Thursday, August 15, 2013

Adapting to Change All Summer Long

Stenciling by Right of Way, a new bike group.  Photo by Barbara Ross. 

All summer long we’ve all been adapting to change.  My favorite group, Times Up!, has been going through growing pains.  A revitalized ACT UP has been moving with a vengeance. We’ve been in and out of sublets, cities, islands, and places to stay.  Meanwhile the streets of New York have been changing as have activists adapting with them.

Back from our amazing trip to Cape Cod, I took my bike out of storage to ride to Tompkins Sq Park’s Gaia Tree to meet some of my buddies for the Times Up! Adapting to Change Ride organized by my friend Wendy. These are some of my favorite rides.   She wrote: “Sandy’s storm waters surged into Manhattan, heralding a new 21st century reality. Bike with us to explore both the aftermath and solutions generated in the LES, East Village and East River Park that respond to the realities of climate change.”  Wendy’s rides offer a glimpse of what sustainable urbanism can and should look like.  Here cycles and gardens offer us a new way of living in a city that is mutable and capable of evolving and adapting to the inevitable changes our world offers us. 

Wendy started off the ride by showing us historic maps of the Lower East Side, comparing their contours with the ways Sandy flooded the city neighborhood. 

Wendy and her maps.  Bottom photo, our ride route. 

My friend Jeff Wright  was on hand to tell stories about lost community gardens, such as Chico Mendez and others, as well as his struggle to help gardens really feel like a public commons for organizing, hanging out, performing and socializing. As a case example, he described the Molitov Coctail Hour which used to take place at Chico Mendez Garden.  This was a place where people from all over the neighborhood got together and talked before the garden was bulldozed.

Signs of the times, wrecking balls and no 7/11 declarations. 

Wright described the ways some gardens remain open while others become little fiefdoms where rules are opaque, membership criteria is vague and the gardens are often locked up.  The Villager reports:

Garden dispute mushrooms: The saga — well, that’s a nice way to put it — of Dias y Flores garden continues. The latest meltdown amid the mulch at the E. 13th St. green oasis erupted late on the afternoon of Wed., July 17. Jeff Wright, the editor of Live Mag!, who recently was booted from the garden by its board, had been given an ultimatum to remove his plants by 6 p.m. on that day. Actually, Wright had been told previously once before to get his plants out of the plot he was using, and the plants had been removed and put in pots on the side of the garden for him to take away. But then he just went and replanted them in the plot on July 4, leading to the July 17 showdown. As the deadline approached, Wright and several supporters, including fellow exiled Dias y Flores green-thumb, Debra Jenks, held hands around the plot, and sang the civil-rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.” To prevent the digging up of Wright’s lilacs and other plants, they took all the garden’s shovels, laid them on the ground, and then stood on top of them as they sang. What happened next — well, it sounds like it got kind of chaotic, quickly. Apparently, Claude Kilgore, a Dias y Flores board member, may have tried to slide through the group’s interlocked arms — and, well, that’s when the fertilizer, so to speak, hit the fan. There was a scuffle, police were called — by Wright — and when it was over, Wright was handcuffed and taken away in a police car to the Ninth Precinct, where he received a desk-appearance ticket for a court hearing at a later date, and soon released. “It happened so fast,” Wright told us. “I could barely call 911 because Claude was pushing me. I didn’t think they would go through with it,” he said of the board’s plan to uproot his plants (for the second time). “We were standing on the shovels. He was pushing me and I pushed back. We were yelling, ‘Stop pushing us!’ ” They all received bruises, according to Wright. Meanwhile, Kilgore told us, “It’s an ongoing investigation, I can’t really comment too much. Jeff was given an opportunity to remove his plants. For whatever reason, he chose not to take that opportunity. The subject line of my e-mail was: ‘One last opportunity to remove your plants.’ He chose to act out in a violent manner. I felt very degraded.” Kilgore accused Jenks of “saying fake stuff on the phone” to the police. “There was video taken. There were eyewitnesses,” Kilgore assured. “I was assaulted. I have scratches and bruises — on my arms, legs, knees. I had shorts on.” Especially concerning to Kilgore, he alleges that Wright “made threats against other people’s plots. The threats were toward the plants,” he said. A police spokesperson told us that a Jeff Wright, 61, was arrested for misdemeanor assault against “a male / white, 26,” i.e. Kilgore.  “[Wright] shoved the victim to the ground multiple times, causing pain and lacerations,” the spokesperson told us. Asked about the extent of Kilgore’s injuries, the spokesperson said, “It doesn’t say anything about ‘hospital’ here. I don’t believe he received medical treatment.” This past Sunday, Wright blasted out a “Demo Today, 2 to 6 — Spread the Word!” message on Facebook. We didn’t see the message, but Wright had earlier told us he’d be in the garden then. When we arrived to see what was up, we were greeted by a locked gate and a sign saying the garden was closed — and in fact, had been closed all day long. Kilgore later told us that this was done in response to the action planned by Wright. We’ll just have to get out a fresh Dias y Flores scorecard to keep up with developments that may (probably will) happen over the coming weeks.

