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Sunday, August 23, 2015

"Have airlines cut service to the point that no one wants to fly anymore? Some travelers say yes" (Christopher Elliott, WaPo)

by Ken

The Q-and-A in the post title above, which comes from a recent piece in the Washington Post by Christopher Elliott ("consumer advocate, journalist and co-founder of the advocacy group Travelers United"), probably won't be of interest to readers unless: (a) they have flown before, or (b) they may ever be forced to fly again. In the piece, "Gripes about air travel have some people swearing off certain carriers," Christopher asks: "What’s your breaking point? When do you say 'That's it — I'm never flying again!'?"

This is, he adds, "no academic question for America’s airlines." The airlines, he says, "continue to provoke passengers with new fees, surcharges and rules. They want to know when passengers would rather stay home."
As another summer winds down, maybe they’re a little closer to finding an answer. Airline consumer complaints rose more than 20 percent for the first six months of the year, the Department of Transportation reported last week. From January to June 2015, the government received 9,542 consumer complaints, up from 7,935 received during the first six months of last year. DOT complaints typically represent a small fraction of total complaints.

At the same time, amid a government investigation into collusion, fare-watchers predict that air ticket prices will drop to record lows this fall because of lower fuel prices and, most important, decreased seasonal demand.
To put the question another way: "Have airlines gone too far? Have they cut service to the point that no one wants to fly anymore?"


"Some travelers say yes" -- the airlines have gone too far.
Crystal Stranger, an accountant from Honolulu, reached her breaking point when United Airlines — which she describes as “the worst airline ever for traveling with small children” — first charged for her checked stroller and then dinged her for overweight baggage as well.

“We had to take all our bags apart and re-pack” for being a couple of pounds beyond the limit, she remembers. “We were still charged an overweight baggage fee.”
"Airlines are fixated on collecting more money for your luggage," Christopher says. "Last year, they pocketed more than $3.5 billion in fees, and this number is on the rise." But it turns out that United was only No. 2 in the baggage gouging derby, at a mere $652 million. The champion? Would anyone be surprised to learn that it's . . . Delta? Delta's haul: $863 million.


And "the undisputed industry leader" at hiding the fees, says Christopher, is Spirit.
Taylor Murray recently booked a flight from Las Vegas to Denver on the discount carrier and was surprised at the airline’s fees, which seemed even more extreme than the ones you’d find on one of the major carriers.

For example, Spirit charges for carry-on bags, and if you want a reserved seat, you have to pay extra for it. For Murray, a sales manager for a Las Vegas call center software company, it felt like a bait-and-switch. He says Spirit offered a low fare but then added hidden fees.

“At the end of the day the price came out to be the same as a known-name airline,” he says.
"A recent survey," Christopher reports, "estimated that about 40 cents out of every dollar you spend on [Spirit] will be a surcharge." And just to prove that up is really down and left is really right, "In a recent ad campaign, Spirit claimed airlines that include items like checked bags or seat reservations in ticket prices are dishonest about their pricing."

This "dishonesty" apparently extends to airlines that, nefariously, will actually give you a cup of coffee, just like that -- the fiends. For some reason a fellow named Matt Foley was surprised when he asked for a cup of coffee on a Frontier flight from Washington to Denver and was asked for a credit card.
“A buck-ninety-nine for coffee?” he says. “Really? To charge for nonalcoholic drinks almost made me scream.”


Take this whiny Foley fellow, who --
says he’s baffled by the way airlines gradually removed legroom and then tried to charge extra for it in an effort to profit. At some point, he figures, either the airlines will run out of things to charge for, or passengers will run out of things they’re willing to pay for. But for him, that time has already come. He refuses to fly Frontier no matter how low the fare.
Asking "Have we reached the limit?" Christopher notes that Frontier has "caved in to customers such as Foley" -- that is, assuming you would call this solution Frontier recently came up with a cave-in. "In August, [Frontier] began bundling several extras, including one checked bag, one carry-on, the 'best available' seat and no fee for changing the ticket later, into a package it calls 'the Works.' " Why, this is practically philanthropy! (Matt Foley has probably noticed that "the Works" doesn't include the cup of coffee. Maybe Frontier will add a "Works Plus" package that includes the coffee -- but probably no more legroom.)

