Monday, October 12, 2015

Public Spaces Lost and Found: Mountain Top Removal and Rivers of Motion along the High Bridge


Public spaces are lost and found everyday in this city.  Kids find secret places to converge, hang out, smoke something, share poetry, and find themselves.  As some are found, others are disappearing somewhere else.   That was our experience this weekend, with a protest over mountaintop removal on Friday and a ride to secret places, lost in time high above, and below edge of the city.   Riding between them, we felt a dialectic of motion, between an aqueduct found, and a sacred place, destroyed; mountain tops removed, as communities are fractured and others are found. 

Ernst Fisher (1996, 18) suggests this sort of dialectic of motion contains a world of contradictions, that are the very nature of the world; they are a part “of all things…  nothing can be understood in isolation or as a rectilinear sequence of cause and effect, but only as  the multiple interactions of all factors and being in conflict with itself, that everything as it comes into being, produces its own negation and tends to progress toward the negation of the negation.”

Riding my bike between the mountain top removal action in the ever shifting contours of Times Square and the tour through a secret place in the upper most part of New York City, I was acutely aware that these spaces were whirling in motion.  “Whenever there is movement, wherever there is life, wherever anything is carried into effect in the actual world, there dialectic is at work,” explains Hegel (quoted in Fisher 1996, p. 19).

Public spaces expand and contract, along with the conditions and people around them, pulled by the various pressures on the city, space and economy, the forces of work and ecology, nature and  development through a whirlwind.

Monica has spent years fighting for non-polluting transportation and pleasure, for clean drinking water, and a livable urban space.  She was a member of the Church of Stop Shopping when they fought Chase bank’s financial backing for Mountain Top Removal, helping to push the bank to pull these investments out of its portfolio.  Friday, she worked with Rainforest Action Network to challenge Morgan Stanley’s support for this community crushing practice.  Mountaintop removed not only destroys public spaces, its renders them in hospitable, leaving a gutted landscape in its midst. 

She posted a call for the action, Stomp Out Coal, Morgan Stanley!

Join us for a foot stompin action at Morgan Stanley's global headquarters where we will send a loud and clear message: DROP COAL! 
We will be flanked by an Appalachian band, Alex Kramer and The Flattened Mountain String Band, playing music from the heart of where so much destruction from mountaintop removal has taken hold, and we'll try out some flatfoot dance steps to stomp out coal, have a brief speak out, fiddle our way to the office to hand deliver petitions and be on our way!
Sign the petition here:
Some major U.S. banks have been taking the lead and committing to get out of coal. But at the same time, we’ve also seen Morgan Stanley continue to finance coal’s worst of the worst.

Morgan Stanley has been banking the global coal industry’s worst corporations for years—and they refuse to face the realities of climate change. Morgan Stanley:

Conducted half a billion dollars worth of coal deals in 2014.

Has a long-standing relationship with Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private sector coal mining company, which produced a quarter billion tons of coal last year.

Financed $1.2 billion for the largest coal fired power plant operators in the world last year—including RWE, Europe’s largest single emitter of carbon dioxide.

Continue to finance the horrific practice of mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining—literally blowing off the tops of mountains to get at the coal inside, destroying ecosystems, and poisoning communities in beautiful rural Appalachia. Meanwhile, eleven of Morgan Stanley’s competitors have committed to cut financing for MTR.
Earlier this year, Bank of America and Crédit Agricole, the third-biggest bank in Europe, adopted a major new policies committing to drop coal mining. It’s past time for Morgan Stanley and the rest of Wall Street to meet and exceed these pledges by dropping financing for coal mining and coal power.

In the run-up to December’s vital climate conference in Paris, RAN has joined with more than 130 climate organizations worldwide to call on the global banking sector to end financing for coal mining and coal-fired power. We’re seeing a broad call for a comprehensive transition away from fossil fuels, from everyone from communities on the frontlines of climate change to the world’s elected officials. This is a make-or-break moment for the global banking sector to do its part in moving us toward a post-carbon economy. With the Paris climate conference less than three months away, it’s time for U.S. banks to drop coal once and for all—starting with Morgan Stanley.

