Fill Out Census Forms! Needs You

     Does no one care about the future? How will your descendants track you down if you are not enumerated in the 2020 census?
    To those who refuse to fill out their forms on-line, on paper, or on the phone, thus forcing a hapless census worker to come to your door where you drive them off, I say: Don’t you care about your family tree?
     Imagine the year 2120 and your great-grandchild, now a wizened elder, is searching census records for its ancestor (which by now is the preferred personal pronoun for people of all genders) who experienced the five year Covid-19 lockdown. It finds….a blank. That person was a zero. That is because people, apparently rich ones in particular, refused to participate.
    Yes, this year President Donald Trump has thrown as many obstacles as possible into this effort, legal and otherwise. He will end the count on September 30, a month earlier than in previous census years. Although there will be no citizenship question as he wished, he has managed to scare off many legal immigrants. Nonetheless, on the Upper East Side of New York, the rate is as low as 48 percent. Many of these residents fled the city, often to their second homes, but surely they have computers that would allow them to respond on line. What is wrong with these people? In Washington Heights, with a high Latinx population, the rate is 65 percent.
     In 2010, only 75 percent of U.S. households mailed in their census information.
This year 80 percent of households could take it online. The rest are contacted by mail or on the phone. Currently census workers are going to households that did not respond. So far only about 63 percent of U.S. households have completed their brief questionnaires although results determine how many representatives they send to Congress and whether their communities receive a proper share of $675 billion in federal aid from 132 government programs including Head Start, school lunch programs, and Pell Grants for college.
     New York is one of eight states on the brink of losing social services and at least one congressional seat because of population loss. Others include Alabama, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and West Virginia. In addition, California and Minnesota are considered to be borderline cases. The census also impacts economic well-being because corporations use the data to make strategic business decisions, including hiring, based on census data.
    Whatever happens, in 2020 more than ever, we will have to live with the results that the census shirkers inflict on the rest of us. It is not looking good.
    What do you think? Please comment in the box below.

Doctors Muzzled – – And Not by N95 Masks

A few days ago, in the midst of a lockdown because of the coronavirus Corvid-19 epidemic, a devastating tornado struck my hometown of Jonesboro, Arkansas. In part because everyone had been forced to stay home, no lives were lost although The Mall at Turtle Creek, the virtual town center if you don’t count Walmart’s, was pretty much flattened, cars were crumpled, and a passing freight train was turned into shards.

But there were two other reasons no lives were lost. First, residents took all the precautions they could because they believed the local news media, which warned in advance of the coming tornado. I was prepared hours before in the relative safety of locked-down Manhattan because a friend of mine posted photos on Facebook of her beautiful spring flowers because she realized they would drown in the coming rain.

Secondly, people knew what protections to take. Porsha McCoy and four others, for example, huddled together in a bathroom. “We just protected each other, we didn’t have anything to cover ourselves, but each other,” she said. “We could feel things, like we was going to get blown away. By the time we opened our eyes all we could see is the sky.”
Killer storms are as well accepted as summer heat in Jonesboro. In 1968, a tornado killed 34 people and injured 300. Five years later, in 1973, another one smashed through a commercial district, destroyed five schools, injured 200, and mercifully killed only five people. 

After the tornado hit March 28, my relatives in Little Rock texted a video of the twister swirling through Jonesboro’s outskirts and setting off a fiery blast. This burst sent me to the Internet where I found a Jonesboro story from days before that made me teary. A local commercial landlord, Clay Young, told his tenants not to pay their April rent so they could pay their employees instead. Surely there were other such kindnesses in the U.S. last month, although I haven’t read or heard of them in the news. The inspiring stories that have overshadowed everything else concern the valor of nurses and doctors risking their own lives to serve those racked with the contagion in our ill-equipped, poorly prepared hospitals.  

 That is what makes a report from Bloomberg news that hospitals are threatening and firing doctors and nurses who tell the press about their working conditions and the state of patient care during the coronavirus pandemic. Equally alarming is a revelation from ProPublica that many staffing companies are cutting the pay and other compensation of emergency room doctors and nurses, despite the relief these businesses will receive from last week’s $2 trillion stimulus package that includes deferring payroll taxes, suspending reimbursement cuts, and receiving advance Medicare payments.