One reason the game continues, it seems, is that "passengers keep buying low fares." Says Spencer Carlson ("who runs a travel company in Kansas City, Mo."), "Most travelers take the cheapest fares and are then disappointed when they do the traveling." But, he adds, "Some airlines are figuring out this threshold."

"Seems the question isn’t whether airlines have gone too far," Christopher says. "They have, and they know it. It's more a question of which direction they've done it in. In an effort to eke out a little extra profit, are they more willing to anger their customers or their employees?"


Although Christopher doesn't go into it, I think it's safe to say that we could have gotten a whole other report on the many ways in which the airlines are squeezing money out of the hides of their employees. If you know anyone who works (or worked) for one, you've undoubtedly heard a smattering of the horror stories.

Instead, Christopher merely offers us this curious case. I hope he doesn't mean us to be inspired by this sort of counter-example offered by Spencer Carlson, the Kansas City travel guy.
Norwegian Air, a low-cost European carrier, offers one-way tickets from New York to Oslo at about $180 but has still figured out how to exceed expectations. Yes, it was extra for luggage, but Norwegian didn’t charge for in-flight movies, the food was good and the seats were comfortable, Carlson says. “I was blown away at the professionalism of the staff and the cleanliness of the aircraft. The overall experience was fantastic.”

Norwegian is an interesting example, because American carriers have been trying to stop it from operating in the United States. The reason? Instead of cutting back service, Norwegian found creative ways around high labor costs. Instead of using European or American flight crews, for example, it reportedly hires Bangkok-based crews through a Singapore employment agency who are governed by Singapore labor law.
Because having to pay flight crews a living wage is what's driving the cost of flying so high. Do you suppose Singapore labor law has anything to say about high-level execs having to make do with a few dollars less? (And as a matter of fact, yes, it is dollars, even in Singapore, where the Singapore dollar is the actual currency. I looked it up.)


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Urban Gadabout NYC: Exploring Calvary Cemetery and the L train -- plus fall schedules from the NY Transit Museum and MAS

First Calvary Cemetery occupies a commanding position on the Queens side of the borough's western border with Brooklyn. (Click to enlarge.) Mitch Waxman will be leading a Calvary walking tour on Saturday, August 22, 11am to (approx.) 1pm.

by Ken

Awhile back Mitch Waxman devoted a Newtown Pentacle post to Queens's First Calvary Cemetery ("ordinary interpretation," August 5), when he called it "my favorite place in Queens." That post has taken such root in my head that I was delighted when he mentioned during his recent walking tour of Newtown Creek's Dutch Kills tributary that he'd cleared a date for a walking tour there: Saturday, August 22. The date left me with a bad feeling, and sure enough, when I was able to check my calendar, I was reminded that that's already my date from scheduling hell.

I'll first be LIRR-ing it out to Port Washington, on the eastern shore of Long Island's Manhasset Bay, for a 2pm "Great Gatsby Boat Tour" with the Art Deco Society of New York, which you better believe I signed up for as soon as I saw the announcement. (And wisely so. ADSNY has a waiting list for the event.) I have been to Port Washington, and fairly recently; it was our lunch stop on a bus tour with Justin Ferate, en route between visits to two noteworthy Long Island estates. But I've never been out on a boat in Manhasset Bay.

Where things get crazy is that from there I absolutely must catch the 4:39pm train out of Port Washington, which, if everything goes right, should get me to the LIRR Woodside (Queens) station in time to get to the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria for a 6pm screening of Lawrence of Arabia in 70mm. (Lawrence is also being screened at 4pm Sunday the 23rd, but in order to do that I would have to leave an MAS tour of Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza with Francis Morrone after an hour or even less.)

If I were really crazy, I could top the day off with a wild overnight (10pm-1am) Obscura Society of New York outing to "a hidden Chinatown den of iniquity" for "The Cheaters Party -- A School for Scoundrels," where participants will be given demonstrations in the art of card-playing sleight of hand, including, yes, full-fledged cheating, with opportunities (and, yes, permission) to try out this newly acquired, er, skill, not to mention indulging an open bar dispensing "Rat Pack-inspired cocktails"! Actually, what's holding me back isn't so much a lack of craziness as a lack of any known gambling instinct. And even that open bar isn't the lure it might once have been. Also, music is promised, and I would expect that to be both deafening and horrible.)

