Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Public is disappearing: From Moral Mondays to the POPS at 622 Third Avenue



For years now, my activism has included struggles for public space and a public commons.  

After all, the private seems to be consuming everything in its path, including the public.  While, the streets are our most vital of public spaces, car drivers, in their private steel spaces, crash into cyclists and pedestrians walking with the right of way in the streets.  

Banks foreclose on homes and bankroll private businesses creeping in public parks.  Walk around Union Square and watch lines of private businesses fill the space, as the public shrinks. 

And regular people push back, supporting a commons for all. 

Public education and unions are all part of this public commons. They help us connect, feel part of something broader than ourselves as we build plans for a collective future.  Here history and struggles for something better connect in a story of mutuality. Unions, and by extension, public spaces, help us beat back inequality, giving us something we can all hold and feel connected to.

Of course, many of us in unions are in a sour mood.  It has been years since we’ve had a contract.  

The Professional Staff Congress at CUNY recently sent a letter to the CUNY board of trustees, making their case.

“During the more than five years since our last raise, costs in New York City have soared, CUNY enrollment has grown, salaries at competing institutions have kept pace with inflation, and CUNY faculty and staff have been required to take on bigger workloads as initiatives by college presidents and CUNY administration proliferate,” said President Bowen in the letter. “We doubt that any of you would work at your positions for five years without a raise, and you clearly did not expect a chancellor to work at the pay rate of 2009. Why, then, should we?”

And some unions pushing back in reactive ways. (I, for one, am horrified by the behavior of the TWO fighting back against the Right of Way Law and the PBA protesting police reforms). 

Yet, the larger picture is that public sector workers need support to do their jobs, as we support the city.  Many are pushing for a smarter distribution of wealth and a degree of fairness that will benefit us all.

This is the battle of our time Barbara Bowen, of our union, noted the other day at the delegate assembly of the Professional Staff Congress.  Our contract is five years late.  And the struggle to keep up is only becoming more and more difficult.

So we, met on Monday at noon for the Moral Monday Vigil for Public Education. The PSCinvitation noted:

Teachers, parents, professors and education workers from across the city will gather for a vigil outside Gov. Cuomo’s NYC office (633 3rd Ave. between 41st and 42nd) on Mon., Feb. 23 at 12:00 noon. This latest Moral Monday demonstration is to demand a State budget that represents fairness, equity and justice for our public schools. Join clergy of all faiths and community activists as they call on lawmakers to fully fund our schools, halt the expansion of charter schools and not divert any money to private institutions. 

We met at 633 3rd Avenue to talk about creating a moral budget which supports people’s needs.




My friends from Alliance for Quality Education were there, as were my comrades from the Professional Staff Congress and Judson Memorial Church.  We’ve been here before.  Last year, we met here, extending these weekly vigils / rallies into a civil disobedience in front of the office of the governor of New York.

Paul Russell, oj Judson, argued at the time.
As the struggle against the budget that takes from the poor and gives to the rich continues we need to bring into our houses of worship and let our political representatives know that the governors budget does not work for us. 

So we met there in freezing temperatures again.

Rev. Schaper


This is about fundamental fairness, preached Donna Schaper, of Judson Memorial Church.


Rev Schaper and Maria Bautista. 



2011 procession with the golden calf down to occupy lead by members of Judson.


“The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children,” preached Imam Alraey.

“It is our moral obligation to give every child the very best education possible,” noted Pastor Osei Kofi.

Governor Cuomo fund our public schools, the crowd responded.



 So we  prayed and dreamed of what New York could be.
And we sang, this little light of mine.

This was the message of Occupy and its struggle for a right of the 99% to find a space for itself, despite the strangle hold the 1% have on our city, its resources and even its space.

One of the messages of Occupy, of course, was that of the 1% privatizing profits and socializing losses.

Such logic continues today. 

One sees it everywhere in New York.  Finishing the rally, Brother Ron and I went to get lunch, sitting to have a sandwich at the privately owned public space (POPS) at 622 Third Ave.  





Privately Owned Public Spaces, abbreviated as "POPS", are an amenity provided and maintained by a developer for public use, in exchange for additional floor area. 

POPS typically contain functional and visual amenities such as tables, chairs and planting for the purpose of public use and enjoyment. Privately Owned Public Spaces are permitted in the City’s high-density commercial and residential districts and are intended to provide light, air, breathing room and green space to ease the predominately hard-scaped character of the City’s densest areas. Since 1961, the Zoning Resolution has allowed for several different types of privately owned public space, including plazas, arcades, urban plazas, residential plazas, sidewalk widenings, open air concourses, covered pedestrian spaces, through block arcades and sunken plazas. 

