done everything in their robber baron powers to sell off or compromise the value of the institution as a research library open to those who would use it for serious purposes. At one point the current NYPL president Anthony Marx said that their aim was to make the institution more democratic, but unlike other high caliber research libraries, it was already a temple of democracy open to anyone from anywhere who wished to read, to research, to learn, to create. Two examples are a housewife and writer who used its collections to turn out The Feminine Mystique, and a journalist who produced The Power Broker, an exposé of development run amok. Maybe those are the kinds of users and truth-bearers the trustees decided to squash or hamper in favor of encouraging noisy tourists who disrupt those using the library’s materials.

Trustees also used the library’s finances as a rationale, but they undercut their own argument when they hatched, in off-the-record sessions, a plan to pay British starchitect Sir Norman Foster $9 million for a design scheme that would have gutted the structure of the building, including the steel stacks holding books. Sir Norman’s plan did result in its research collection being off-loaded to a storage facility in New Jersey. Fortunately that plan failed, although the off-loaded materials have yet to be returned and bare stacks abound in public rooms. It is surely not an accident that the most influential trustees of the NYPL are real estate tycoons and financiers. They drove the sale and destruction of the much-used East 50s branch, the Donnell Library, at a fire sale price of $59 million. After the branch was demolished, a penthouse in the tower being constructed on the site sold for $60 million. How clueless can these trustees really be and who are they serving?

In much-more measured prose than demonstrated in the above paragraphs, Scott Sherman uncovered this story for The Nation. His spare and elegant book Patience and Fortitude Power Real Estate and the Fight to Save A Public Library would be the rewarding experience of an evening’s reading if one could concentrate on the fact that the Foster/Central Library Plan was quashed when Mayor Bill de Blasio declined to fund it. However, the trustees involved are still active. Equally important, the book is revelatory of the capture of the boards of nearly every civic organization in the city by financial and real estate profiteers who know only cronyism and financial gain and are capable of nothing else. Happily, Sherman portrays many interesting and constructive New Yorkers in Patience and Fortitude. These labor tirelessly in the light for public good and not in closed session. One pivotal player in the defeat of the Central Library plan was a young member of the state assembly named Micah Kellner who chaired the Assembly’s library committee and was also running for New York City Council. In late June, 2013 he held an 8-hour public hearing that inspired a closer look at the plan. It galvanized and unified its opponents and led to lawsuits by distinguished scholars. A month after the hearing, Kellner’s career was effectively destroyed. The N.Y. Times reported that four years earlier a junior staff member had charged Kellner with verbal sexual harassment. Assembly Leader Sheldon Silver (his own troubles surfacing) claimed that he had only just learned of the 2009 episode and a similar alleged incident that had occurred in 2011. Kellner, who is openly bi-sexual as well as a husband and father, lost his bid for the City Council. Sexual harassment, especially if it is actually proven, is indefensible, but the timing of the career-killing charges is interesting. Power is not power unless it is exercised. But perhaps there are Higher Powers. A few weeks after the Central Library Plan was abandoned in May 2014, a section of the Rose Reading Room ceiling collapsed. Normal wear to the steel trusses that supported it was blamed. Repairs continue and the huge expanse is still shuttered. But what greater, un-doable damage might have been done if the trustees had been allowed to rip out the steel trusses altogether? How many oligarch-ready condos might have been built like the ones that are going up where the popular, democratic Donnell Library once stood? It’s too late for patience. Now urgency and fortitude are called for, along with Distrust of trustees. What do you think? Please comment in the box below.

50,000 Frenchmen (and Women) Can’t Be Wrong — Right?

Springtime in New York is particularly tinged by grace notes of Paris this year, as the N.Y. Times has pointed out. The French consulate estimates that 50,000 French citizens live in New York City. Based on the number of tourists milling about, it seems that friends and relatives are visiting most of them. When they ride our subway, do they feel more at home or less? Peruse these photos from the Paris Metro to decide.

casquette de baseball

The N.Y. Yankees have un ami in this Montmartre metro entrance

Easy listening

Easy listening

Graffiti, French style?

Graffiti, French style?

FDR, we are here

FDR, we are here

The Metro really is cleaner

It does look cleaner