First Calvary Cemetery, with a view! Photo by Mitch W (click to enlarge)

By the way, Mitch -- wearing his hat as official historian of the Newtown Creek Alliance -- will also be participating in a pair of Open House New York boat trips up his "beloved" creek, along with NCA program manager Will Elkins and representatives of the NYC Department of Environmental Preservation (and I think I read somewhere of the EPA) on Thursday, September 3, at 5pm and 7pm. Scroll down to "Newtown Creek Boat Tour" on the OHNY programs page, or go directly to the ticket and booking info.


The L train has a fascinating history -- and a booming present and near-term future, as ridership has been undergoing huge increases. (Click to enlarge.)

As regular readers are aware, one of my favorite genres of NYC tours is Jack Eichenbaum's day-long single-subway line explorations -- most famously his "World of the #7 Train" (the Flushing line), which he describes as his "signature" tour, and which he does pretty much every year. Over the length of the route, Jack has picked out half a dozen stops as sites for mini-walking tours of neighborhoods that not only are enormously different from one another but have rich and various histories unto themselves, all scheduled around a long lunch stop at the Flushing end of the line, with all the dining options of Flushing's flourishing Chinatown and Koreatown.

I was delighted finally to get to "do" the #7 train again in June, at which time Jack noted that by the next time he does this tour, it will undergo major changes, starting with the incorporation of the under-construction extension of the #7 from Times Square to the Javits Center at 11th Avenue and 34th Street. (Completion dates have come and gone fairly regularly since the days when then-Mayor Bloomberg liked to terrorize NYC Transit with phone calls demanding to know when it would be done. Mayor Mike really didn't have much interest in improved transit as such, but he wound up deeply immersed not just in the #7 expansion but in the massive East Side Access project that will bring Long Island Rail Road passengers into Grand Central Terminal -- because they're both crucial to multi-zillion-dollar area redevelopments, something our billionaire ex-mayor was very interested in.)

Jack does other subway lines too, though, in that same basic format: usually a half-dozen mini-walking tours along the route, visiting enormously contrasting neighborhoods with even more contrasted histories. In recent years I've had the pleasure of joining Jack in explorations of the J line, which runs from Lower Manhattan across to Brooklyn and on into Queens, and Brooklyn's Brighton Line (now the Q), the descendant of one of the original steam railroads to the resort haven of Coney Island. During the June "World of the #7 Train," Jack announced that he would soon be doing the L train, which actually functions as a crosstown subway in Manhattan, running across 14th Street from Eighth Avenue to First Avenue, then under the East River to Brooklyn's Williamsburg and Bushwick and onward, till it comes to rest in Canarsie, within bus reach of the shore of Jamaica Bay.

Somehow I missed Jack's announcement of the actual date -- Saturday, October 17 -- and by the time I learned the date, I had a schedule conflict, and now that MAS tour prices have increased to $20 for members ($30 for non-members), I'm not as quick to blow off the tour I've registered for as I might once have been. (Besides, I want to do that tour!) So it looks like I'm going to miss:
Saturday. October 17, 10am-5:30pm

The L train has a complex history: first as a steam railroad line, later as an elevated BRT train, eventually integrated into the subway system with its expansion to Eighth Avenue in Manhattan in the 1930’s. Beginning in the 1950’s the L train has stimulated artist-spearheaded gentrification along its route. We’ll explore the West Village and meatpacking district— including a portion of the new Highline Park— and then on to the East Village, Williamsburg, East Williamsburg, Bushwick and Ridgewood, noting the status of transformation in each of these neighborhoods.

This tour is limited to 25 participants and requires registration by check of $42/pp to Jack Eichenbaum, 36-20 Bowne St #6C, Flushing, NY 11354. For a prospectus and any questions, contact Jack at
These days, owing in good part to its Williamsburg (and now Bushwick) connection, the L train is the city's fastest-growing, ridership-wise, and has gone from being a stepchild of the system to its proudest prodigy, with much-improved service finally catching up to the dramatic increase in use.