When Greg and I wrote the Beach Beneath the Streets, about New York’s public spaces, we frequently talked about the need to test out the pops, to see if they were being used as they were designed, open for public access, or were they  cordoned off the public from access?

Part of what madeOccupy Wall Street so vital was the connection to a privately owned public space (POPS) just off Wall Street. This was a space where people could hang out 24/7.  There are hundreds - 525 if you're really counting- of pops throughout New York city, created as for zoning concessions.  For each square food of public space created in the plazas out front of buildings, they were allowed to increase height and bulk above. Yet, the building owners rarely wanted the public to fully access these spaces.  This was the conclusion of Greg Smithsimon and I in The Beach Beneath the Streets: Contesting New York's Public Spaces.  

Sadly, the latter is often the case.  It was today.  Eating there, a security guard told me I could not eat there.  But there are no signs prohibiting eating at the pops, just indications that this is a public space.
We were told that we were trespassing in this public space. 

I asked the security guards for the rules stating that we could not eat there.

You can go eat outside, they explained pointing out to the freezing outside.

We said we would finish our meal first and see what would happen.

Security was not happy with us. But sadly, this is not an uncommon feature of the experience of the pops. Many security seem to do the bidding of the real estate owners or building managers making handsome profits off the increased height and bulk they gained for free in exchange for creating the pops on the ground.  Yet, many seem reluctant to hold up their end of the bargain, allowing  the public real access to the spaces they are required to provide.

I ask for security for their rational for asking people eating in a public to leave.

No answer. And then he said we would make a mess.  

We said we'd clean up the mess. 

So, we ate and waited for the police who the security said they were calling.

Needless to say, they did not come.  

Only the security guard stood menacingly staring with his arms crossed, asking us to leave. 


But it may be time to test out the accessibility of spaces such as this, as we’ve done in the past.

As Greg points out, the pops  at 622 3rd Ave is specifically required to provide food, even as the space is being renovated at great expense and profit.  He pointed me to the profile of the space., noting: "The new design upgrades everything, including the seating, tables, landscaping, trees, and surface materials, and requires a food service kiosk which must be operated in good faith at reasonable times."

Profile from Privately Owned Public Space: The New York City Experience, by Jerold S. Kayden, The New York City Department of City Planning, and the Municipal Art Society of New York (John Wiley & Sons 2000). Because this profile was published in 2000, it may not accurately reflect current conditions.

As of this writing, the privately owned public spaces at 622 Third Avenue, formerly the Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield headquarters, are undergoing a resizing, reconfiguration, and renovation under the terms of a zoning modification granted by the City Planning Commission in October, 1998. The newly approved plan is meant to produce superior clarity, functionality, and amenity to what has been a challenging and challenged effort of multilevel outdoor public space design.
Although the building has a one-story frontage and an address on Third Avenue, the bulk of its square footage is concentrated in the mid-block through-block tower located between Third and Lexington Avenues, with entrances on both East 40th and 41st Streets. From here, the public spaces radiate outward and upward in a highly complex, three-dimensional galaxy. The proposed alterations will not change most of these basic spatial alignments. “As-of-right” plaza will continue to be located west of the East 41st Street building frontage, with new planters and bike rack, and “as-of-right”arcade spaces will still grace the East 41st and 40th Street building entrances. Previously, two through block arcades formed a T-junction mid-block at the eastern edge of the tower, one running north-south between East 40th and 41st Streets, the other connecting Third Avenue to the midpoint of the north-south through block arcade. Now, the north-south through block arcade will be enclosed at both ends, while the east-west through block arcade will have its roof removed and be legally reclassified as plaza space.
An urban plaza will replace and functionally upgrade what had been an obscure, terraced “as-of-right” plaza running through-block between East 40th and 41st Streets adjacent to the north-south through block arcade. The linear space will be reconstructed to be completely at grade, with three areas of landscaped planters down the middle, plentiful ledge seating, and tables and chairs. Most significantly, the Escher-like erection of outdoor escalators and stairs next to East 40th Street that provided entry to the landscaped terrace one level up will be removed. Although theoretically useful for easy access, the escalators were often out-of-order and the overall structure maderead more