Wright took us by the 11th Street Garden, Diaz Y Flores and Compos Gardens.

There we wandered, reveling in the art, made of trash pulled from the East River, looked at the formation of the spaces, the plants, etc. 

And we rode along the East River, talking about the ways the waterfront has changed in recent years.  In recent years, the waterfront has become  a place for play, not simply industrial uses and neglect.  Cities from Amsterdam to Chicago, find multiple uses for their waterfronts, including cycling and fishing.  But how can the waterfront be healthy for all its users?  Riding South, we talked about the  combined sewage outfall, which spills sewage into the river during storms and the dangers this presents to those fishing. 

As the sun started to go down, we rode to Siempre Verde Community Garden, where muruals and art adorn once drab walls.  Last year it was a vacant lot, today it is a new and vibrant garden, a place where multiple users come to hang out and enjoy the urban landscape.  This weekend the garden is celebrating the one year anniversary of the efforts of neighborhood members to open up this space for the city. The invite for their one year celebration explains:

Stanton & Attorney Streets, New York, New York 10002

Last year August 19th we rallied helpers and encouraged ongoing support for resurrecting the Siempre Verde garden from its down trodden state.

The corporation were ready to take over a potential beautiful outdoor garden space and kill the neighborhood with another concrete building. Squandering the potential growth of a community.

The endless months of not just hard physical labor on many levels but also the research of how to save a garden in New York City alongside the time and dedication of all involved cannot be shared in words alone.

Many have stories to share and not just of the last year but many more since they have lived and breathed this neighborhood all their lives.

Come meet your Neighbors and truly connect to your community...

We would love for all to join us in a day of Social Cheer
sharing stories, Live music, spoken word and enjoy a community BBQ.

With luck on our side a projection slide show of all the progress we have made will be shared in pictures on the Stanton Street wall under the "Starting Dreams" Art Mural.

Everybody is Welcome. This is a free event (but please drop something into our donation jug if you can)

Change is inevitable it can be a fear that runs deep as your world around you changes... allow this change to be positive one and embrace it in one of the most human ways possible, talking to your next door neighbor.

Top new brian zaplocki murals at Siempre Verde Garden.  Bottom Hendrik Beikirch mural from above. ‪#‎startingdreams‬‪#‎hendrikbeikirch‬ ‪#‎globalmeetslocal‬ ‪#‎LES‬
Photos by Siempre Verde Garden

Activists throughout the city are coping with changes by speaking out, using art, messaging and direct action to help communicate the point that this can and should be  safe city for everyone. 
On Sat, 8/10/13 bike activists stenciled outlines ofdead bodies in 9 more locations where pedestrians and cyclists have been killedby automobile. The sites included Broadway and Hooper Street in Williamsburg, where NYC public school teacher, Felix Coss was killed by an NYPD officer who was reportedly texting when she hit Felix in a crosswalk; 60th Street and 3rd Avenue in Manhattan, where 16-year- old honor student, Renee Thompson was run over by a right-turning tractor-trailer as she was leaving work and walking to the subway; and Flatbush Ave. and St Marks Place in Park Slope, where human rights worker Roxana Gomez was killed by a drunk driver.

Once again, the stencils read NO CRIMINALITY SUSPECTED, which the NYPD declared in 7 of these 9 fatal crashes, excluding only a hit and run and a drunk driver, and WHY, RAY, WHY? imploring the police commissioner to crack down on the deadly driving that bloodies our city’s streets. Added to this round of stenciling, were the words “Right Of Way,” building on the work of the group by the same name that started this stenciling project in the 90s, adding to the Transportation Alternatives’ “Rally for our Right of Way” that drew hundreds of people to the steps of City Hall last Wednesday, and Bill de Blasio’s “Vision Zero” plan, which calls on the NYPD to crack down on deadly driving practices, also released last Wednesday.

For example, Don Wiss notes the ride posted a memorial for Felix Coss, a popular local teacher, was killed by an NYPD officer who was reportedly texting when she hit Felix in a crosswalk as he was crossing Broadway at Hooper Street in Brooklyn on July 6, 2013.  

Photo by Don Wiss

“The Right Of Way is a human right like every other right. Everyone should have the right to walk or bike in public space without the fear of being harassed, assaulted, or even killed by an automobile. And we, as a civilized society, should do everything in our power to protect that right,” stated Keegan Stephan, safer streets activist.

barbara ross photo

Change is the only constant in modern living.  We might as well embrace it. And go with the feeling. Let us soak us up. 


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