I should mention too that both the New York Transit Museum and the Municipal Art Society have announced and begun booking tours for September and October.

As noted, the fall MAS offerings come with the price increase (I mentioned earlier, from $15 to $20 for members, and from $20 to $30 for non-members). On the plus side, tour registrants now get nearest-transit information for the meeting point (not exactly an innovation, since this used to be included in all tour descriptions) and also -- and this is new, and most welcome -- approximate tour end-point information.
All of this was mentioned in a covering e-mail to MAS members. What was not mentioned, and I didn't in fact learn until I registered for five tours that I knew I wanted to do and didn't want to get closed out of, is that tours have been shrunk from two hours to 90 minutes.

Of course we don't buy tours by the minute, but if we did, then the member price has increased not by 33 percent but by 78 percent, and the non-member price not by 50 percent but by a full 100 percent. It's not the price that concerns me, at least not so much, as what represents a radical change in format. A 90-minute tour isn't just shorter than a 120-minute one; it's really a different animal, especially when you consider how long it takes any tour to actually "get going." And while there are undoubtedly tour subjects that are better-suited to a 90-minute format, and would have to be padded out to fill two hours, a two-hour tour that was a proper two-hour tour to begin with is probably going to have to be reconceived to make the cut, and I can't help thinking shrunk in ways other than just time.

In fact, the two-hour format, which has become a much more rigidly enforced time limit since I began doing MAS tours not that many years ago, was really more like two and a half hours back then. I gather, though, that MAS received enough complaints to start cracking the whip about the time limit. This boggles my mind, that people would complain about getting more than they paid for. But there you are.

Clearly the people in charge believe that this is what people want. (I'm pretty sure that I don't count among the "people" they're concerned about.) And the September-October list contains lots of interesting-looking offerings -- I jotted down 17 tours I was interested in, after allowing for known schedule conflicts. As I mentioned, I've already registered for five, and it was when I downloaded my tour info that I discovered that what I registered for are 90-minute tours. Suddenly I found myself thinking that maybe the five tours I've registered for will do it for me.

Like I said, at some point we should probably talk about this. But not now.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

NYC Watch: "See It Big! 70mm" at the Museum of the Moving Image. Plus an Urban Gadabout note: "I Remember NY"

Coney Island (this Sunday, August 9) is one of two neighborhoods tour leader Joe Svehlak will be revisiting this month in his Municipal Art Society series I Remember New York. Also coming up is Downtown Brooklyn (Sunday, August 30). See below.

by Ken

As I mentioned recently, I wiped out most of a day of potential Jane Jacobs Weekend walks to catch a 70mm screening of Robert Wise's 1965 film version of The Sound of Music, which as it happened I had never seen in any form, at the Museum of the Moving Image. These days, as digital projection takes over for theatrical showing even of movies that weren't made digitally, it's getting harder and harder to see films on, you know, film, and the 70mm jobbies -- forget about it. At the MoMI Sound of Music event, though, Chief Curator David Schwartz mentioned that the museum would be showing a 70mm print of West Side Story -- the 1961 film musical Wise had already directed which established him as candidate for the Sound of Music film when, apparently, nobody else wanted to direct it -- in an upcoming installment of its See It Big! series, this one devoted to 70mm films.

Well, See It Big! 70mm is here! Eight films, ranging chronologically from 1961 (West Side Story) through 2014 (Interstellar), each being shown either two or three times between August 7 and August 30.

As the introduction to the series notes:
With a higher resolution and more light hitting the frame, 70mm film offers a bigger, brighter image than 35mm. It also offers richer sound, with more space on the soundtrack. It is the ideal film format for ambitious cinematic spectacles, yet with the transition to digital filmmaking, 70mm movies have become increasingly rare.
But, as the introduction goes on to note, 70mm hasn't been entirely abandoned.
Filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson and Christopher Nolan are keeping the tradition alive, with films that were surely inspired by the work of Stanley Kubrick, David Lean, Douglas Trumbull, and Robert Wise. From West Side Story to Interstellar, here is a selection of great 70mm films, including adventure, comedy, drama, musical, and science fiction -- and all indelible experiences.