Photo: Kayden et al. (2000)
Although the building has a one-story frontage and an address on Third Avenue, the bulk of its square footage is concentrated in the mid-block through-block tower located between Third and Lexington Avenues, with entrances on both East 40th and 41st Streets. From here, the public spaces radiate outward and upward in a highly complex, three-dimensional galaxy. The proposed alterations will not change most of these basic spatial alignments. “As-of-right” plaza will continue to be located west of the East 41st Street building frontage, with new planters and bike rack, and “as-of-right”arcade spaces will still grace the East 41st and 40th Street building entrances. Previously, two through block arcades formed a T-junction mid-block at the eastern edge of the tower, one running north-south between East 40th and 41st Streets, the other connecting Third Avenue to the midpoint of the north-south through block arcade. Now, the north-south through block arcade will be enclosed at both ends, while the east-west through block arcade will have its roof removed and be legally reclassified as plaza space.
An urban plaza will replace and functionally upgrade what had been an obscure, terraced “as-of-right” plaza running through-block between East 40th and 41st Streets adjacent to the north-south through block arcade. The linear space will be reconstructed to be completely at grade, with three areas of landscaped planters down the middle, plentiful ledge seating, and tables and chairs. Most significantly, the Escher-like erection of outdoor escalators and stairs next to East 40th Street that provided entry to the landscaped terrace one level up will be removed. Although theoretically useful for easy access, the escalators were often out-of-order and the overall structure made the mid-block part of the plaza feel trapped and disconnected. By opening up the southern end, more light and air and a greater sense of openness and freedom should prevail.
The escalators have been traded in for an elevator at the northwest corner of the landscaped terrace to ferry individuals mechanically to and from the space, while stairs will continue to provide access from Third Avenue north of the corner at East 40th Street. Hopefully this combination will adequately handle user traffic to the newest incarnation of the landscaped terrace occupying the rooftop of the tower’s one-story extension at the corner of Third Avenue and East 40th Street. That space has always had promise, with its southern exposure and remove from the street, but the original design and amenities never matched the promise. Mushroom-domed tables, molded plastic seats, and planters with trimmed hedges proved perfunctory at best, depressing at worst. The new design upgrades everything, including the seating, tables, landscaping, trees, and surface materials, and requires a food service kiosk which must be operated in good faith at reasonable times. If all works as planned, this landscaped terrace should prove a substantial lunchtime competitor to the elevated public space at Murray Hill Mews three blocks south on East 37th Street west of Third Avenue.

I thought about the pops all the way home.  Today, it looks like the private is attempting to consumer the public, but only if regular people allow this to happen.





Saturday, February 21, 2015

In Defense of Grand Budapest Hotel and the power of mentors and friends

Theres been much rumbling about the academy awards of late. And most of it is certainly well deserved.  While this is the culture industry, the business of showing films is simply a business.  Woody Allen famously snubbed the awards, opting to play his clarinet instead of attend, even when he won. 

But there's still a lot to think about with today's films. The nominee for best foreign film IDA and for best picture, The Grand Budapest Hotel, bear examining. (I have not seen the others.  And Birdman was not as compelling for me).




But there is a great deal to this hyper stylized film, worth reconsidering.  A significant story takes place about a countryless refugee, Zero, who later narrates the film, as Mr Moustafa, seeing a place to work at a hotel during a period of war.  On a train ride to pay respects to a former lover of his boss, Mr Gustave, the two are shaken down by what look like Nazis, asked for their papers.
Their faces say it all. 

 Just about to be shot, the two are rescued by a friend of Gustave, who had stayed at the hotel as a child.

And Gustav reflects on the moment.


"You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that's what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant... oh, fuck it," Gustave explains to Zero, drinking champagne looking out at the world.  Moustafa would have been killed if not for his friend. His soliloquy, words for the ages.



Zero asked Gustave about his fondness for his former lover Mme Celine, who was years older than him.

She was dynamite in the sack, by the way, confesses Gustave.
She was 84, Monsieur Gustave, noted Zero
Mmm, I've had older, Gustave follows, explaining. When you're young, it's all filet steak, but as the years go by, you have to move on to the cheap cuts. Which is fine with me, because I like those. More flavorful, or so they say.

When the two arrive to visit Gustave's now deceased lover. Gustave greets her corpse: 

"You're looking so well, darling, you really are... they've done a marvelous job. I don't know what sort of cream they've put on you down at the morgue, but... I want some."

Yet, trouble follows the two as they watch the family of the deceased fight over her last will and testament.  

So, they leave.  On the train back to the hotel, the two contemplate ducking out and running away.  So they make a pact with each other, to stick it out and support each other. 

 "If I die first, and I almost certainly will, you will be my sole heir," explains Gustave.  "There's not much in the kitty, except a set of ivory-backed hairbrushes and my library of romantic poetry, but when the time comes, these will be yours. Along with whatever we haven't already spent on whores and whiskey."

By the time they get back to the hotel, trouble has made its way there.