How have our hospitals sunk so low when they are led by top administrators so capable that in the New York metropolitan region their annual salaries each top $1 million, based on a 2016 survey? When this pandemic ends, we have to face how careless our nation has become, which includes the cost-saving short-sightedness of the hospital industry. Without public pressure, there will not be the needed storm of reform. Devastation, as the people of Jonesboro know, always comes again.

Please leave your thoughts in the box below.

East Harlem Revives the Spirit

The magical “What You See Here Is Open” at Hunter East Harlem Gallery was delight enough to remove the taint of national news from my consciousness for a half hour. It is an exhibition of objects collected by a retired sanitation worker for three decades and pulses with history, life, and loss. Turns out one woman discovered a portrait of her mother among the treasures. Another visitor swears he found a photo of his dentist and her mother hanging on the wall.

That show and the streets reminded me that East Harlem throbs with the life and  heart that are draining from the rest of Manhattan.  Then on East 119thStreet another sign of grace appeared – La Casita Community Garden, funded by the trust of the late Geraldine Stutz, who was the fashion genius behind Henri Bendel in its heyday when it itself was a gallery of the art of fashion. Please add your comments to the box below.

Here’s what is to be seen in this near-secret garden:

A installation of objects by local artist Dominique Duroseau



La Casita Community Garden Gate

Sign above a Second Avenue store front

Q is for Questionable offers a telling post on what has seemed to be an inexplicable lack of arrival clocks on the Q line  but that is getting sorted. In the last week, Q trains have skipped the 72nd Street station; one train was stuck at 72nd Street on Sunday morning, effectively shutting down service until the MTA somehow got it moving; and erratic morning rush hour service caused such delays that the over-crowded platform became a safety hazard. The booth clerk announced she was dispensing vouchers so people could find other routes because the platform had to be cleared. (So don’t blame the trains, blame the platforms).

Two years in, the new two-mile, $4.45 billion Q is now fully integrated with the rest of the incompetence-plagued network. Like the rest of the system, it is great when it works.The next phase of the Second Avenue Subway is projected to cost $6 billion.

But let’s end on a high note – the 72nd Street Q station actually has a booth clerk. Did someone anticipate that there would be trouble?

Please post your thoughts in the comments box.

Must-reading on NYC’s subways…

Kudos to the N.Y. Times for its investigation into how the city’s subway system became the dangerous disaster it is today. With so many examples to choose from, the reporters omitted my favorite horrific Metropolitan Transit Authority blunder – the $530 million “renovation” of the South Ferry station that opened in 2009 and was knocked out of service  by Hurricane Sandy three years later as a storm surge poured through its entrances and crippled the entire system. It turns out that those who designed and approved the upgrade early in the 21st century forgot that the South Ferry station was next to New York Harbor. The MTA team neglected to engineer safeguards against rising sea levels and inevitable storm surges.

Not to worry about missing that one — read about how Governor Andrew Cuomo forced the MTA to used $5 million of its budget to prop up three upstate state-run ski resorts that were adversely impacted by a warm winter.

Readers can pick their own favorite blunders from the newspaper’s fine reporting here.

Please comment in the box below.


Williamsburg Tickets Cyclists!

More cyclists than commercial truck drivers in North Brooklyn are receiving tickets, according to NYPD data. As Gwynn Hogan reports in DNA Info,  between January and the end of September, cyclists in Williamsburg were ticketed 1,160 times for violations like running red lights and riding the wrong way on a one-way street. This is compared to 463 tickets written to commercial trucks for violations like texting while driving or not wearing seatbelt. I think we are supposed to be appalled that law enforcement is harder on cyclists than commercial truck drivers, but I am glad that bikes are getting some attention. If cyclists want to break laws with impunity, they should pedal over to Manhattan. It seems to me that their luck is better there.

Please comment in the space below.

The Cycling Wheels of Justice

Three years ago, on September 21, 2014 Jill Tarlov died of injuries she sustained when Jason W. Marshall cycled into her in Central Park on West Drive and 63rd Street. Since unlike most cyclists who hit pedestrians, he remained at the scene, we know Marshall’s name and that on the Strava website for athletes he had frequently boasted of breaking speed limits.

A police spokeswoman says that charges were never filed in the case. I must accept that means that Marshall acted in a totally lawful manner. Nonetheless, as a New Yorker who has been hit by one bike rider and grazed by a few others, I was dumbstruck when I read that an irresponsible cyclist in England who killed a mother of two has been sentenced to eighteen months in jail.  When has that ever happened here?