In the listing below, culled from the museum's listings, it occurred to me to include the films' running times, because so many of these are really big time-wise in addition to film-format-wise. Four of the eight are over 2½ hours, and a fifth, Interstellar, is only six minutes short. Two, in fact, are over 3 hours, and one is over 3½ -- Lawrence of Arabia, of course. Although director David Lean has been dead for 24 years, there are people who'll swear that the movie still hasn't ended.

It's a wild mix of films. I'm taking a pass on 2001, which I just saw at MoMI in 70mm -- but if you haven't seen it in 70mm, you should. It doesn't solve the film's problems or plug its gaps, but for the considerable effect it makes nevertheless, it really should be seen in full format. But I'm hoping to get to all the others -- some that I haven't seen, or seen theatrically, since they were new, and four that I've never seen at all.

It's the usual MoMI deal: Screenings are free for members at the "Film Lover" level and above; for others it's $12 ($9 for senior citizens and students), which includes museum admission for that day. Both members and nonmembers can book ahead; go to the link below and if you prefer follow it to the alternate date(s); then click on the "Order tickets online" link. I would be especially careful with the films that are only being shown twice.
See It Big! 70 mm

August 7-30

With a higher resolution and more light hitting the frame, 70mm film offers a bigger, brighter image than 35mm. It also offers richer sound, with more space on the soundtrack. It is the ideal film format for ambitious cinematic spectacles, yet with the transition to digital filmmaking, 70mm movies have become increasingly rare. Filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson and Christopher Nolan are keeping the tradition alive, with films that were surely inspired by the work of Stanley Kubrick, David Lean, Douglas Trumbull, and Robert Wise. From West Side Story to Interstellar, here is a selection of great 70mm films, including adventure, comedy, drama, musical, and science fiction -- and all indelible experiences.

See It Big! is an ongoing series organized by Reverse Shot editors Michael Koresky and Jeff Reichert, Chief Curator David Schwartz, and Assistant Film Curator Aliza Ma.

2001: A Space Odyssey
(dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1968, 159 mins)
Friday, 8/7, 7pm; Saturday, 8/8, 2pm; Sunday, 8/9, 2pm

(dir. Douglas Trumbull, 1983, 106 mins)
Saturday, 8/8, 6pm; Sunday, 8/9, 6pm

(dir. Steven Lisberger, 1982, 96 mins)
Saturday, 8/15, 7pm; Sunday, 8/16, 7pm

It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World
(dir. Stanley Kramer, 1963, 205 mins)
Saturday, 8/15, 2pm; Sunday, 8/16, 2pm

West Side Story
(dir. Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise, 1961, 151 mins)
Friday, 8/21, 7 pm; Saturday, 8/22, 2pm

Lawrence of Arabia
(dir. David Lean, 1962, 217 mins)
Saturday, 8/22, 6pm; Sunday, 8/23, 4pm

(dir. Christopher Nolan, 2014, 169 mins)
Friday, 8/28, 7pm; Saturday, 8/29, 6pm; Sunday, 8/30, 6pm

The Master
(dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012, 144 mins)
Saturday, 8/29, 2pm; Sunday, 8/30, 2pm

MAS "I Remember New York" walking tours

This month Joe Svehlak, the total sweetheart among NYC tour guides, a lifelong New Yorker who pours passion as well as charm into his tours, and has always given a generous sense of historical development in his neighborhood walking tours, has two more tours coming up in the wonderful "I Remember New York" series he's been doing for the Municipal Art Society: Coney Island this Sunday, August 9, 10:30am-12:30pm, and Downtown Brooklyn.

These will be more personal versions of popular tours Joe has been doing for some time, tracking changes in these much-changing neighborhoods. His tours have always been personal, but in this I Remember New York series he's undertaken at age 75, he has been unabashed in sharing his history with the places he's leading us through. It says something about Joe that I run into him all the time taking other people's tours; his enthusiasm and curiosity seem if anything to have continued growing with time.

