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Monday, September 26, 2016

Chronicles of Stolen Space - New York Police Department

This is the first in a series of posts about the failures of city agencies to protect New York City's public spaces, using the example of the Millennium Hilton. This post examines the role of the New York Police Department (NYPD).

The NYPD was ok with the parking garage taking over a busy sidewalk

In New York City, as in any other civilized city, it is illegal to drive or park on a sidewalk. It is the responsibility of the NYPD to enforce these laws, which were enacted by our elected representatives to protect the safety and convenience of pedestrians. Title 34, Chapter 4, Rules of the City of New York is quite clear:

Friday, September 23, 2016

Into the Dead End

There is a path to nowhere along the Bronx River. It is a place I investigate from time to time, keenly aware that I tread there only due to my male privilege.

A wide, well constructed walkway passes under an arch of the Gun Hill Road bridge. After passing through the arch, it becomes narrower. It is somewhat overgrown, but well worn. It runs along the base of the retaining wall supporting the street above, which follows the bend in the river. When it reaches Bronx Boulevard, the retaining wall for the street above creates a dead end. I have never understood the purpose of this engineered walkway.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Little Houses on Charlotte Street

Charlotte Street in The Bronx has a mythic place in the history of The Bronx, and it continues to grow as the borough recovers from its period of neglect and abandonment. As the mythology grows, Charlotte Street becomes increasingly symbolic. Yet it remains a place where real families live and build dreams for their future.

As with any other symbolic place, people impose their own agendas onto its history and argue about its meaning. Its history becomes contested through competing efforts to use its lessons to shape the future. Attention to Charlotte Street will only mount going into next year, the 40th Anniversary of the Blackout and The Bronx Is Burning. Quality discussions that hear and consider different perspectives will be invaluable.

Interest in Charlotte Street has already percolated for much of this year. It bubbled up when Bernie Sanders held his massive rally at St. Mary's Park in the South Bronx in April, and it has boiled over since Netflix released its new series The Get Down. As we approach the 40th anniversary of "The Bronx is Burning," attention is likely to grow.

The Sanders rally naturally led to a round of discussions about historic presidential visits to The Bronx. None are more mythologized than the pair of stops at Charlotte Street by Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

President Carter visited the area in 1977. His suggestion was to "See which areas can still be salvaged." Mere weeks later, televisions viewers watching a Yankees game were told a massive fire was in the same area (it was actually a mile and a half away in Melrose). That moment, paraphrased as "The Bronx is burning," became permanently branded on the borough's image. While the specific fire seen on television that night was not actually on Charlotte Street, it was an apt enough depiction of the arson that left nothing but debris of former homes in its wake. In 1980, local activists staged a People's Convention on the site of Carter's visit during the Democratic Convention to draw attention to broken promises. Later that year, Reagan stole their idea and visited the site to try emphasizing his opponent's failures.

Ultimately, planners and developers led by Ed Logue finally rebuilt Charlotte Street and the surrounding blocks. What they created looked like the image of the prototypical American suburb had literally been xeroxed right into the middle of the least likely inner city neighborhood. A small handful of streets were lined with cheerful little ranch houses. They have hardly changed today. Each has its own little fenced yard. You can hear the birds singing when you stroll down the sidewalk.