The beginning of the end of the end of the beginning has begun, notes Gustave taking in the scene.  A sad finale played off-key on a broken-down saloon piano in the outskirts of a forgotten ghost town. I'd rather not bear witness to such blasphemy...The Grand Budapest has become a troops' barracks. I shall never cross its threshold again in my lifetime.
Me neither, concurs Zero
Never again shall I... 
Actually I think we might be going in there right now after all! 

But the two back each other up, supporting their struggles through time, jail, against the Nazis, and eventually the immigration police, the precursors to today's Immigrant Customs Enforcement, who rough up Zero and Gustave again toward the end of the film.  Only this time, there was no friend to bail out Gustave.  And he is shot outside the train.  Somehow, Zero gets away.  True to his word, Gustave willed the hotel to Zero, who we later meet at Moustafa.  

Mustafa, remembers Gustav fondly. 

There are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity...he tells an admirer. He was one of them. What more is there to say?

A film about a struggle to find a sense of self, honor, love, a struggle against time and against fascism.  Zero's fight for a place to be as a refugee remind us of the precarious place we are in today, as workers struggle here, caught in the limbo of our broken immigration system. Budapest hotel is a story for the ages, reminding us of the temporal nature of everything.  

To be frank, notes Musta, I think his world had vanished long before he ever entered it - but, I will say: he certainly sustained the illusion with a marvelous grace!


Friday, February 20, 2015

FLY Art Opening and B Day

One of my favorite artist / activists in the Lower East Side is Fly. Her Peops series, portraits of her friends in the Lower East Side, connects private lives with a subversive culture tale of anarchism, squatting, and a world making process of fashioning an alternate free universe in the Lower East Side. It is inspiring.


Father Frank by Fly



 pieces I have seen in all my years here.

At the time, I wrote:


Fly followed with a show of images from her Unreal Estate show, a slideshow of stories from her years as a squatter in the city, recalling houses which disappeared, were burnt down, a 1994 squatter riot at Cooper Union when Fr Frank was denied a chance to speak and squatters fought for the mic, rebelled, stood up for themselves, and shared their stories.  "After a riot you have to hang out and tell stories about how you hit a cop over and over again."  Looking around I saw my friend Jess, whose had her share of Critical Mass run ins with the NYPD, smiling in recognition.  The slide show combined comics, images of comrades such as Brad Will past, social history, and graffiti which first drew me to the East Village seen when I was a twelve year old kid living in the suburbs.  I can't wait for her oral history of the squatter movement to come out. 
 


"After you finish a riot, you gotta tell the story about what happened over and over,"explained Fly. 

Images in photos by Fly.


With all this in mind, I was super excited to hear about her opening last night.

Hey my Peoples !!
hope you can make it tomorrow night
please forward this around
THNKS !!
x f


here is the info

POP UP PUNK
Feb 19 - March 6
OPENING Thursday Feb 19 (also Fly’s B-Day!)
8 - 10 pm - - - food and spirits
Art on A Gallery
24 Ave A


Walking in the room after a cold ride from Brooklyn, it seemed like most all my friends in the Lower East Side were there.  So were walls full of color.





Jack and Peter and I talked about Kenny Scharf and the previous week’s show of Lower East Side art.
Fly and I talked about her Unreal Estate show, which I hope becomes a book some day soon.






1980 Lower East Side – Landlords - caption and work by FLY. 


Her shows are always are always full of people,  learning the history of this people’s movement.  She helps us see regular people can change history.  We can impact what kind of a world we want to live in.  We can create our own homes, our own communities.  Regular people can impact history, be free, and live pulsing lives.  But it is never easy.  We get caught in the highs and lows, peaks and valleys, struggles with people, ourselves, landlords, and friends.

"I love that one," i noted pointing at the "In my mind I want to punch you" image.
Fly told me that was inspired by someone special.  We laughed.  Its good to laugh.


The art, the splash of colors helps it feel alright.

So many peops were there. Elizabeth and I talked about people and gardens.

Fly peop portrait of Elizabeth.




Jennifer Blowdryer showed up and we posed for a shot or two.



Elizabeth Ruf-Maldonado
 was with Jennifer Waters, Benjamin Shepard and Fly. 



Walking out, I thanked Sarah Quinter for her wonderful work, connecting squatting and community building from the Lower East side to Bushwick. 

Sarah Quinter's wonderful paintings. 




And a few of my peops and I made our way up to 13th street to meet Babs and the Public Space Peops. We talked about our HPD action on Tuesday and upcoming rides to the gardens on March 21 and April 18th. There’s so much out there to do and enjoy.  Who knows, maybe we will stay long next time and #occupyHPD unless they take the gardens off the #HPDlist?





Thank you Lower East Side, FLY, and NYC.