On the first tour in the I Remember New York series, Joe mentioned that at his age he doesn't know how much longer he'll want to continue leading tours, and for anyone who appreciates the value of experience and memory, the walks in this series so far have been treasures. On those my schedule has enabled me to do, there was a special warmth to this walk through Manhattan's Financial District, where he had his first job and later worked for a considerable time; and then in the two-part traversal of Brooklyn's Sunset Heights, where he did much of his growing up and later returned as a first-time homeowner and pioneering preservationist. I really should have posted something about the series sooner. Sorry!

Not to mention that Joe is just good company. Again, there are links for online registration for both members and nonmembers. I'm embarrassed at how long it took me to find my way to MAS; now I can't imagine not being a member.
I Remember New York: Coney Island, Brooklyn
Sunday, August 9, 10:30am-12:30pm

Join tour guide and preservation activist Joe Svehlak who still swims here, to reminisce about Coney Island in his younger years when Steeplechase Park was still a great amusement attraction before it was demolished in the 1960s. Hear Joe describe the thrill of the Parachute Jump and the Steeplechase. In addition to Steeplechase Park, Joe remembers four rollercoasters, merry-go-rounds, and an assortment of other rides, sideshows and games of chance. Both the Cyclone rollercoaster and the Wonder Wheel are New York City landmarks and a testament to Coney Island's illustrious past and resilience. We'll also view a new amusement park, a restored carousel, and two poignant memorials by the ballpark. Stroll the boardwalk as Joe remembers family outings, amusements, bathhouses, and other facilities and attractions by the sea. On our walk we'll learn about Coney Island's honky-tonk past and issues of preservation and planning for the future. Coney Island has seen many changes in Joe's lifetime. He's happy to see it coming back with new amusements, activities and restaurants. Stay for a swim and treat yourself to a Nathan's Famous! Please note that this tour has been offered before with a slightly different theme, and there may be significant overlap in content. Cost: $20 / $15 Members
I Remember New York: Downtown Brooklyn
Sunday, August 30, 10am-12n

In his lifetime, tour guide and preservation activist Joe Svehlak has seen major changes Downtown Brooklyn. Growing up in the 1940s and 50s, Joe remembers Brooklyn's Downtown as one of New York City's premier shopping and entertainment centers, with grand elegant department stores, specialty shops, fine restaurants and magnificent movie palaces. He would look forward to the special holiday shopping trips Downtown and the occasional treat of a movie in one of the great theaters. By the 1970s economic decline, the days of the grand department stores were over. The Fox and the Albee theatres were demolished for other commercial purposes. The Paramount became part of Long Island University and the Metropolitan is now the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Fifteen years ago Joe moved Downtown and is now witnessing dramatic high rise construction all around him. New streetscapes and plazas are adding to Downtown Brooklyn's new livability. New Hotels and shops are opening and even a new park is planned. Joe's thoughts and memories will guide us through his neighborhood as we view old civic buildings, new commercial development, designated New York City landmarks, the revitalized Fulton Mall, redesigned Flatbush Avenue, Metro Tech expansion, and even some surprising religious edifices. End by the landmarked monumental Dime Savings Bank and Junior's Restaurant, noted for its cheesecake. Please note that this tour has been offered before with a slightly different theme, and there may be significant overlap in content. Cost: $20 / $15 Members


The new walking-tour schedule, likely to cover September, October, and November, should be coming out in the next week or two. Meanwhile there are still a whole bunch of really interesting-looking walking tours that can still be booked for August. Check them out here -- or go to anytime and click on "Tours."

Saturday, August 01, 2015

As Mitch Waxman prepares to tramp around his beloved Newtown Creek, we look at a blogpost that shows what blogposts can do

As recently as two years ago, when binary_bob took the top photo, posted on Reddit (click to enlarge), the once-mighty but long-doomed-following-abandonment Domino Sugar plant on Brooklyn's once-industrial waterfront still retained a large measure of its grandeur. The lower image, is a rendering of the redevelopment plan (click to enlarge), courtesy of SHoP Architects, looking east and slightly southward, with the Williamsburg Bridge at the right. Quick: Can you find the refinery building itself?