At the time, it seemed that the Tarlov tragedy would finally highlight the issue of pedestrian safety in a city where daily cycling grew 350 % between 1990 and 2015, before Citi Bike began a major expansion.

The public discussion never happened, although average New Yorkers grumble about it all the time. What do you think? Please click the reply box below.

N.Y.Times to New York: Drop Dead!

Amazon plans to build a second headquarters for itself that will house 50,000 employees. New York City wants it and will make a bid. Don’t count on the N.Y. Times to be of help. “Stay away from her, Amazon!” says the paper. Its Upshot column (which served the nation so well during the 2016 presidential campaign) decided to do free consulting for the retail behemoth, ran some numbers, and insists that the complex should go to Denver. Upshot put the calabash on New York City because of its high housing costs and the balance between those and amenities, like “cultural edginess.” Separately, Times columnist David Leonhardt quickly urged Amazon to stay away from the country’s coasts, which would also mean New York City.

Thank you, N.Y Times. Isn’t is all such fun to theorize? Thank you for helping the people of our five boroughs and greater area. I guess we could say the paper can’t be bought, although it could show Amazon something about getting financial incentives from struggling cities. It received $79 million and more in tax breaks  from Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg after it threatened to move jobs and facilities out of the city.
The Altoona Times? Maybe if it had moved to one of those places it prefers it would have done a more balanced and accurate job of covering Trump v. Clinton and it readers would have experienced less disinformation in 2016. But I am sure Amazon can trust it on Denver. Please comment in the box below.

Library Rose Room Reopens to All!

Given that the third floor of The Stephen A. Schwartzman Building on Fifth Avenue, formerly known as the main branch of The New York Public Library, is now as densely packed with visitors as Times Square or the #6 subway line, I think it is time that the NYPL board and administrators, who encourage this crowding, hire a grad student to dress up as a topless Jane Austen. She could pass her drawstring bag around for funds. Maybe they could add a Bob Dylan. Literature has super heroes too.
Even if the likes of students, scholars, researchers and writers are no longer enough to justify fund-raising among the 1 percent, the larger issue is that yet another bastion of excellence is destroying itself. Let’s all go visit a fire station to make those cost-effective too. Currently, the only people allowed to enjoy these publicly-owned properties are those who need to be there. Let people in so they can slide down the poles!
Of course the magnificent Fifth Avenue library building should be appreciated by as many as possible, but the hordes now overwhelming the guards and librarians need to be actively policed. This month’s NYPL press release says of the Rose Reading Room: “The entire Room is designated for research and quiet study and there is a small viewing area where visitors can admire and take non-flash photography of the room and ceiling.” That is not the situation unfolding. (text continues below the photos)

NYPL patrons as zoo animals

If you can’t get to the zoo, photograph in the Rose Room

Scholars use the Rose Room

Patrons fill the North Rose Reading Room awaiting close-ups to be taken by visitors coming in from the rain

Visiting teens like to stand on this balustrade.

Liability issues ahead, NYPL!

So, here are some suggestions on how to re-civilize the former main branch of The New York Public Library:

  1. Inform all library guards about the rules of behavior for those wandering and photographing the reading and research rooms and its true patrons. Have them enforce the rules, which they are trying to do now with only moderate success.
  2. Designate guards to take the place of those going on their well-deserved breaks since rubberneckers swarm in taking photos and dragging children unless a guard is standing in the door of the north reading room (which is nearly identical to the south room and is supposedly off-limits to those not using NYPL materials).
  3. Ban strollers and children under the age of 12 from both reading rooms or, better, yet from the entire third floor.
  4. Rope off more lane lines so those attempting to request books can get through the clot of rubberneckers standing in doorways.
  5. Increase your toilet paper budget and improve plumbing because the bathrooms are overwhelmed, as are cleaning people.

  6. Increase your liability insurance because someone is going to get hurt. Before the Rose Room closed, I panicked when I saw a teenager standing on the balustrade on the third floor north side stairwell to impress his terrified buddy. Had the daredevil fallen three stories down to the hard marble floor his grieving parents would have had quite a payday. The building might have had to be sold and turned into condos to pay the legal judgement. Could that be idea? That Wells Fargo guy could buy an apartment in the Rose Room. Please comment in the reply box below.

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.