17 hrs · New York, NY · 
Thanks everyone who came out and shouted, sang and flat foot stomped against coal at Morgan Stanley's headquarters today! Our message is reverberating across America. It's only a matter of time before Morgan Stanley will join the other banks- Citi, BofA, PNC, who caved to public pressure, and divest from mountaintop removal! We know that taking it to the streets works. We know we are on the right side and Morgan Stanley can't hide behind their phoney "sustainable" image any longer! We are calling you out! Drop coal! Stop poisoning American communities and climate! Invest in the future of America! ‪#‎nocoalMS @RAN

Rivers in Motion

The day after the stomp out coal action, a group of us with public space party would take a ride uptown.  JC described what we were doing.

The Rivers of Motion Ride takes us across the historic High Bridge then back under the cathedral-like arches of the Harlem River Drive then back along the Harlem River to the Bronx culminating at fun spot near Yankee Stadium.

This is a stunning ride full of wondrous vistas, architectural / Industrial Age marvels, and brutalist modern design horrors. 

It's best to keep things simple - bring a bike you can carry down stairs. The trail beneath the high bridge has some steps. Some parts are better to walk than to ride. 

While this is a ride, it's also a rolling party.
I encourage everyone to bring party favors. We'll be in spots where nobody goes.  Unlike downtown rides, there is virtually no NYPD Presence where I plan to take you all.

As always poetry/performance is encouraged. 

Attached are some pics of what you'll see. This doesn't capture the amazing sense of scale and movement you experience on this journey. 

A group of riders will meet at 12:30 at Washington Square to bike up to the meeting point in Washington Heights. 

If you want to skip the ride Uptown you can catch the A train to 168 street - or the C to 163 street. There is D train service at the end of the ride.

A group of us rode from the arch at Washington Square Park up 6th avenue, past central park, where we picked up some extra riders, up to Jumel Terrace at 160 Street.  

JC stood welcoming everyone to the Morris-Jumel Mansion, where George Washington shortly lived and lead the command for a few months during the Revolutionary War.   The old mansion overlooked the Bronx. Duke Ellington once lived across the streets.   Cobble stone streets stretched around the surrounding park in a neighborhood known as ‘Sugar Hill.’

In my mind, the Sugar Hill section of Harlem was always about the music, graffiti, and urban aesthetic of music being created out of the rubble.

Images of life and music in Sugar Hill, the rap that changed music, art born out of the 1970's rubble.

And it certainly is.  But we saw so much more.

We wandered over to the High Bridge, riding through the woods, a glimpse of what the city once looked like.

Wind whirled across our faced as we stood, looking at cars in motion to either side, the water below, the bridges to either side of us, looking down at the Harlem River.

“Some of the greatest tragedies of New York happened right below us,” explained Kar, telling the story of the space.

“Feel the motion of the city around you,” explained JC, looking at the city in awe, high on the high bridge.

They lead us by food and then bike around the bridge, tracking down to the river below.  Kids sat on the steps smoking and smiling.  Others skateboarded.  A couple hid away to steal a moment of intimacy.  Walking further below, Kar looked at a flower growing in the ruins.  Graffiti everywhere. 

We wandered through the cathedral like surroundings below the park, where homeless live.

After hours of riding and climbing, we made our way back through the city, zooming through traffic in the distance, looping from Manhattan through central park, down to the lower east side and back across the Manhattan bridge in a day for the ages, in awe of the new public space we had discovered.  The people of the city are always rediscovering lost spaces, to be reclaimed for alternate play based uses for everyone.  The high bridge and its surroundings are a majestic example of this city in constant flux, an ecology in motion, striving toward freedom.  The increase reduce dialectic of public space ever shifting.

Barbara Ross took these lovely photos.  The top picture of the kids hanging out on the stoop captures the spirit of the day, the kids hanging out smiling, smoking in their own secret place.  Everywhere in the city, people strike to find a place within the ever shifting contours of space here.

Owen Crowley photo and caption.
A great day and great ride with a fantastic group of people. JC and Kar
regaled us with stories past and present about the Morris-Jumel Mansion and the lovely part of town they live in. So generous they were, to share. So much of New York is hidden. Freedom is local.

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