"One cannot help but drop his jaw whenever the former Havemeyer or Domino Sugar plant site comes into view. It is being redeveloped as a residential structure – more luxury condos for the children of the rich to dwell within. The question of what will happen to these structures when NYC slides backwards into an era of degeneracy and decay is one few ask."
-- from Mitch Waxman's Monday Newtown Pentacle post, "last stages"

by Ken

All week I've been meaning to talk a bit about our pal Mitch Waxman's Monday Newtown Pentacle post, "last stages," which seems to me a textbook-worthy demonstration of what the blog format can do when it's crackling. A blogpost, after all, has two fundamental resources: pictures and words. (Videos seem to me for the most part less a resource than a brain-draining abomination.) And Mitch has a way with both. You may recall that he's a compulsive NYC urban wanderer and photographer with a deep connection to place and time.

In terms of "place," he's based in Astoria, Queens, and along the way has developed a special connection to legendarily pollluted Newtown Creek, which forms the western part of the boundary between the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, and which once was the industrial heartland not just of the New York City but of the U.S.A., which after all is how it got so polluted. So before we get to that blogpost, I thought I would mention that there are two immediately upcoming opportunities to take advantage of his obsession with his "beloved" Newtown Creek for anyone who might be in the New York City area tomorrow (August 2 -- kind of late notice on this one, I know; sorry!) and/or next Saturday (August 8), when Mitch is doing two of his signature Newtown Creek-related tours:

Bushwick and Maspeth walking tour

Sunday, August 2, 10am-12:30pm

Join Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman for walk through the industrial heartlands of New York City and along the Newtown Creek. Following the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens, we will be exploring the colonial, industrial, and environmental history of the borderland communities. We will encounter century old movable bridges, visit the remains of a 19th century highway, and explore two of the lesser known tributaries of the troubled Newtown Creek watershed. For the vulgarly curious, Conrad Wissell's Dead Animal and Night Soil wharf will be described.

Meet up at the corner of Grand street and Morgan Avenue in Brooklyn. Map: The L train stops nearby at Bushwick Avenue and Grand Street, and the Q54 and Q59 bus lines stop nearby as well. Check the morning of for last minute transit changes.

Be prepared for rough terrain and possible heavy truck traffic. Dress and pack appropriately for hiking and hot weather. Closed-toe shoes are highly recommended. Bathroom opportunities will be found only at the start of the walk.

Long Island City walking tour

Saturday, August 8, 10am-1pm

In 13 steps, Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman will be showing us the then and now of Dutch Kills tributary, once known as the "workshop of the United States."

A central maritime artery of Long Island City, Dutch Kills is surrounded by hundreds of factory buildings, titan rail yards, and crossed by century old bridges - and it's found just a few blocks away from Queens Plaza. During this three hour tour, we will cover three miles of Brooklyn and Queens to see where the industrial revolution actually happened. Bring your camera, as the tour will be revealing an incredible landscape along this section of the troubled Newtown Creek Watershed.

Be prepared for rough terrain and possible heavy truck traffic. Dress and pack appropriately for hiking and for weather. Closed-toe shoes are highly recommended. Bathroom opportunities will be found only at the start of the walk.

Meet up at the Albert E. Short Triangle park found at the corner of Jackson Avenue and 23rd Street in Long Island City, Queens. This is the Court Square MTA station, and served by the 7, G, and M lines. Additionally, the Q39 and B62 buses have nearby stops. Drivers are encouraged to leave their vehicles near the Pulaski Bridge in either Greenpoint or Long Island City.


Now about that blogpost. I was talking a moment ago about Mitch's sense of "place, and for this post, our pal Mitch Waxman he was ensconced in one of his recently favorite places for wandering, the East River Ferry, taking some great shots of what's left of the once-teeming working waterfront of New York City's East River. Note that he hastens to clarify what he means by "a working waterfront," which is to say one "that is engaged in the production of something other than artisanal pickles."

However, he notes that observing "the modern day East River bums me out." And the quote at the top of this post is Mitch deep in bumnation, contemplating the finally-taking-place transformation of the Domino Sugar plant in Williamsburg, just north of the Williamsburg Bridge. Here are two photos he took, one with the bridge and one without (click to enlarge):

Not long ago, Open House New York -- as part of a new series, "Projects in Planning," which aims to "explore the design and planning process of a single project during its early stages of development," to give us a window on the process of a major development project still in the development stage -- offered members a presentation by Vishaan Chakrabarti of SHoP Architects on the "Domino Sugar Refinery Redevelopment" (see the photo above), for which redevelopment plans have been kicking around almost since the plant was shut down in 2004 Here was the description (scroll way down, to April 8, in the "Recent Programs" section of the OHNY programs page):
OHNY members are invited to a presentation of SHoP Architects' master plan for the redevelopment of Brooklyn's iconic Domino Sugar Refinery. With a renovated refinery building as its "nerve center," the project is expected to create a 24/7 mix of creative office space, market-rate and affordable housing, retail shops, community facilities, and public open spaces. The distinctive buildings, which will create a new skyline for Brooklyn, are designed to allow light and air to penetrate through the site into the neighborhood beyond.
Now Vishaan Chakrabarti is one heckuva presentation presenter. After all, while in this instance he was talking to a bunch of people whose only standing came from having ponied up OHNY's modest annual membership fee, he's accustomed to giving presentations to people who are contemplating spending zillions of dollars, or perhaps have the power to turn thumbs up or down on other people's expenditure of said zillions of dollars. And as he described the process that had brought the project to its present state, he persuaded me, at least, that as large-scale development projects go, this one -- which includes an array of new buildings as well as open spaces surrounding the old plant itself (which is one of three buildings on the site that have landmark protection) -- has been planned with unusual sensitivity to the site's history and to the current needs of the nearby community.

Nevertheless, it looks to be a blight on the waterfront (don't you just love that "doughnut hole" building?), and it doesn't matter, because in the end it all comes down to what it all always had to come down to: the triumph of money. Williamsburg, after all, is now NYC's hippest and perhaps also hottest neighborhood, and the whole point of hipness, at least from the commercial standpoint, and it's hard to think of any other standpoint that can be said to matter, is to create hotness, in the real-estate sense, of course. So if the shores of Long Island City (Queens) and Greenpoint (Williamsburg's Brooklyn neighbor to the north) are to be lined with sky-high and sky-high-priced giant glass boxes, and they are, you can be sure that Williamsburg is getting them even glassier and boxier. (The one concession that city has extracted from developers is parkfront development along the riverfront proper and free access to it, which is certainly very different from the waterfront in its old industrial stage.)

Now here's Mitch ruminating on the old Domino site:
Williamsburg is officially lost as a point of interest for me. Bland boxes of steel and glass will extend all along the East River soon enough, stretching from the former industrial heartland once called “America’s Workshop” in Long Island City all the way through the Gold Coast of North Brooklyn to the Williamsburg Bridge.


First, speaking of this span of high-priced glass-and-steel boxes rising above the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront north of the Williamsburg Bridge, he notes:
Criminals are already beginning to focus their attentions on this area, just as they did in the age of industry. Why? Because predators go where the prey is.
Then he adds another characteristic touch -- a touch, one might say, of bumnation: "It’s cliché to even comment on it anymore, one realizes."

Except that Mitch has a comment on this redevelopment of the Domino site "as a residential structure -- more luxury condos for the children of the rich to dwell within."
The question of what will happen to these structures when NYC slides backwards into an era of degeneracy and decay is one few ask.

Any historian will tell you that it’s a cyclical thing here in the megalopolis, one that flips back and forth on a roughly forty year cycle which can be directly correlated to rates of crime, and that the City’s current upswing began in the late 1990’s – reversing a decline process that started shortly after the Second World War.

Rich people tend to move away from the City center when things get hairy. The rest of us are kind of stuck here.
This, I think, is sweet. Finally, here's Mitch's sendoff for this post:
Scenes long familiar, lost. The wilderness of the oligarchs is upon us, and deep in the woods – wolves howl to celebrate and delight. The nobles will be safe in their keeps, but the peasants – we’re on our own.


On his ferry ride, Mitch observed "the Alice Oldendorf bulk cargo ship at work, making a delivery to a concrete plant at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The ship hosts a series of cranes and conveyors which unload her holds, producing the cyclopean mounds of sand and gravel witnessed above." (Again, click to enlarge.)